WEST JORDAN, Utah -- Sears is adding food to its "good life" product offering of traditional home products and services with the debut of its first off-mall Sears Grand store here, scheduled to officially open on Oct. 11.
Sears Grand is a pilot project for Sears, Roebuck and Co., Hoffman Estates, Ill. The store's concept embodies a full-line Sears store, but with added convenience-oriented product lines and services, including the "Pantry" of competitively priced, best-selling staples, Teresa Byrd, vice president-general merchandise manager for Sears Grand, told SN during the store's soft opening last week.
Shelf-stable food, frozens and dairy, pet food and pet supplies, garden supplies, health and beauty aids, books and greeting cards, and cleaning supplies are among the new product categories being introduced in this 210,000-square-foot store.
"Our hope is that consumers will see the convenience aspect of picking up lunch meats, milk, and staples, such as canned soup or tuna," said Byrd. In this context, a trip to Sears Grand to look at an appliance could conceivably result in the purchase of a frozen pizza -- and the stove to bake it in.
The food selection is such that it should satisfy a consumer hoping to save time by one-stop shopping. "The assortment is limited to the top brands, but there is still a choice," said Byrd. There are six varieties of Betty Crocker cake mix, for example.
The "Pantry" designation does not "over-promise" an expansive range of products, but instead implies an edited assortment of often-needed staples, she said.
The Pantry area consists of about 14,000 square feet, and is signed and located in the northwest corner of the store. The product mix includes: cereals; cookies and crackers; juices, waters and sports drinks; soft drinks; canned soups; pastas and sauces; chips; cake mixes; jello; boxed macaronis and rices; Mexican food; milk and yogurt snack packs; lunch meats; refrigerated single-serve drinks; frozen entrees and ice cream.
The Denver division of Minneapolis-based Supervalu is the primary wholesaler for food, pet supplies, and most health and beauty care. The retailer is also using direct delivery for some categories, such as cookies and crackers, frozens and dairy.
The store is located in Jordan Landing, a 500-acre retail-office-entertainment "lifestyle center" that is 17 miles southwest of Salt Lake City. Sears Grand will have some formidable competition with Sam's Club, Wal-Mart, Lowe's and, eventually, Kohl's all sharing the south end of the one-mile-long, mixed-use development.
Sears Grand is taking competition as seriously as it does merchandising. The store will open with a "fair and competitive price structure," said Byrd, and will run regular, deep-cut specials. In addition, the store is planning to do up to five competition checks a week to determine price points.
Customers can enter Sears Grand from two entrances on the west side. Once inside, the racetrack format gives them an unobstructed view of the milk in the 28-foot dairy-frozens case.
As the shopper approaches the Pantry's back-wall dairy case, there are HBC and pet needs to the left and groceries and cleaning supplies to the right. Extending from their northwest corner location toward the center of the store, the grocery aisles seem to reach out to the major appliance department. The gondola adjacent to appliances holds cleaning supplies and tissues.
The Pantry is located next to appliances so customers can make "logical associations" between items like detergents and washing machines and refrigerators and food, explained Byrd. Sears Grand will also use cross merchandising to reiterate the availability of food.
For example, water and Gator Aide are displayed in Sporting Goods and Fitness, while cookies are on power panels with Toys."As many times as possible, we want to impress upon customers that we are now in the food business," Byrd said.
To boost consumer awareness of the convenience offered by the Pantry, locally distributed circulars will juxtapose "the expected and the unexpected." For example, a gallon of milk (the unexpected) might be superimposed on a refrigerator (the expected). This expected/unexpected theme will be used on teaser billboards that will go up in the West Jordan area early next month.
Any plans to expand into other food areas, such as fresh meat or produce, would come only "after consumers have experienced this store and given us their feedback," she said.
"Clearly, we are not trying to be full-line grocers," said Kathleen Connolly, director of communications for retail at Sears, noting the West Jordan Sears Grand is the first of five pilot stores, and is not yet close to being a prototype.
The Sears Grand food experiment may bring "new life" to Sears' traditional format, which has recently been "stagnating," according to Jon Hauptman, vice president of Willard Bishop Consulting, Barrington, Ill. "Consumers seem to be willing to purchase groceries in any retail format," he said, predicting that other mass retailers may also jump onto the food bandwagon.