Why Wegmans would be perfect for Ballantyne

Plus: Atrium uses 'mom influencers'; New record price for uptown condo; Robots coming for your banking job?

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Opinion: Wegmans is expanding south, and there’s a spot in wealthy, Northerner-filled Ballantyne that makes a lot of sense

Last week, more than 30,000 people in Raleigh visited the first Wegmans store in North Carolina on its opening day. That’s not a typo. It was 30,000. When the store opened at 7 a.m., there were 3,000 people in line.

Wegmans has announced plans to open four other stores in the Raleigh area, part of its southward march from its base in the Northeast.

But when is Wegmans coming to Charlotte — and where?

Usually, the Ledger tells you things that are definitive. Occasionally, we’ll lay out some facts and trends and try to predict what lies ahead. This article falls into that second category. It’s more like educated speculation.

Out on a limb: When it comes to Wegmans and Charlotte, Ballantyne would be the perfect place — specifically, the site on Community House Road that developer Northwood Office is setting aside for a possible grocery store as part of the huge, 454-acre rezoning and redevelopment it has proposed.

Northwood hasn’t given many details about the retail components of its proposed development, but here’s why a Wegmans would make sense:

—> Ballantyne is filled with Northerners. Wegmans is based in upstate New York, and its fans tend to come from where it has stores — an area concentrated in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Guess which part of town happens to be heavy with people from that very region?

According to census data, in the Ballantyne-area zip code 28277, 17% of residents were born in the Northeast. The zip code in which the new Raleigh Wegmans opened has only 14% of its residents born in the Northeast.

—> Ballantyne is filled with wealthy people. In the zip code 28277, the median household income is $101,000. That’s not as much as, say, Myers Park (zip code 28207 is $131,000), but it’s far above the city average of $58,000.

—> Ballantyne is growing. There have been three high-rise buildings announced in Ballantyne in the last six months.

In addition, besides the grocery store and other retail space, Northwood’s big Ballantyne Reimagined development would add 2,200 apartments and 300 townhouses in two phases that are close to Northwood’s planned grocery site. That has to be attractive to potential grocers. That development still requires a city rezoning.

The grocery location, by the way, is just 15 minutes from SouthPark, 10 minutes from Rea Farms and is also close to the growing 521 corridor in South Carolina.

—> Northwood Office’s grocery space is large, and Wegmans has large grocery stores. Northwood officials have said that of the 300,000 s.f. of retail in their development, 125,000 of it would be grocery. That is huge for a grocery store.

Most other grocery stores are smaller. (Do you really think Ballantyne developers would put in a Food Lion, Compare Foods or Aldi in their upscale development?)

Wegmans, on the other hand, builds massive stores — up to 140,000 s.f. The one that opened in Raleigh is 104,000 s.f. One scheduled to open in West Cary next year is 103,000 s.f. (down from original plans of 130,000 s.f.) Its average store happens to be 125,000 s.f. … which is exactly the size that Northwood is envisioning for a new Ballantyne grocery store.

—> Harris Teeter and Publix are already close by. Grocery stores tend not to open new stores close to existing stores. Here’s a map of grocery stores near the big blue question mark, which is the Northwood site:

It’s right between two Harris Teeters, just a couple miles from a Publix and down the street from Earth Fare.

Asked about expansion plans in Charlotte, a Wegmans spokeswoman gave the Ledger the anticipated PR response: “Our real estate team is always looking for new opportunities. However, we do not comment on specific sites unless we have negotiated a lease or purchase agreement.”

The Ledger talked to Northwood CEO John Barton in person at a Ballantyne community meeting in late August. We employed an old reporter trick to glean information — the tactic of pretending to know more than we did. (Police interrogators use the same technique when they ask suspects to explain, say, how their fingerprints might have wound up on the murder weapon, when in fact they have no such proof.)

After some preliminary chit-chat, our question to Barton: “How would you characterize your conversations with Wegmans?”

His reply: “I don’t know what you mean by that. We have not identified any sort of grocer.” He said Northwood has not signed any letters of intent and couldn’t comment on conversations with potential tenants. He said Northwood’s redevelopment plan is conceptual and that his company is focused first on getting it approved before recruiting retailers. Fair enough.

Disclaimers: OK, sure, it might not happen. Nobody at Northwood or Wegmans told me publicly or privately that it is in the works. Maybe it will be a different grocery store — a smaller one with other retailers on the site. Maybe Wegmans won’t want to come to Charlotte, or it won’t be able to agree on terms with Northwood, or Northwood changes its mind about a grocery store. Perhaps the economy will sour and expansions will be put on hold.

But I’ll stick with this prediction: Wegmans will open in Ballantyne.

If I’m right, expect to hear for a long time about the Charlotte Ledger, the Hot New Digital Publication That Correctly Predicted the Location of the First Wegmans in Charlotte. If I’m wrong, well, I’ll probably still leave this post up for posterity and will eat crow.

If Wegmans is heading this way, where else would it go? — Tony Mecia

Atrium Health is paying ‘mom influencers’

A lot of different businesses are finding that it makes smart business sense to market their products using influencers, people with lots of social-media followers who write glowing posts about a company for money.

Locally, you’d usually think of lesser-known jewelry shops and restaurants that try to create an online buzz by paying people with thousands of followers to post pics online and to speak favorably of their brand. But now, it appears that even Charlotte’s largest private employer, Atrium Health, has gotten into the act.

At September’s PitchBreakfast at Packard Place uptown, where start-ups have their strategies critiqued like on “Shark Tank,” one local company talked about its innovative marketing strategy, according to the business publication Charlotte Inno:

Using influencers for marketing purposes is pretty hot right now, and MOM CLT wants to put a creative spin on the trend: using local moms to help brands advertise.

Founders Rebecca Plaisance and Theresa Joiner have a database of local moms who they can contact, based on a business’s target audience, to promote said business. Then, participating moms are then compensated with products or services. 

It’s an idea that’s resonated with the likes of Atrium Health and local pottery painting store Dish It Out, two entities that are among the startup’s clients. 

Though annoying, there’s nothing wrong with advertising where people’s eyeballs are — and there are definitely a lot of eyeballs on social media. The trouble with influencers, though, is that they often fail to distinguish between authentic opinions and paid ads. The Federal Trade Commission has developed guidelines for influencers to avoid deceptive and potentially illegal marketing. A lot of influencers seem to fall short of the guidelines.

As one of the PitchBreakfast judges pointed out:

“I noticed that you’re blurring the line between influencers and community members,” said [Garth] Moulton, a move he felt could be a problem for the company going forward.

Plaisance said that all posts are subject to FTC disclosures (that “#ad” you see at the end of Instagram and Facebook posts), so there is an element of transparency. 

A Google Doc linked from MOM CLT’s Facebook page that seeks to sign up Charlotte moms explains how the company works:

There will be requirements for each program you participate in. It may be sharing a few posts about the business on your social media accounts, it maybe some awesome Instagram pics or we may hook you up with a special link to share with your friends so you can get some awesome kickbacks

And who doesn’t love awesome kickbacks?

A quick Instagram check reveals a few examples of Atrium mom-influencer marketing, like this post from May:

Loves me some internet

Charlotte Agenda’s Katie Levans discovered over the weekend that there’s an Instagram account dedicated to reviewing Charlotte restrooms:

The account, cltpoops, has 13 reviews. The highest-rated is the Midwood Smokehouse in Plaza-Midwood (8.5 out of 10).

CharlotteFive last year wrote a feature piece on a rival Instagram account, cltbathrooms, that takes an artsier approach:

Maybe this is a new trend: the rise of restroom influencers?

In brief:

  • CEO dies: The 74-year-old healthcare CEO who was shot at the Epicentre uptown last week died of his wounds on Saturday. John Holaday, CEO of Dispose RX, happened to be walking by when struck by a bullet. A 16-year-old was charged with murder. (WFAE)

  • Uptown condo price record: A two-story, 6,600 s.f. condo in The Trust building at 4th and South Tryon streets recently sold for $3.9M, “the most expensive piece of residential property that’s ever sold in the history of Uptown.” Sorry, public records shed no light on who might be living there: The buyer is DLP Real Estate Holdings II LLC. (Agenda, with photos)

  • County business loan details: Mecklenburg County is set to unveil details of its new $3M small-business loan program this morning, according to the digital publication QCityMetro. The county has said it is stepping in to offer loans because nobody else locally provides that service. The Ledger showed in May that in fact there are several nonprofit lenders in Charlotte that make loans of less than $50,000 to qualified small businesses.

  • Robots taking bank jobs: The U.S. banking industry will lose an estimated 200,000 jobs to automation over the next decade, according to a report by Wells Fargo. “Back office, bank branch, call center and corporate employees are being cut by about a fifth to a third, with jobs related to tech, sales, advising and consulting less affected.” Study’s author says: “The next decade should be the biggest decade for banks in technology in history. You’re about to see the biggest capital for labor swap in history.” (Bloomberg/Yahoo Finance)

Taking stock

Unless you are a day trader, checking your stocks daily is unhealthy. So how about weekly? How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:

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The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

The Charlotte Ledger is published by Tony Mecia, an award-winning former Charlotte Observer business reporter and editor. He lives in Charlotte with his wife and three children.