Catching up with H-E-B’s President Stephen Butt on the store’s North Texas growth

By Rebecca ChristophersonMay 15, 2024No Comments

Catching up with H-E-B’s President Stephen Butt on the store’s North Texas growth

Story and photography by Scott Nishimura

H-E-B, the popular San Antonio-based grocer and parent of Central Market, opened its first Fort Worth store — in April on Heritage Trace Parkway at Interstate 35 in the Alliance corridor — and fans predictably packed the store even though it’s across from a big Kroger Marketplace at Alliance Town Center and a Costco Wholesale.

Central Market executives, including Stephen Butt (second from left), and community leaders, including Fort Worth Mayor Mattie Parker, cut the ribbon in mid-April on Fort Worth’s first H-E-B, in the Alliance corridor on Heritage Trace Parkway east of Interstate 35.

It’s the latest H-E-B the company has opened in the fast-growing DFW suburbs; others have been in Plano, Frisco, McKinney and Allen in Collin County. It’s expected to open an H-E-B in Mansfield this summer, one of several more H-E-Bs and Joe V’s Smart Shops — its growing concept that sells fresh produce and meats and other groceries at prices it says are 10% to 15% less than competitor Walmart — under construction in the DFW area. The two Joe V’s under construction are in south and east Dallas. In late April, the city of Bedford announced H-E-B planned to open a store there as early as 2026.

The company also has H-E-Bs it views as on the periphery of the metroplex in Burleson, Hudson Oaks, Waxahachie, Granbury and Cleburne. 360West caught up to Stephen Butt, H-E-B’s president, and Juan-Carlos Ruck, executive vice president of H-E-B’s Northwest Food Drug Retail Division, at the Alliance grand opening.

360West: Early on in the company’s site search in North Texas, you said Central Market would represent the company inside the loops 820 and 635 and you’d focus the search for H-E-B sites outside the loops. Is that still the case?

Butt: I think each of our formats have demographics that fit them the best. Early on, [for Central Market], the demographics that fit us the best were closer in the cities. But we will eventually look for real estate for all of our formats across the market. It’s a process that will unfold over time as the right real estate opportunities come available.

360West: In your markets you are typically 1, maybe 2 at worst, in market share. North Texas feels a lot different. It’s so fragmented. Do you view this as multiple markets in terms of share?

Butt: We look at it in different ways. I think at one level, we look at each individual store, because we want that store to be successful in serving its trade area. And then we aggregate the stores up into how we’re performing in the market in total. We’re very humbled with the warm reception we’ve received and the energetic receptions from customers, but we still have a very modest number of stores relative to the other grocery operators who have been here for many, many years. We have a long way to go before our market share becomes significant.

360West: How long have you been looking in the Alliance corridor?

Butt: We were looking in this area over 10 years ago. We do a lot of real estate homework in preparation for opening stores. We had a number of sites we had landbanked for a number of years until the time was ready to begin opening stores.

360West: What’s 2025’s store opening plan for North Texas?

Ruck: Four H-E-B stores. Melissa, Prosper, Rockwall, Forney and another Joe Vs. At this point, four or five stores a year feels like a pretty good rhythm. Humbly speaking, we still feel like the new guy and we’ve got to earn our customers one store at a time. So far so good.