Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Aquavina closes on the Green

Aquavina, a standby lunch and dinner spot for the uptown crowd, has closed, according to a brief statement on the restaurant's website.

"AQUAVINA HAS CLOSED FOR BUSINESS. Thank you for your patronage throughout the years," the statement said.

The restaurant's phone number appeared to be disconnected Tuesday afternoon, and calls wouldn't go through. A sign on the restaurant's door said it was "Closed for a private event," and the door was locked, with an empty cardboard box sitting outside.

The restaurant was started in the early 2000s by local lawyer, landlord and restaurateur Stefan Latorre.  

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Lowe's slips in J.D. Power rankings

Mooresville-based Lowe's, Inc. slipped a spot in the J.D. Power annual ranking of home improvement retailers.

Lowe's fell to third place, down from second last year. The retailer's score for customer satisfaction only dropped a point, to 768 out of a possible 1,000, but Menard's improved its own score and jumped ahead of Lowe's.

Ace took the No. 1 spot for the seventh year in a row, with a score of 803. The study ranks home improvement retailers based on customer surveys about customer service, store condition, price and availability.

The study highlights how important customers say good sales associates are while home improvement shopping: 80 percent said they request help finding an item in home improvement stores.

Christina Cooley, study director for J.D. Power, said Lowe's scored best with merchandise variety
and availability, and could improve its customer service.

"The area that Lowe's continues to do well in is merchandise," she said. "Where the opportunity continues to be is directly related to staff and service."

She said Ace continued to rank first based largely on the strength of its customer service. The retailer scored well on things such as greeting customers, helping them find items, and helping them out the door quickly.

Lowe's CEO Robert Niblock said Lowe's had gone too far in cutting employee hours and inventory during the recession, after sales dipped in the first quarter. He said the retailer is adding back employee hours during busy weekday shopping times to better close sales, and deepening its inventory to makes sure key items are in stock.

Lowe's can take some solace in placing third out of six home improvement chains in the report. The company beat out True Value, Home Depot, and Sears.

Monday, June 3, 2013

UPDATE: Ahold could shed light on Harris Teeter acquisition

For months now, rumors have been circulating about who - if anyone - will buy local supermarket company Harris Teeter. But a Dutch company's financial results Tuesday could give a hint about one potential suitor's intents (see below for an update Tuesday).

Royal Ahold, owner of U.S. supermarkets including Stop & Shop and Giant, has been discussed as a possible buyer for Harris Teeter.

Remember, Harris Teeter disclosed in February that it has hired J.P. Morgan to explore a possible sale of the company.

Ahold has been flush with cash since selling its stake in the ICA supermarket chain to another European grocer for $3.1 billion earlier this year. With a $2.3 billion market cap for Harris Teeter, some analysts speculated Ahold could turn around and purchase the Matthews-based grocer.

But Bloomberg News is reporting that analysts now believe Ahold will announce Tuesday that it plans to give back most of the proceeds from the ICA sale back to shareholders in capital payments and share buybacks.

UPDATE: Ahold is returning $2.6 billion worth of capitol to shareholders, according to Bloomberg News.

That would, of course, reduce the amount of cash Ahold has for potential acquisitions, and dampen the likelihood Ahold buys Harris Teeter.

So who would that leave? Other names that have been thrown around as acquirers for Harris Teeter include rivals such as Publix and Kroger, or private equity firms such as Cerberus and Bain. Or, the other possibility might be more likely: That Harris Teeter doesn't sell to anyone and remains independent. What do you think?