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Same chain store doesn't always mean same merchandise

People who know me know that I LOVE to shop.

As such, I'm usually up for a quick trip, anytime, anyplace.

So the other day, when I was on the hunt for some new jeans, I knew just where I wanted to go:St. Petersburg's newest TJ Maxx, near Tyrone Square Mall.

I had been to the store on its opening day back in May, but because of the crowds, didn't have time to browse.

When I went to the "bottoms" section, however, I was shocked.

There was only one rack! In fact, the section tailored to young women overall was a little anemic compared with the TJ Maxx I usually frequent in St. Petersburg's Gateway area.

At first, I thought I was crazy.

But then other colleagues shared similar stories about shopping at stores that bear the same name — but not always the same stock.

For instance, one friend noticed that the Publix in downtown St. Petersburg has few organic food items. But just up the road, a Publix on Fourth Street N has several rows.

Another person said they can always find natural cleaning products at the Target in Trinity, but seldom at the one in Wesley Chapel.

What gives? We set out to find out why, and to give you some tips about where you might find certain things at certain stores around Tampa Bay.

The good news, industry experts told us, is that it's not all in our heads.

Stores really do operate this way — and, most of the time, there's a reason behind it.

"You will definitely see differences within the same city," said John Fleming, spokesman for the Florida Retail Foundation. "Retailers are making a much better use of technology now to match up the demographics with their stores. They do track on a store-by-store basis as to what products sell, and then they can tailor their orders to that."

Maybe that means that more people with children shop at the Marshall's at the Shoppes at Park Place in Pinellas Park. Our insiders tell us that store is great for kids' toys. But if you're looking for shoes, try the Marshall's near the 66th Street and 22nd Avenue N. That store always has a great selection of footwear.

Stores also spend a lot of time trying to gather information about their customers, experts said.

Those credit cards and store rewards card everyone pushes at you? Just one more way for retailers to focus in on exactly who is buying, what they're buying and where they're buying.

The Macy's at International Plaza, for instance, is stocked with career wear. The Tyrone location? Not so much.

There are exceptions, however. Many big discount stores — think Big Lots, Ross, and yes, TJ Maxx — are stuck with whatever excess or discontinued inventory the manufacturer sends them.

That may be why you notice an overload of shoes at your favorite store one month, then almost none the next, said James Stock, a marketing professor at the University of South Florida.

In St. Petersburg, for example, we've noticed this about different Big Lots stores:

The store on 62nd Avenue N near Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street has a huge selection of furniture.

Looking for garden tools? Try the one at the 30th Avenue N and U.S. 19.

And the location at Ninth Avenue N and 58th Street always seems to be stocked with lots of kids' toys, kitchen items and plastic storage solutions.

"There's some flexibility given to the store managers," Stock said. " But sometimes … it is luck of the draw."

Times staff writers Anna Phillips, Alli Langley, Patty Yablonski, Patty Ewald and Michele Miller contributed to this report.

Same chain store doesn't always mean same merchandise 07/22/12 [Last modified: Sunday, July 22, 2012 6:43pm]
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