Suffolk is new door to Tidewater market

Published 12:01 am Sunday, October 30, 2011

O’Reilly Auto Parts, a nationwide chain of auto supply stores, made its debut into the Hampton Roads market by way of Suffolk. Officials will cut a ribbon and hold a grand opening at the store this week.

City officials are prepared to cut the ribbon next week on an encouraging new trend.

A grand opening set for Saturday at O’Reilly Auto Parts on Holland Road will mark the first-ever O’Reilly store in Hampton Roads. Though it has stores in 39 states, the chain is just now making its foray into the Tidewater area.

The especially encouraging part is that it chose Suffolk to do so, said Kevin Hughes, economic development director for the city.

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“They’re responding to new customers coming into the market,” Hughes said. “They’re looking for growth.”

Sleepy’s, a mattress store chain that had only two stores in Hampton Roads before it opened in Harbour View last month, is another example of the trend.

Hughes said companies likely are seeing an opportunity to expand into Hampton Roads via Suffolk because of the city’s astronomical growth in the last decade, compared to only marginal growth in the rest of the region.

“I don’t think we’re in a situation where a retailer comes into our market and tries to steal a customer away,” Hughes said. “They’re able to get new customers.”

A spokesman for O’Reilly confirmed that the store chose Suffolk because of extensive market research that showed a growing economy and many customers.

Suffolk also was a perfect geographic fit for what the company calls its “contiguous growth model,” said Mark Merz, director of external reporting and investor relations for the company.

The company tries to grow outward 250 to 300 miles from where its distribution centers are located, Merz said. A distribution center in Greensboro, N.C., will be serving the Suffolk store.

“We do a pretty detailed analysis before we open a store,” Merz said. “We look for multiple things — a good, strong, growing economy, a good population of not only retail customers but professional service provider customers, vehicle populations, demographics of vehicle populations and demographics of the market itself.”

The company also looks at the competition, he said.

“We do all different types of analysis before we enter the market.”

The company determined that Suffolk “would be a great place to enter the market,” he said.

“It’s always great when you sit down and do your research and find a great market,” he said. “It’s always exciting to open in a new market.”

The closest O’Reilly stores are in Elizabeth City, Ahoskie, Emporia and Hopewell.

As for mattress retailer Sleepy’s, it already has locations in Virginia Beach and Norfolk, but like several other retail chains have this year, it decided to open a location in Harbour View.

“This retail component is going to be very important to us in the coming years,” Hughes said, adding he anticipates the trend to continue. “We hope to have some good announcements in the next couple months. It’s a response to these retailers responding to the growth.”