SHORELINE, Wash. -- Creating a destination store was the mission for Town & Country Market as they developed the design for their newest Central Market unit, opened here earlier this year.
To meet the mission, the operator prescribed a store-within-a-store concept complete with a green grocer, seafood stand, meat market and a 200 square-foot Asian section, which features ethnic Center Store products from rice to candy. Each of these areas are housed under the roof of the new 56,000 square-foot unit.
The supersize Central Market unit replaced a modest 29,000 square-foot unit that the group operated. When adjacent retail space became available, the expansion became possible. "The size allowed us to consider putting in our Central Market format," said Ron Nakata, operations director, a format that was originally installed in Bainbridge Island four years ago. "We had been waiting for the right location and the right size," he added.
The Asian section was originally introduced into the floor plan when the operator identified a 13% to 15% Asian population within the demographics of the local neighborhood. "We purposefully targeted the Asian community," says Nakata. "The new location had a great density of population and great demographics for an Asian Market."
"The notion was to create a one-stop shopping experience for the local Asian population," says Mitch Uyeno, the unit's manager of Asian foods. "Additionally, we wanted to cultivate a destination for others shopping for Asian specialties. We never expected to see shoppers coming from the distances that they are."
Since the store's opening, the section has doubled the projected sales success predicted beforehand, according to Nakata. However, Uyeno is quick to point out that the success of the combined dry grocery, refrigerated and frozen Asian food area is heavily reliant on what is going on within the store's 21,000 square-feet of fresh meat, seafood and produce sections, which are adjacent to the Asian section.
The Asian section integrates dry goods, refrigerated and frozen items and presents them alongside the necessary Asian produce, meat and fish selections. "It's a consortium of all departments," says Uyeno. "Any store can have a great dry grocery Asian section. But all the departments working together make a strong statement for Asian food."
The unit's "no-walls" effort lends itself to cross merchandising. Demonstration stations located within the produce, meat and seafood departments regularly feature sauces, spices, tofu and other ingredients found in the Asian section. On a daily schedule, entrees and side dishes are prepared in-store for customers to sample, and recipes are available to shoppers.
This sampling effort is particularly important, according to Uyeno, because "We are not merchandising to Asians only, but the entire community. We want to give everybody choices and a chance to sample items they don't know about."
The size of the Asian section and Central Market's ability to offer variety and selection draws repeat customers to the store.
"Every supermarket in this market has an Asian set. Where the differences lie is in the choice and variety," says Uyeno. "A four-to-eight-foot Asian set is the usual. One brand of black bean sauce and two or three soy sauces are available. We offer a lot more and cater to the different flavors and preferences of those seeking Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Philippine, Thai or Southeast Asian items. We offer soy sauces from Wisconsin to Japan," he added, referring to the store's twelve-foot, six deck-high myriad of soy sauces.
Two full-time associates work the 42 feet of freezer, 40 feet of refrigerated and four grocery aisles plus the operator's rice wall. "Shopper's first reaction to the department is "wow, look at this variety and the size of the section," Uyeno said. More than 30 vendors supply the unit, with some delivering on a six day-a-week schedule. The total section accounts for 6% of total store sales.
Selection is great, but purchases and, more importantly, repeat purchases, are what drive Uyeno.
The operator runs hot specials weekly and builds displays on the walkways either between the meat or seafood areas, along with the two endcaps in the dry grocery shelves. "Customers know what goods cost at other markets. We work to give them the right mix and value along with freshness."
The unit's rice wall is a prime example of this belief in mix, value and freshness. Fifty-pound bags are displayed on the unit's floor, creating a walk-around display in front of the rice wall. Twenty-pound bags are located on the bottom shelf, with ten and five-pound bags on upper shelves.
Specialty Kokuho and Nishiki are available along with the popular Niko Niko and traditional Jasmin varieties. Small electric appliances round out the display and rice cookers, electric grills and electric hot water dispensing pots range in price from $43 to $220.
Within the freezer section, fish balls, seafood items and prepared foods such as gyoza, pot stickers and dumplings are merchandised along with a variety of noodles, frozen fruits, ingredients and desserts. Here, Asian food lovers can find Chinese Lotus seed paste buns, Japanese edamame, Southeast Asian Durian bars and Philippine Lumpia.
While the soy sauce, cooking sauces and sesame oils are all grouped together, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Thai, Philippine and East Indian ingredients are grouped within the dry grocery aisles to make ingredient shopping for each cuisine simple.
Approaching the section from the front end, the first category in a shopper's sight is a six-foot, seven-deck candy, cookie and rice cracker section.
"When laying out the department, I first thought sauces would be best positioned there," says Uyeno. "Then I got to thinking that the children would spot the candy and bring mom and dad into the section."
Operating the Asian section is not without challenges, even for the experienced Uyeno. About 400 stockkeeping units of goods come in as imports without UPCs. These have to be added in-house.
Also, the shelf set was initially a challenge. The many imports coming from a variety of countries meant that there would be no standards when it came to jar size, can heights and bottle shapes. Shelf heights were readjusted and product groupings reworked to provide a pleasing visual shelf appearance within this American supermarket.