Fred's Closing Robbins Store Oct. 2
Robbins got more bad news this week. Fred's will close its store there.
The regional manager arrived Thursday morning accompanied by a person from human resources to tell store manager Kim Lester the store would be closing in five weeks.
"I don't know what I can tell you," Lester said in a telephone interview later that day. "Our last day will be five weeks from today."
That would be Oct. 2, if the five-week deadline holds. The closed store will not necessarily put anybody out of work, according to Lester. She's been its manager only a relatively short time, she said.
"The company is going to try to find jobs at other stores," Lester said. "They don't want to put anybody out of work. We may have to move. There is nothing we can do. We will start our big sale Sunday, with the store open its regular hours."
An agent from a company that does store closings will be in charge of sales and any price reductions over the five-week closing process, Lester said.
Nationwide, the parent company Fred's Inc. is closing 75 stores. The move comes as part of a new cost-cutting campaign that Fred's Inc. hopes will increase its annual operating margin by 4.5 percent.
More than 10 percent of the chain will close their doors. All 75 -- which contributed $112 million in annual sales -- will close by the end of the year, according to CoStar Reports, a retail industry watchdog.
The company is scaling back expansion plans as well. A smaller number of new locations, however, will be opening. Fred's now plans to open 18 stores and 15 pharmacies in 2008, down from its 2007 plan for 35 to 40 new general merchandise stores like the ones in Robbins and Carthage and 15 to 25 new pharmacies.
All this follows a January sales report showing total sales down 19 percent for the chain's 716 stores, CoStar said. That led the Memphis-based retailer to initiate a strategic plan they say is aimed at "upgrading the company's real estate program for upside potential."
A typical Fred's store is 15,000 square feet, with the Robbins location somewhat larger than its neighbor in the county seat.
The Fred's store in Carthage has done well, ranking No. 2 in the region last year -- which put it in first place for North Carolina. Lester thought it unlikely that the Carthage store would be on the closing list, but said she really had no idea.
The company wants to save $11 million on an annual bases starting the second half of this year, and reduce corporate overhead by 10 percent. New marketing measures will aim at increasing the chain's margin.
Robbins is apparently one of a number of stores the company sees as "under-performing" locations.
Lester didn't know if other stores in the region, which includes parts of both North and South Carolina, will be closed.
No notice was given to the town, despite the chain's vaunted policy of strengthening communities where its stores are located.
Nobody from the company notified Town Manager Brant Sikes or anybody else at Town Hall.
"I found out approximately the same time everybody did -- by rumor," Sikes said Friday morning. "It is a shock, and it is bad. They were definitely a huge asset to Robbins."
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at jchappell@ thepilot.com.
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