What's In Store

Gas at Harris Teeter: Is Charlotte next?

The digital sign at the new Harris Teeter gas station on U.S. 21 awaits prices as construction continues. No opening date has been announced
The digital sign at the new Harris Teeter gas station on U.S. 21 awaits prices as construction continues. No opening date has been announced dworthington@heraldonline.com

With Harris Teeter planning to add a gas station at a store in Fort Mill, S.C., the question arises: Will Charlotte be next?

A gas station will be part of a Harris Teeter store under construction at Caldwell Road and N.C. 49 in Harrisburg, a representative from developer Aston Properties told me Friday. That store is slated to open this fall.

A Harris Teeter spokeswoman said she couldn’t provide any additional details about gas at area stores. But the addition of fuel stations appears to make another change growing from Harris Teeter’s acquisition by Cincinnati-based Kroger last year.

It’s also a way the supermarket could differentiate itself in the super-competitive Charlotte grocery store market.

When Kroger closed its acquisition of Matthews-based Harris Teeter in January 2014, the parent company started implementing some of its own initiatives at Harris Teeter stores. It lowered prices on thousands of items at Harris Teeter stores, for example, and this year started adding beer growlers to several North Carolina stores.

Kroger also said at the time it would consider bringing gas stations to Harris Teeter stores.

Kroger Chief Financial Officer Mike Schlotman has called gas stations a “big win” for Kroger in terms of bringing more customer trips, though he noted that many Harris Teeter stores are in urban locations with less room to open fuel centers.

As competition has heated up in the grocery market in Charlotte, especially with the expansion of Florida-based Publix, Harris Teeter has been taking measured steps that could give it an edge, like upgrading existing locations or adding new ones close to rival stores.

The addition of gas stations is one more way Harris Teeter may attempt to attract and retain customers in an “overwhelmingly populated” grocery market that now includes e-commerce, said Craig Rosenblum, a partner at retail consultancy Willard Bishop.

“Any way you could extend reach to the consumer and drive value … the more loyal they’ll become to you,” Rosenblum said. “Most retailers tend to do very well with gas stations and tend to boost their profits by incorporating gas stations.”

Publix, which began its aggressive expansion into Charlotte in early 2014, does not have gas stations at its stores, and doesn’t have any current plans to add them, spokeswoman Kim Reynolds said.

Some roadblocks exist in adding gas stations, like space and zoning issues as well as competing for prices against nearby stations. But that’s probably not enough to discourage grocers from adding them.

“(Prices) have to be competitive, not necessarily the lowest. The reality is a lot of them give discounts to shoppers due to the loyalty points you achieve with them,” Rosenblum said.

Further, he added, there’s the convenience factor of having a gas station right there when customers are leaving the parking lot.

Harris Teeter is the second-biggest grocer in the Charlotte area by market share, according to sales tracker Chain Store Guide, behind only Walmart. The company operates over 50 stores in the Charlotte region, where it employs about 7,000 people.

The Fort Mill Harris Teeter that’s getting a gas station is at U.S. 21 and Gold Hill Road. The grocer has one other store with a fuel center – in Folly Beach, S.C., near Charleston.

Staff writer Ely Portillo contributed.

Katherine Peralta: 704-358-5079, @katieperalta