Special/Signature Issues » Teachable Moments

Even the Strongest Brands Must Fight to Survive

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It still hasn't sunk in, and probably won't for a few years. Ukrop's sale to Ahold USA represents the loss of Richmond's greatest brand. Forget Circuit City, Wachovia Securities, LandAmerica and all the others who died in the last two years. Ukrop's is the quintessence of a Very Richmond brand: neighborly, high-quality, steeped in morality and priced just high enough to be a tad exclusive. It's the only place where you can pay later if you leave your wallet at home, or have a man three times your age carry your groceries to the car.

They'll tell you that competition was just too stiff, that it was inevitable Ukrop's would succumb to mighty Wal-Mart and Kroger someday soon. Don't buy it. Ukrop's caught the same fatal disease that's infected so many of Richmond's great corporations in recent years: complacency. Its great innovations — customer value cards, prepared foods, First Market Bank — came 10 to 15 years ago. What did it do in the last 10 years? Not much, except stand idly by and watch the company's value shrink from more than half a billion — one source estimates the company was worth $600 million a decade ago — to $140 million, the price Ahold is paying. After the debt is paid, the Ukrop's family will net less than $50 million for 25 stores. It's a sad ending to a company that's given back so much.

So note to any great Richmond institutions hoping to stave off a similar fate: innovate or die.

Brand of the Decade: Ukrop's Super Markets

Runners-Up: Circuit City, LandAmerica, Reynolds Metals

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