The six-month transformation of the former Marsh supermarket in Columbus into Needler’s Fresh Market appears for the most part complete.
“We’ve got all our departments filled and the shelves are full,” Columbus store manager Greg Scherschel said.
More than 30 people attended a ribbon-cutting celebration midday Friday at the store, located at 3075 25th St. in the Clover Center Shopping Center.
The supermarket was one of 15 former Marsh stores acquired for $8 million in June by Fresh Encounter, Inc., a management company based in Findlay, Ohio.
Story continues below gallery
The Marsh acquisitions took place just weeks after Fresh Encounter took over 10 of the Cincinnati-based Remke Markets, Fresh Encounter co-owner Julie Needler Anderson said.
“We didn’t bite off more than we could chew, but it was a mouthful,” Anderson said.
With 25 new stores in multiple states acquired at roughly the same time, the transformation of the 35,240-square-foot store in Columbus had to occur slowly and quietly for several months, Anderson said.
Her brother and business partner, Michael S. Needler Jr., said Fresh Encounter has a list of three priorities each new store must meet to guarantee long-term success.
“The first thing we looked at was lowering prices to make sure we were competitive as we’ve ever been,” Needler said.
The other two top priorities were raising quality standards and demonstrating good customer service, he said.
Scherschel, who is one of about 50 retained Marsh employees, said many local residents have told him they felt Marsh had higher prices than competitors.
When that word-of-mouth reputation was coupled with negative publicity after Marsh declared bankruptcy last spring, customer traffic slowed noticeably, Scherschel said.
“This store was on a downward spiral,” Scherschel said. “But now, it’s nice to be on the upswing. We’re building up customers.”
One thing that Scherschel said is helping lure back customers is a new, permanent Needler sign just under the longstanding Clover Center sign on 25th Street. A large white sign featuring the name and logo are now firmly affixed on the west side of the building.
“They tell the community we’re here to stay,” Scherschel said.
In another effort to cement Needler’s status, Anderson said the supermarket will begin considering sponsorships and other community partnerships to benefit Bartholomew County the residents.
City budget director Jaime Brinegar, representing Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop at the celebration, said the Marsh store had struck him as unusually dark.
“But now, it’s unbelievably bright inside,” Brinegar said. “It is really inviting.”
As soon as shoppers enter, they see an old-fashioned popcorn machine providing a fresh supply of popped kernels. A number of bakery goods with the brand name “Buttercream” are also available near the front of the store.
Throughout the store, former Marsh brands such as Food Club and Valu Time have been replaced by Supervalu brand products.
In the produce department, the store has erected a large Christmas tree adorned with yellow lemon ornaments, a nod to the Needler logo that incorporates a fresh lemon.
The delicatessen area in the back of the store has a “dinner-made-easy” department, a holdover from Marsh. Conventional prepared favorites include fried chicken, sandwiches and salads, but there is also new ready-to-eat culinary offerings that include spaghetti, lasagna and beef stew.
Michael Needler said what customers are seeing now is a baseline of what the supermarket will be offering in the future.
Scherschel said he anticipates new services and unique products will be introduced in the coming months.
One such product was found and purchased by Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce president Cindy Frey just prior to Friday’s ribbon-cutting.
“I got a Christmas platter that says ‘Mommy is sleeping now. Just call Needler’s’,” Frey told the crowd. “That sounds pretty good to me.”
Fresh Encounter, Inc. began in 1995, when Michael S. Needler Sr. and his family purchased CWC Companies, a retail grocery chain founded in 1964. Fresh Encounter is based in Findley, Ohio.
In 1998, Fresh Encounter expanded with the acquisition of Fulmer Supermarkets, another retail grocery chain, originally founded in 1909, and again in 2014 with the purchase of Chief Supermarkets, based in Defiance, Ohio.
The Columbus supermarket was one of 15 former Marsh stores acquired by Fresh Encounter in June.
Today, Fresh Encounter operates stores throughout Ohio and eastern Indiana under a variety of banners that include:
- Community Markets
- Great Scott Community Markets
- Sack ‘N Save Supermarket