WEST FALMOUTH CROSSING, Maine -- Hannaford Bros. rang up record sales at a new store here one sunny Saturday when it gave away 25,000 pounds of lobster to a seemingly never-ending wave of customers.
Lobster Day at Hannaford was the talk of the town, and that's precisely what company officials at the chain had in mind when they decided to launch such a dramatic promotion. Headquartered in Scarborough, Maine, Hannaford recently became a division of Delhaize America, Salisbury, N.C.
Retail competition in this northern suburb of Portland is hot and Hannaford wanted to do something special to draw customers to its new-look, 55,000-square-foot, fresh-format store which opened here last month [see "New Hannaford Format Reflects New Attitude," SN 7/17/00]. So, on a Saturday a couple of weeks after opening day, the chain offered customers a live lobster for every $25 they spent in the store.
The offer was good from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., and there was no limit to the number of lobsters a customer could "earn." One man walked away with 44 of the claw-waving creatures after having purchased $1,100 worth of gift certificates. But most people just filled up their shopping cart -- or carts.
"The average order size that day was huge, and some people bought gift certificates so they could get more free lobsters. They'll use the certificates to buy groceries here weeks from now. It was our best grand opening sales day. Actually, I've been told it was our best sales day ever, at any store," a source at Hannaford told SN.
In order to bulk up their lobster inventory for that day, Hannaford's buyers were actually purchasing additional lobsters at the dock from their competition.
"It would have been hard to find a lobster at any other retail store in the area. We bought up every lobster from the coast to Cumberland County. Our people were down at the docks buying all they could get," the Hannaford source said.
The store opened early, before its normal 7 a.m. opening time because crowds had already begun to gather at the door by 6:30. Customers stood in line for up to three hours to check out, but everybody appeared to be in a good mood, associates at the store said. A barbershop quartet entertained and later the seafood manager told jokes and conducted a sing-along to keep people occupied. And all the associates, clad in red T-shirts inscripted with "Lobstah Day" in sun yellow lettering, got into the swing of things, customers said. Associates were not only helpful but downright cheerful, they explained.
"But the mood was festive. Anyone who came for the lobsters knew they'd have to wait it out. They knew what to expect. If they didn't, or if they didn't want to do it, they left," said one customer.
"You wouldn't think that in Maine this would be such a big deal, but it is. It's a treat. We don't have it very often. Only special occasions," said Peggy Wolf, who lives in nearby Westbook.
"I got six free lobsters that day and cooked them the old-fashioned way [in a lobster pot]. My husband and I ate them all. Just lobster and some french fries," said Wolf.
Another customer who spent more than two hours in the checkout line that day was South Portland High School's lacrosse coach Steve Matoian. He went home with 15 lobsters and he and his wife invited another couple over for a lobster feast that night.
"Normally, I'd spent $150 to $175 on groceries but that day I spent twice that much. We stocked up on things that would keep, like paper goods. Paper towels and shaving cream," Matoian said.
"We had lobster left over. Some of those were really big, maybe a pound and a half, even though they were all supposed to be about a pound and a quarter. We just had four adults and two kids eating them, but certainly none went to waste. I made lobster stew the next day and we had some lobster sandwiches."
Troy and Tammy Locke were among those customers who beat the system by buying gift certificates for future use. They took one look at the checkout lines and headed for the customer service counter where only a handful of people were waiting in line, Troy Locke said.
After finding a hard-won parking space, the Lockes found that there was at least a half hour wait just to get ahold of a shopping cart, a longer wait than there was at the customer service counter.
He and his wife bought $600 worth of certificates in the morning and then he went back in the afternoon and charged $500 more in certificates on a credit card.
"We decided to have a lobster bash so we just started calling people. We figured if we couldn't lure people to our house with lobster, we didn't have any friends at all. It was great. We had 16 people over," Locke said.
"They have us. It was a great promotion. We live in Gray and my wife has always shopped at Shaw's, but for the next few months anyway, she'll be going to Hannaford in Falmouth."
Other shoppers that day told SN they wouldn't necessarily buy lobster but certainly would buy other fresh seafood from Hannaford Bros. They demurred, too, about whether the giveaway would entice them to do all their future shopping at Hannaford.
"I don't know. We watch for the best deal," said one nearby resident. But another said, "It certainly got me to take notice of their new store."
And that's what it's all about. The chain is looking to introduce as many people as possible to its newly unveiled fresh-format, open-air market design, sources said.