P.C. Richard Targets Philly, New England

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P.C. Richard & Son will open its first Philadelphia-area stores and may add upwards of five Connecticut locations this year as part of a planned expansion that could extend its reach from Delaware to Massachusetts.

The family-owned CE and appliance chain told TWICE it plans to open seven to 10 stores in total this year, including two in the Philadelphia market and two in New Jersey. It also opened seven stores last year, including its first Connecticut location, in Norwalk.

The Connecticut build-out will continue with the opening in late March or early April of a former Linens 'n Things store in Milford, followed by the opening of a former Circuit City site in North Haven.

Gregg Richard, president of the chain, said the company plans to have four stores in Connecticut within the next four months and as many as six by year's end. Although the state-wide expansion was planned long before Bernie's filed for bankruptcy, the impending closure of the regional CE and appliance chain has accelerated P.C. Richard's timetable.

“We're looking very hard at Connecticut,” Richard told TWICE.

The chain is also scouting locations for distribution centers that would support its Connecticut and Philadelphia-area stores. The latter facility would also feed existing stores in nearby Lawrenceville and Mt. Laurel, N.J., as well as a future expansion into Delaware.

In New England, the company is also considering moving beyond Connecticut into Rhode Island and eventually Massachusetts, Richard said.

“We're in good position to take advantage of opportunities,” he noted, after spending the last three years fortifying the company's systems and infrastructure, and remodeling all 57 stores. “We got our house in order and built a bench for the next wave.”

Opportunity came with last year's closure of Circuit City, which opened up market share, real estate and personnel — although Richard believes the retail consolidation will continue in 2010 as other independent dealers follow Bernie's into oblivion.

“It's not good for manufacturers, the industry or customers when smaller regionals disappear,” he said. “Independents give manufacturers the opportunity to build their brands and sell their products' features, rather than throw a hundred SKUs on a skid. And it's not good for anyone to have only one or two places to sell to or buy from.”

Richard said the chain will continue to fill a high-service role with its model of assisted sales and delivery, installation and product support. “We're still a friendly, family-owned company and we're giving manufacturers an opportunity to do business with a strong regional player, which is a great alternative to the national chains.”

At the same time, the retailer plans to avoid the fate of defunct public dealers through controlled growth and internal funding. “We're also a profitable company with no debt, and we're very happy answering to ourselves,” Richard said. “We can open seven to 10 stores a year now in a logical, controlled way, and can choose whether to enter new markets or rebuild existing ones.”

The company is also prepared for a coming dust-up with hhgregg (see p. 4), which has a similar product mix and business model and is also opening its first Philadelphia stores this year, along with locations in southern New Jersey.

“We have dealt with competitors all our lives,” Richard said, reciting a litany of fallen New York-area chains including Brick Church, Crazy Eddie, Newmark & Lewis, The Wiz, Tops Appliance and Trader Horn. “We've seen 'em come and go. We welcome new competitors into the most difficult market in the country, where we have a loyal customer base. Competition keeps you smart, keen and on top of the game.”

The company, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last fall, is equally confident in an eventual economic recovery, having survived The Great Depression, multiple recessions and two world wars.

“People will spend again when they start to feel confident about their jobs and their finances,” Richard said. “It could be this year or it could be in five years. Meanwhile we've been investing in our business in a huge way, so when things get better, we'll be ready.”

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