With a low-key celebration appropriate for an era of social distancing—and nearly two years after first envisioning it would hit this milestone—Lidl U.S. marked the opening of its 100th U.S. store this week.
The newly built unit in Suwanee, Ga., is actually the 102nd store that the Alexandria, Va.-based division of Germany’s Schwarz Group has opened in the U.S. since its debut in June 2017, but two of the stores built in its initial U.S. rollout closed last summer.
The upstart discounter had originally set sights on 100 stores within 12 months, but those plans were curtailed when the initial fleet was judged to have been too large, too expensive to build and, in some cases, poorly located, leading to the unraveling of dozens of planned sites and the adoption of a more efficient and flexible location strategy that eschews a uniform owned fleet of 36,000-square-foot greenfield units in favor of a mix of second- or third-generation leased stores in proven sites and a revamped prototype format that is smaller, less flashy and presumably more efficient than its older siblings. And perhaps chastened by having once overpromised on development, Lidl’s 100th unit comes comfortably ahead of a revised forecast indicating the company would reach that figure by the end of this year.
The pivot, which kicked into gear when Lidl acquired New York’s Best Market chain and begun converting those units on Long Island, has now put Lidl’s initial fleet of so-called “glass palaces” in the minority. Its 100 units now operate between Atlanta and New York, while reported interest in expansion into Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and Texas has long been on hold.
Store interior designs have also undergone a quiet transformation, today emphasizing weathered brick and signage in a handwritten chalkboard style in the place of arresting neon price signs and chrome features that came with its arrival.
Lidl’s pace of openings has accelerated under this new approach, indicating the closely held discounter has finally arrived upon a formula with which it can effectively disrupt the established market, even as the delay gave the establishment more time to adjust.
Anticipation of Lidl’s arrival three years ago, joining its fast-growing German counterpart Aldi in the U.S., is thought to have a been a factor in a concurrent move by Walmart to reinvent its approach to food and subsequently invest in price. Discounters also prompted new industrywide attention on private brands, as established food retailers moved to defend themselves against the kind of share erosion the limited-assortment discounters achieved in Europe.
The Suwanee opening, Lidl’s U.S. Chairman Roman Heini said, “represents an important milestone in our mission to deliver outstanding quality products at the lowest possible prices to our customers in the United States. We plan to continue to build new stores, ramp up our hiring efforts and expand our network of distribution centers to reach even more customers in the years ahead. We look forward to forging new and strong relationships with everyone who helps make our journey possible.”
Lidl is currently at work on a distribution center near Atlanta—its fourth such U.S. facility—and according to Planned Grocery. has at least 65 proposed new locations in the U.S., including 18 currently under construction.
In Suwanee, Lidl planned a “soft opening,” mindful of drawing the kind of crowds its U.S. openings have typically had until the coronavirus pandemic. Stores throughout the chain are marking the occasion with a $10 off $100 purchase offer through June 2.