Houston is a very diverse place. In addition to the various neighborhoods, it also has large competition in the grocery market. There’s the San Antonio-based H-E-B, Kroger, a regional grocery store chain marketed toward Hispanics called Fiesta (which is based in Houston), Randalls (a Safeway-owned label that was once locally-based), Whole Foods Marketplace, Wal-Mart Supercenter, SuperTarget, and another local chain called Food Town. In short, there’s no end to the places where you can buy food. A long line of defunct grocery stores and hypermarkets also go in the list, including small local chains and large hypermarkets that have since high-tailed it out of town. This included Super Kmart Center (and all the other Kmart stores in the region) which closed in 2003. It also had another hypermarket, which also closed in 2003, but rather than exiting the Houston market, the regional market, or Texas market, it left the United States altogether. It was called Auchan.
When it opened in 1988, it was unlike anything ever seen in Houston. A building at 230,000 square feet ("mind-numbingly huge" at the time), it featured several small shops and cafés in front, including a travel agency, a jewelry store, a bank, and a food court with Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, and Taco Bell. With warehouse-style ceilings, the center featured a large supermarket with fresh and unusual produce, great selections of cheese, a beer and wine section featuring even local breweries, such as Austin-made Celis. A bakery made things like delicious éclairs. The kitchen had name brands but the electronics did not. The seafood department brought in large metal tubs of wriggling crawfish every Friday. Just for comparison, an average Wal-Mart Supercenter is at 197,000 square feet.
The way that it dispensed carts was unique. As Dagnabbit puts it:
Auchan had one thing that I would have liked to see spread to other grocery stores in town, it dealt with the shopping carts.
How many times have you been driving through a greocery store parking lot searching for that perfect space and find one only to be turned away because there were one or several shopping carts filling part of it?
That was never an issue at Auchan because in order to use a shopping cart you had to insert a quarter into a slot on the handle to release the cart from the cart in front of it.
So when you were done shopping, if you wanted your quarter back you had to return the cart to the cart return and after you pushed your cart into the cart in front of yours your quarter would be released.
Other memories include the express lane (originally 35) which changed when they knocked down the number to 15 (and added more than one!) and possibly a strike.
Anyway, as time went on, the novelty started to wear off and the clientele changed. Most people had moved onto Wal-Mart Supercenters which came on the scene in the early-mid 1990s. By the early 2000s, the only people that went to it were Hispanic and Asian (as that was the part of town where they lived). The store was physically dirty and run-down. The 80s-style rectangular skylights were never updated. A second location opened in 2000 on the South 610 belt in what Wikipedia says is a former Target but it did not become a great success. In 2003, the corporate headquarters in France decided to pull the plug on the Houston market and the American market as a whole.
The second store on 610
As a side note, Houston was not the only American city to get an Auchan. One opened in Chicago in 1989 but sold two years later.
NEWSPAPER ARTICLE (10/24/1988)
Auchan Opens U.S. Hypermarket; Heralds Lowest Prices in Houston
HOUSTON -- With the hoopla of a homecoming pageant, the Auchan Group, the $9 billion French retailer, opened its first U.S. hypermarket here this month. It is the third true hypermarket concept to open in the United States in the past 10 months.
Led by the music of a local high school band as well as the Auchan bird character, opening ceremonies contrasted sharply with the relatively "quiet" debut of Carrefour, Auchan's France-based competitor which opened its first U.S. hypermarket in Philadelphia earlier this year.
Auchan execs, with local politicians, major vendors and the media, opened the doors to the 230,000-square-foot grocery and general merchandise store, on a 31-acre site in the southwest section of the nation's fourth-largest city.
The store, operated by Texfield Inc., an Auchan subsidiary formed in 1987, will have an immediate impact on the competitive Houston market.
"A highly competitive market is good for Auchan and other retailers because it forces us all to strive to be the best," said Wilfrid d'Audiffret, Texfield's president. "But the real winner is the consumer, who benefits from excellent prices and high levels of service and quality."
Business was brisk and steady on opening day. But, the debut did not attract the huge crowds that turned out last Dec. 28 for the opening of Wal-Mart's Hypermart USA. Auchan officials were hopeful that business would rise dramatically by Sunday, Oct. 16, when the first circular hit area homes. Prior to the opening, no specific product advertisements appeared. Instead the company promoted its concept of low everyday prices (using the motto, "Pay the least, get the most"), and its image with institutional ads and highway billboards.
Auchan is similar in design to the other hypermarkets, with three entrances, a central checkout with 55 registers, a retail mall, and wide isles from 8 feet to 20 feet. The 130,000 square feet of selling space is evenly divided between food and non-food items.
Auchan has taken a more aggressive merchandising and promotional position than Carrefour. It utilizes endcaps with waterfall-style displays, but doesn't go to the extreme that Hypermart USA does with avalanche displays. The 12-foot to 15-foot shelf gondolas are lower than Hypermart USA's ceiling-high racks, but higher than Carrefour's.
Shoes and domestics occupy half the 23,000-square-foot apparel area. A 200-seat food court has six chain restaurants and eight retail shops.
And One on the Closing
Monday, January 6, 2003
Auchan to close Houston hypermarkets
Houston Business Journal
The Auchan Group will close its two hypermarkets in Houston within the next three months.
Combined, the stores employ 730 people.
Citing a sharp increase in regional competition over the past two years, the French supermarket chain said the competition put the brakes on any growth potential for the two hypermarkets — its only remaining U.S. stores — which are reporting losses.
The group said it now plans to pursue and boost growth by concentrating its human and financial resources in what it called high-priority development areas, such as Europe — including Poland, Hungary and Russia — and in Asia with China and Taiwan.
Auchan first opened its doors in west Houston in 1988 at 8800 West Sam Houston Parkway South. In September 2000, a second store was opened in southeast Houston at 6059 South Loop East.
Where They Were
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The 1988 West Beltway Location
View Larger Map
The 2000 610 Location
Update: Two New Articles Have Been Added
Hyperexpansion; France's Auchan stocks hopes with second Houston megastore.(BUSINESS).
The Houston Chronicle (Houston, TX) (Sept 2, 2000): p1. (1024 words)
Full Text :COPYRIGHT 2000 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspapers Partnership, LP
When Auchan opened its first hypermarket in Houston in 1988, the French company was confident it could open more of the mammoth stores within two or three years.
Twelve years later, Auchan finally has realized its long- delayed ambition. Its second retail outlet in the United States will open in southeast Houston within the next week, proving that the European hypermarket concept can survive stateside.
"We had originally thought the first store would break even within a couple of years, but it took us five years instead of two," said Gerard Gallet, president of Auchan U.S.A. "Now that store does very, very well. That's why we were able to get the approval from France to do the second store."
Much has changed in the retail landscape during the past dozen years, making it possible for Auchan to turn the corner from being a freakish curiosity to viable shopping alternative.
At 235,000 square feet, Auchan was the biggest store in Houston by a factor of two when it opened. Now humongous stores are the order of the day. Wal-Mart is opening SuperCenters that are somewhere around 200,000 square feet each. Kmart has its own superstore concepts, and the warehouse clubs like Sam's have emerged as retail powerhouses. When you consider that Home Depot and Lowe's also operate megastores, Auchan doesn't seem as bizarre as it did in 1988.
Some Americans have decided that they like having everything under one roof, Gallet said. They don't want to leave the grocery store and then drive to a clothing store and then go somewhere else to buy housewares.
Another significant shift is the westside neighborhood where Auchan planted its flag is teeming with new homes, apartments and businesses. Back in 1988, the Sam Houston Tollway had not been completed.
"In 1988, the economy here was not so good. Retailers were leaving Houston, not opening new stores. To us, it seemed like a good time to set up shop," Gallet said.
That same contrarian view is evidenced in Auchan's newest choice of store site. The store, which will have its grand opening Thursday, is located on Loop 610 at Wayside.
"This area fell on hard times in the 1980s, and when Houston had its recovery, this area did not recover along with it," said David Mertins, director of the new Auchan store. "There has been almost no reinvestment here."
That appears to be changing, now that the nearby Gulfgate Mall is in the lengthy process of being redeveloped.
"That is one of the few areas in Houston that isn't covered up with stores," said realty broker Tom Estus, president of the Shelby-Estus Realty Group. "But if you look at the population density of that area, Auchan has all the customers they need right there within four or five miles of the store."
Auchan hopes to attract customers from miles in all directions, but its core constituents will be right there in its back yard. The demographic profile of Auchan's new neighborhood is, for the most part, a mix of Hispanic, black and white Houstonians.
The westside location, by contrast, is a magnet for the multitude of nationalities living in the area around Westheimer and the Sam Houston Tollway.
There is no predominant ethnic group out near the westside Auchan, said David Asher, produce manager and buyer for Auchan.
"We did a survey of this area, and we found that no ethnic group had more than a 13 percent share of the population," Asher said. "So we have every type of ethnic group and income level shopping in our store."
Because a true hypermarket is stocked half with food - meaning the westside store has almost 120,000 square feet of grocery space - Auchan is able to accommodate that kind of ethnic diversity with foods from around the world. It also is able to appeal to a range of incomes by stocking gourmet fare like fine French cheeses and wines, while at the same time selling bulk bags of rice and other discount fare.
"Houston is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the United States. And because we are so big, we can serve all those different people," Gallet said. "The city's diversity is a very big asset to us."
Auchan expects that diversity to come into play at the new location, but the company also realizes it must do a good job of serving the Hispanic customer who is predominant in that area. To achieve that goal, it has added a Mexican-American bakery chef to work along side a French pastry chef. It also is giving more room to foods that appeal specifically to Hispanic Houstonians.
The new store is smaller than the first, measuring 180,000 square feet. But most of the difference is storage space, with only 15,000 feet of actual retail space separating the two stores. The new Auchan is not big enough for a fast-food outlet inside - the first has a McDonald's.
Still, there is nothing small about the new Auchan. The store can brag of 64 feet of cold beer on display, a few thousand bottles of wine, a 32-foot fish counter and a "valley of soft drinks."
The new store will grow next spring when the lease expires on an adjacent dollar store and Auchan snaps up the extra space.
"This store used to be a Target store, but it has been totally rebuilt. It has a new floor, a new roof, new plumbing, new electrical - even the parking lot is new," Mertins said.
The differences between the original Auchan and the second generation store are slight. Basically, this is more of the same, and Auchan bets that Houstonians will like it that way.
"We have learned a lot about Houston, and we are ready to use that knowledge. We are not ready to move outside of Houston yet. Our next store will be somewhere else in the city," Gallet said.
"We think we can do three or four more hypermarkets in Houston before moving on to neighboring cities like San Antonio, Austin and Dallas. But all of our future growth in the United States will be directed out of Houston."
CE reaches new heights at Auchan - consumer electronics; Auchan hypermarket in Houston - Regional Analysis: West South Central - company profile
Discount Store News, May 8, 1989
CE Reaches New Heights at Auchan
HOUSTON -- Auchan, the hypermarket retailer based here, has elevated consumer electronics to the status of power department to better compete with national discount and CE chains.
The French-owned firm may be the epitome of a regional retailer, 1990s-style: Each store (the second opened recently just outside Chicago) will be independently owned and will have its own buying and merchandising staff.
That philosophy will lead to highly individualized store operations, an Auchan spokesman noted, which in turn will lead to more responsiveness to local market conditions. In Houston, an important element in the competitive stance is a first-class consumer electronics department.
Like later editions of Wal-Mart's Hypermart USA, the company has spotlighted its CE department by putting it in the front of the store, hoping that its wide selection, low prices and superstore-within-a-store appearance will draw customers in and lead them to shop the rest of the store.
Auchan's strategy is to be directly competitive with national CE chains with a strong local presence, like The Federated and Highland Superstores, by carrying a wide, upscale selection of audio and video products at aggressive price levels.
"Do we sell a lot of $2,000 projection televisions? No," commented a spokesman. "Does having them create other sales? Yes."
Depth is just as important. With 22 camcorders and 68 televisions, Auchan's selection compares with virtually any specialty store. While the 20/80 rule (20 percent of units account for 80 percent of sales) still holds, the company feels that CE shoppers need a wide selection. "They're not always shopping for what they can afford today," a spokesman noted. "Often, they're shopping for what they might be able to afford tomorrow."
The hypermarket faces a tough market in Houston. In addition to the town's widely publicized financial crisis. Houston is very well-stored at the discount level. Fiesta Mart, a local high-quality grocery/lower-quality general merchandise operation with ultra-low prices is very popular with Houstonians, particularly the city's large Hispanic population. Sam's Wholesale Club, Target, Marshalls, K mart, Toys "R" Us and many other discounters have strong, well-established presences in the city.
The company has addressed local needs by concentrating on certain popular, but highly localized, product areas. For example, the store features what might possibly be the largest crawfish display in the United States in its fresh seafood department. Given the Houstonians' love of fresh shellfish and fish, the seafood department is a very deep, well-stocked department.
In apparel, a large part of one run is given over to rodeo wear, a significant event in Houston life. The company features cowboy boots, rhinestone-studded shirts, and other Western wear in a promotional aisle near the back of the store.
Auchan also beefed up its children's apparel department because of a perceived lack of outlets in the local market. Similarly, toys is a power department in the germination stage. Located front and center in the store, the department is very competitive in price, but still lacks selection in certain hot areas. For instance, its stock of Fisher-Price products is deep, but other products, like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle goods, are not carried.
It is significant that Auchan has chosen consumer electronics to act as a drawing card. As the economic situation in Houston has improved, pent-up demand for "luxury" items like CD players and VCRs has been unleashed. With one major competitor in trouble (The Federated), Auchan saw an opportunity to make a power statement.
Located in the front, left-hand corner of the store, CE at Auchan is a prototypical power department. The area has wide aisles, deep displays and a wide choice of mostly upscale brands.
Prominent among those brands are Teac, Pioneer, JVC, Sony, Panasonic, Zenith, RCA, Magnavox, Brother, Canon, Minolta and Yashica.
Auchan, as a new company, had problems initially getting some market leaders to sell to it. Several suppliers envisioned a hypermarket as a wholesale club with fresh produce, and were loathe to have their products sold from warehouse racks.
Similarly, many were worried that Auchan would cherry pick their product lines, as warehouse clubs have been known to do. "We had to convince them that we would support full product offerings, not just discount a few items heavily," the spokesman said.
Auchan tends to stick to the upper end of the "good, better, best" equation, offering only limited selections at opening price points. In TVs, for instance, the price of remote models is almost indistinguishable from older clicker models, so Auchan concentrates on remote sets. Also, the supply of low-end sets has dried up as foreign manufacturers switch to alternate geographic markets (Latin America, for instance) and alternate uses for the cheap tubes (computer monitors). As a relatively new firm in the United States, it is not at the front of the line for the few low-end supplies that exist.
The same holds true, although not as markedly, in the CD player niche. "Basic CD players are becoming a commodity item," the spokesman said. "Name brands help margins a bit, but added technology is the key. Most technological `improvements' don't actually give consumers very much for their money, but that's not true of disc changers."
Changer models, therefore, are selling better than basic one-disc items, and Auchan tends to favor that more profitable niche. "The first guy on the block with a 12-disc changer [against the maximum of six available today] will make a killing," the spokesman commented.
Auchan is particularly sharply priced in its photo department. "We price against local competition, but we also look at where our customers shop in real life," the spokesman said. One place they shop, evidently, is in New York, at 47th St. Photo, a major discount mail order outlet. Allowing for postage costs and the irritation factor of waiting for delivery, Auchan keeps prices on identical products close to 47th Street's.
As a spokesman noted, Auchan is still in the learning stages. "It's still to early to tinker with our concept," he said. "We're all still learning, at all levels."
UPDATE JUNE 29 2010
Finally, I've added yet another article (as well as mentioning the Texas pronunciation, at least, was "o-shawn")
Auchan's novelty lures big crowds - hypermarket; includes related article on retail trade in Houston - company profile
Discount Store News, Dec 19, 1988
Auchan's Novelty Lures Big Crowds
The talk around Houston these days is not of crude oil, but cooking oil, blue jeans, stereo equipment and anything else that can be found in the city's new retail store, the French hypermarket Auchan.
In fact, some consumers are traveling as far as 30 miles to see the new 230,000-square-foot store that offers over 60,000 sku's of groceries and general merchandise in a one-stop shopping experience that includes a mini-mall with a variety of convenience services such as a shoe repair shop, a jewelry store and six fast food restaurants.
Although the store is only nine weeks old and a full evaluation of its progress is not available, the customer reception has been excellent, said Wilfrid d'Audiffret, president of Auchan's Texas subsidiary, Texfield Inc.
During the two-week-long grand opening, customers waited in line for up to two hours at each of Auchan's 55 checkout stations; the 1,700-space parking lot was closed down three times due to traffic congestion; a special cash register was set up outside the store specifically to sell Coca-Cola, which cost $1.59 for a 12-pack of cans; and company executives pitched in to help bag customer purchases.
So far, the southwest Houston location is the nation's lone Auchan site. Another store, located in suburban Chicago, is due to open next spring.
The Chicago store will open in two phases, the first of which will consist of 130,000 square feet of groceries and hard lines general merchandise, said Dave Skinner, store manager. Phase two will be a 28,000-square-foot soft lines addition, currently in the planning stages.
The new store will be located in the Bridgeview Court shopping center along with Venture and other retailers. For this reason, Skinner said Auchan of Chicago will not have a mall area like the Houston location, but may have a handful of concessions, perhaps a bank branch and a fast food restaurant.
Each Auchan store, and any others that will follow, will be operated independently as separate subsidiaries of the French company. Each store will be unique to its particular market in terms of store layout, design and merchandise selection. This is done so that each store can cater to its local market and customers, said d'Audiffret.
In Houston, Auchan created an upscale-looking facility stocked with name brand goods in a store split almost in half between groceries and general merchandise. State-of-the-art technology and many high-tech fixtures are incorporated throughout the mammoth unit.
The store layout contains two racetracks, wide aisles and a mixture of traditional gondolas and steel warehouse racks that can stretch to 20 feet high in some departments. A mall area, located at the front of the store, contains 14 concessionaires plus a food court equipped with tables and chairs.
Auchan is designed to fulfill a customer's basic shopping needs, said d'Audiffret, but several power departments are included: consumer electronics--where trained sales people work on commission--lawn and garden, seasonal, and children's apparel. Auchan decided to feature these power departments after studies revealed that they would satisfy a void in the Houston market, he said.
In consumer electronics, for example, Auchan sought to be more than just a "player" in the market. It is determined to compete head-on with the area's specialty retailers.
"We wanted to be exciting and two-dimensional," said an Auchan executive.
The showcase department features a 10-foot-high wall of TVs, volume presentations in everything from camera tripods to VCRs in a specialty store setting that includes a red and white grid ceiling to excite and attract customer interest.
Auchan also is positioning itself as a provider of everyday low prices, which company executives feel widens its customer base to cross all socio-economic lines. However, special pricing for the grand opening was evident and is likely to continue.
For example, the grand opening circular advertised one gallon of Glidden wall paint for $3.99, live Maine lobsters at $4.50 per pound, and a six-pack of men's BVD briefs for $8.99, extremely low prices for those items.
Although Auchan is committed to an everyday low price strategy, the hypermarket is staffed with 700 full-and part-time employees, a sizable portion of selling space dedicated to customer traffic flow, and numerous innovative fixtures. These are high overhead expenses that could prove to be a liability, given the retailer's rock-bottom prices.
In the weeks since the hypermarket's grand opening, on Oct. 14, the French-based retailer has already learned a few things about merchandise selection and the American consumer. Currently, management is "making lists" of new items to include in the store's selection.
Some merchandise areas are conspicuously absent, such as ready-to-assemble furniture and home office departments, hot-selling categories for many other retailers right now. Product additions in RTA and home office will be added sometime in the future.
Auchan sought to create an image for itself apart from the nation's other hypermarkets and discount stores. Company executives excluded vendor signs along the aisles in order to cultivate a more distinctive look.
In contrast to what is commonly practiced in Europe, Auchan took a vertical approach to its American hypermarket: merchandise is stacked vertically on the shelves to give customers of all heights equal access to products.
The entire checkout area is vastly different from those at other retailers. There are no POP displays such as candy and magazines, and d'Audiffret doesn't anticipate adding any. Also, the company's POS system features a new vertical scanner designed to prevent dirt and moisture from clogging up the scanning glass.
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Another distinguishing feature of Auchan is its shopping carts. For a cart, customers must pay 25 cents, which is refunded to them at the appropriate drop-off point. This ensures a constant supply of carts for new shoppers.
PHOTO : Going head-to-head with consumer electronic retailers in the area, Auchan's huge CE
PHOTO : department has a specialty store flavor.
PHOTO : Bright colors and suspended wooden fixtures give Auchan's food area the feeling of a
PHOTO : European open-air market.
COPYRIGHT 1988 Reproduced with permission of the copyright holder. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group
Original link here.
Regrettably, no photos are in the article (that was only in the original).
UPDATE November 19 2010: Another article found!
Vive le mart; Auchan's local hypermarket turns 10.(BUSINESS).
The Houston Chronicle (Houston, TX) (August 24, 1996): p1. (1402 words)
Full Text :COPYRIGHT 1996 Houston Chronicle Publishing Company Division, Hearst Newspapers Partnership, LP
It's difficult to think of the monstrously large Auchan store on Houston's far west side as being anyone's baby.
But to Wilfrid d'Audiffret, that's exactly what the French-owned hypermarket is. It was d'Audiffret who came to Houston from Lille, France, and oversaw the planning, construction and opening of the experimental store. He even flew over Houston in a helicopter to pick out the right real estate for the 220,000 square-foot behemoth.
"I came to Houston 10 years ago, on Aug. 18, 1986, to start a company and create a new kind of store," d'Audiffret said. "I came with a suitcase and money from the company in France. That was all."
A decade later, d'Audiffret is packing his suitcases once again and heading back to France. The only general manager Houston's Auchan has ever known, he leaves here knowing he accomplished something few people have been able to do. He successfully exported the hypermarket concept, a tremendous success in Europe, to the United States.
Most of the European hypermarkets - mega-stores as big as 4 1/2 football fields - have flopped here.
"Hypermarkets are a huge success in Europe, but they have failed miserably in the U.S.," said Howard Davidowitz, chairman of the retail consulting company Davidowitz & Associates.
The Auchan in Chicago has been closed five years. That location sold only food items and was smaller than its Houston counterpart, which pulled in better sales. Chicago and Houston are the only locations Auchan has opened in the United States.
Paris-based Carrefour opened two hypermarkets in Pennsylvania - one in Philadelphia and the other in suburban Pittsburgh. Both proved to be major disappointments and were shuttered. The company had rolled the dice with a $60 million investment and came up with snake eyes.
Euromarche opened five hypermarkets in the United States called Bigg's, but sold them in 1994 and withdrew from the American market.
Some American companies tried to experiment with hypermarkets of their own. Kmart opened one near Atlanta in the late 1980s. But the store, called American Fair, never caught on. Kmart reduced its size and, after that failed to turn the store around, closed it outright.
"The size of that store did turn off many customers," said Kmart spokeswoman Mary Lorencz.
Kmart turned its attention to a new idea called Super K stores, which sell groceries and clothing under one roof. The company now has 93 Super K stores, with most of them falling in the 170,000-square-foot range.
Sam Walton, the Wal-Mart founder who failed at very few things during his lifetime, dreamed of opening a chain of hypermarkets, but dropped further expansion after opening four.
"They are just too large," said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Shauna Parker. "We have decided to go with our Supercenters. They are on average 180,000 square feet each."
Each of the Wal-Mart Hypermarkets is about 220,000 to 250,000 square feet.
"That is just too big for most shoppers," said Kurt Barnard, publisher of Barnard's Retail Marketing Report. "The American population is aging today. Shoppers don't want to waste their time walking the length of several football fields."
Europe is more receptive, retail experts suggest, because there are virtually no shopping malls there. The hypermarket functions basically as a mall, offering one-stop shopping under one roof.
The Houston Auchan store is nothing if not huge. Walk inside the front door, and you come face to face with 53 checkout stands. They stretch out in one amazing row that almost fades from view if you examine it from one end to the other.
The Auchan houses a little food court with a McDonald's hamburger stand and Taco Bell counter. There's a video store, a NationsBank, a hairdresser, a jewelry store and a candy stand. The store emphasizes bargain prices and a diverse product mix that includes televisions and tennis shoes, blue jeans and blackberries.
Inside Zizi Saliagas' cart this week were eight bags of groceries and a new telephone.
"Since they opened, I have been coming here. I come two to three times a week," Saliagas said.
The reason for her devotion?
"I can find foods from everywhere, especially from my home country. They carry a lot of Greek products," she said. "I have friends in Clear Lake, and I shop for them to get the pastries and varieties of cheese we like."
Nguyen Tu Don does most of his food shopping at a Vietnamese market near his home.
"I'm Vietnamese, but I like to come here for French and American food," said Nguyen, who moved to Houston from Vietnam only three months ago. "The prices are cheaper here than at other stores."
Catering to the international community living on the city's west side has become Auchan's bread and butter. Or in this case, perhaps rice and curry.
"Our customer base is much more ethnic than it was when first we opened. That is one of the adjustments we have made," d'Audiffret said. "We have many Hispanic and Asian products to sell now."
Evidence of the adjustment includes a prominent display of 20-pound bags of rice selling for $4.99 per bag.
Other adjustments include tossing appliances and some sporting goods out of the store.
"We were not able in some lines, like fishing, to offer our customers the proper selection," d'Audiffret said. "We were not successful in those lines, so we did stop selling them."
Making changes and gaining the loyalty of the international community living nearby has been critical to the store's success. The store attracts about 3 million shoppers per year.
"Our customers come back because they like very much our prices," he said. "We have been very pleased with the results we have with this store. Contrary to some of the rumors in our business, we have been profitable for the past five years. We are successful."
A few years ago, the imminent demise of the Auchan store was a common rumor on the local retail and real estate grapevines. Those rumors are quiet now, and Auchan is planning for its future under its second general manager, Gerard Gallet.
"The headquarters in France is very proud of what Wilfrid has done in Houston," said Gallet, who moved here to take the reins two weeks ago. "This is a very tough market. New competitors are coming in every day."
Gallet plans few changes at Auchan, other than adding a few touches, like expanding some of the gourmet food selections.
"I was able to go back to France for the past three years, and I have some ideas to bring back here," said Gallet, who was the produce manager at the Houston Auchan from 1989 to 1993. "There will be no remodeling or anything like that, but maybe I will expand our selections of wines, cheeses, beers and things like that."
Gallet and d'Audiffret admit the Auchan here has not quite lived up to expectations, but they believe that is simply a matter of time.
"We know by experience it takes seven to 10 years to develop a company before we open new stores," d'Audiffret said. Auchan considers the Houston location a subsidiary company, which it calls Auchan U.S.A. D'Audiffret was president of that company, a title that now belongs to Gallet.
Auchan believes it can build more hypermarkets in the United States, perhaps even another one in Houston. The company has no time line for expansion, preferring to say only it will expand when everything is in place and the timing is right.
"We are a private company, so we don't have pressure from investors. We want to act responsibly," d'Audiffret said.
Being a private company, Auchan was able to be patient as the Houston store slowly developed. But the company is not always so slow-moving.
The company is expanding rapidly in Europe, where it had 79 hypermarkets at the beginning of this year. So far this year, Auchan has opened four new stores and bought two rival companies that own dozens of hypermarkets in France, Spain and Portugal.
To help run that far-flung network of stores, d'Audiffret has been called home to the headquarters in France.
"I have international experience now, so they want me to come back," he said. Despite the beauty and charm of France, d'Audiffret said he is reluctant to leave his adopted home. He is scheduled to fly back to France today.
"The best experience of my life has been here in Houston," he said. "The people here are fan-tas-teek."
EDIT 5/1/11: I found a commercial for Auchan on YouTube! Awesome!