German grocer Lidl opens first Maryland location in Bowie

jochavez@capgaznews.com

Beverly and Buddy Boone were in line at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday. Maryland’s first Lidl grocery store — off Annapolis Road in Bowie — didn’t open until 8 a.m.

The Heather Hills neighborhood residents were rewarded for their dedication with a $100 gift card and a bouquet of flowers for being the first customer in line.

“I went to the store in Fredericksburg (Va.) and just loved it, the prices, everything they had,” Beverly Boone said.

German grocery chain Lidl entered the Maryland market nearly a year after opening its first Washington, D.C.,-area location.

Lidl (pronounced LEE-dul) operates under a strategy of providing private-label goods for discount prices, which puts it in competition with larger grocers like Giant and Whole Foods and smaller discount chains like fellow-German grocery chain Aldi.

University of Maryland Professor of Marketing Jie Zhang said that Lidl’s success is driven in part by its ability to remain attractive to financially secure consumers while setting prices within reach of low-income consumers.

“When I traveled in Europe, I went to a Lidl store just to check it out, because I happened to hear from local friends there that they like it, even though they don’t generally shop at discount stores,” Zhang said. “Even though the retail industry is highly competitive, there is certainly much need to be filled in the discount retail sector. There’s still a large section of lower-income consumers that are not well-served by the current establishments.”

Aside from the quality of goods and discount prices, Lidl offers an aesthetic alternative to the big box supermarkets that have historically dominated the domestic industry.

Lidl’s American stores, which are slightly larger than their European locations, still come in at a more compact 36,000 square feet, with 20,000 square feet of selling space. They’re known for their minimalist layout, with just six aisles.

The interior of Lidl stores are compact, resembling grocers more commonly found in urban settings.

They offer amenities found in most larger grocery stores, like an on-site bakery and non-food goods such as outdoor furniture and children’s toys.

“I think it comes back to the same foundation … where the stores are easy to shop, they’re attractive and the quality of the products at the prices we offer them at is very unique to find,” said company spokesman Will Harwood, who added Lidl was named a top-three grocer in the U.S. by Food & Wine magazine earlier this year.

The urban style of Lidl is winning over the millennial market as well, according to an independent study by management consulting company Oliver Wyman earlier this year.

The study polled 600 American consumers and found the store is frequented at least twice a month by 71 percent of consumers aged 18-24 and 62 percent of consumers aged 25 to 35.

The firm attributed the findings to younger consumers appreciating the private-label product quality and affordable prices.

“Lidl is like the Target of the discount world for general merchandizers,” Zhang said. “So they’ve tried to carve themselves out as a more upbeat, more chic store image, which can be really attractive to younger consumers.”

Lidl, which Harwood described as having a “deep presence” in 27 different countries, made its initial foray into the United States market in 2017. The Bowie location is the fourth in the metropolitan area, after three Virginia locations opened in Manassas, Woodbridge and Ashburn.

Another location will open in Dumfries, Va. Sept. 26.

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