As anybody in the supermarket business can tell you, there's more to selling food than just having the right food. It also helps to have the right equipment.
For example, customers need to notice products, which can be facilitated with attractive display fixtures, shelving, gondolas and signs. Customers also need to move around the store easily with quality shopping carts. Finally, they need their checkout experience to go smoothly with the help of flexible checkout lanes.
Some of the latest designs in store equipment, which this special section of SN will describe, are helping fulfill the customer's desire for the best shopping experience while meeting the store's need for operational efficiency. To accomplish this, the new breed of store equipment emphasizes durability and attractiveness in addition to ease of use.
Not Your Mother's Shopping Cart
Shopping carts can no longer just be wire baskets that are wheeled around the store. Today's carts must be shopper-friendly and sturdier than conventional models. To that end, South African vendor Supercart, through its North American division based in Wellesley Hills, Mass., officially launched its full-size cart of the same name specifically for the grocery industry in January. Its Supercart shopping cart, made from heavy-duty plastic, is designed not to lose its shape.
Atesta IGA, Braidwood, Ill., began using the Supercart last September. Don Zinnel, store manager, said Atesta was looking for durability in the shopping cart category. "We do a lot of our own maintenance," he explained. "The Supercart is easy to maintain, particularly for wheel replacement. With others, you have to grind off the axle first. Also, metal carts have wires in the baskets that break off and need to be welded. Our Supercarts have had no breakage so far."
Mackenthun's County Market, Waconia, Minn., implemented the Supercarts when it opened a new store in March 2003. Owner Kim Mackenthun said with traditional carts, the metal wheels and frames would rust. Added Zinnel, "The only metal in [Supercart] is the screws."
Mackenthun said the cart is very quiet and easy to run. Those are also the biggest reasons for Atesta IGA to use the Supercart, according to Zinnel, who said it helps make the customer's shopping experience more pleasant. "It is lighter than the metal carts, and the wheels roll more smoothly," he said. "We have never had positive comments about our shopping carts until now."
Another advantage of the Supercart, noted Zinnel, is water that can accumulate in carts left outdoors drains out of the basket area better with no pooling. However, with more surface area, there is more of a likelihood that water from winter weather, such as snow and slush, will come into the store.
Supercart President Martin Deale said Supercart offers safety advantages. If a child sits in the front seat, he said, the cart allows no rear tipping if the customer leans on the handle. Also, traditional carts have gaps to the left and right of the baby seat, where a child's hand could become caught, but the Supercart has an extended baby seat to prevent that problem.
Deale said wobbly wheels are generally viewed as the biggest problem with shopping carts, caused by a twisted metal frame. Supercarts avoid frame damage, he added, because the carts are designed to interlock when nested. Nesting carts kick the rear wheels off of the ground, preventing rear fixed forks from being bent. "Instead of seven carts being retrieved at a time on average, an employee can retrieve 40 carts without any damage to the rear forks," he said.
Zinnel concurred that employees are able to push and control carts more easily when bringing them in from the outside, and that there is less damage from cart collection. Yet, the cart's light weight can also be a disadvantage. "Carts are more likely to blow around the parking lot on a windy day," he said. "Our solution was to install additional cart corrals so it is easier for customers to return them."
Both Zinnel and Mackenthun agreed there is little or no damage if the cart bumps into a car. "However, if it hits a pylon or curb, there has been some breakage," said Mackenthun. "Supercart is working on the problem of wheel grabs, developing an improved wheel."
Signs of the Times
The variety of available sign options enables retailers to blend them with the store's decor or use information technology to create an eye-catching display at the checkout lane or elsewhere. Christopher Studach, design director at King Retail Solutions, Eugene, Ore., said one trend is to refresh signs quickly and effectively via digital technology. "Digital graphics are being used more in the supermarket industry," he said. "Previously, the industry thought of signage as permanent, but now it can be updated and changed frequently. Signage is becoming transitory and timely." That also means it is less costly, easier to implement, and almost like a point-of-purchase application, he noted.
One example is an "advertising cube," a laptop LCD screen powered by an in-store computer, which Atesta IGA implemented in January at its checkout lanes. The cube consists of constantly changing images: 16 in four minutes, based on the average length of time that a customer is in the checkout line. Atesta rents out advertising space to a number of companies, including local businesses and nonprofits.
Zinnel said the image scrolls in one part at a time, which has more of a visual impact than if it were to be displayed all at once. At the bottom of each screen is a scrolling marquee, which contains advertisements from Atesta. "The only thing that we control is our advertisements," he said. "The rest is handled by the designer [Monarch Designs]." Atesta receives 75% of the revenues after costs are deducted.
LED light sources for store facades represent another type of sign growing in popularity. Mike Moore, president of Brite Lite Signs, Jacksonville, Fla., said Winn-Dixie officially adopted LED as its design format in the past year. Winn-Dixie uses LED for its "channel letters," which are individual exterior letters with a self-contained aluminum body and a plastic acrylic face.
"LED requires more investment, but it also requires less maintenance than neon does," said Moore. "It is also more versatile than neon because it has a tighter configuration, which means that you can create a smaller sign than you can with neon."
Fixtures That Stand Out
The latest store fixture designs try to combine attractive displays with convenience. To that end, Marco Co. of Fort Worth, Texas, introduced its floral A-frame to supermarkets last year. The rolling A-frame, which hangs from a horizontal pole, can be loaded up with hanging baskets. "People were looking for a dramatic way of hanging flower baskets for display," said Craig Nickell, Marco's president.
Another type of fixture that Marco offers is called the nesting table set, which may be used for floral or bakery. Nickell said supermarkets have been using more nesting tables -- adjoining tables that fit together -- in the past year. "You want the display to look full for the customer, so as not to look like they have the last pick," he said. "The customer wants to feel as though they have a choice. With nesting tables, you can remove them as the display empties, and it will still look full."
Another fixture attracting attention is the European table with orchard bins for produce. Adams Food Stores, Cheshire, Conn., installed them within the past few months, with highly satisfactory results. Executive Vice President Joe Kelley said these fixtures provide a low-profile, mass merchandising effect. The orchard bins, made of mahogany wood, have false bottoms, giving a fuller appearance. "We have noticed that produce sales penetration has gone up about 1.5% since we installed these bins, and the profit margin has increased by over 2%," said Kelley.
Marco also offers gourmet shelves for produce and self-serve deli racks, which it introduced last fall. "Cheese in triangles or circles does not lend itself to traditional shelving," said Nickell. "This gives a basket look with basket-shaped shelves."
In the category of island shelving, one trend is to highlight higher-priced or specialty items with bold displays. For example, Marco offers wine shelf crates, used for pricier wines, instead of traditional gondola shelves. They keep the wine at a slant, making it easier to read the label. A crate holds up to eight bottles -- four across and two deep. "They look completely merchandised with one or two bottles, whereas a typical shelf would hold five or six bottles," said Nickell. This system saves on inventory because retailers do not need to stock as much, and the crates can also fit into existing metal gondolas.
Another type of gondola shelving that enables increased efficiency is the Drop Mat, which InterMetro Industries, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., introduced about one year ago. "With Drop Mat, the support structure is on top of the mat instead of underneath it," said Terry Kevett, market manager, commercial products division. "You can leave the gondola frame intact and place the unit on top of the gondola. The benefit is that you reclaim the holding power, which is 20% to 30% greater than with standard in-line or gondola shelving. The payback time is 19 weeks for a 16-foot run."
Kevett added that the Drop Mat is particularly suitable for higher gross margin items, and may be used for items such as dressings, wine or crackers. In addition to the greater space is the enhanced aesthetics compared to standard gondolas, he said.
An emerging category is gravity-fed shelves that enable retailers to keep products facing forward at the front of the shelf without human intervention. Display Technologies, College Point, N.Y., introduced one such shelf management module called Visi-Floor to the supermarket industry within the past six months, and is in the testing stage. Visi-Floor is currently being implemented in the convenience store channel by chains such as Circle-K.
"The main difference with Visi-Floor is that other systems are spring-loaded whereas Visi-Floor is not," said Dave Zittnan, convenience and petroleum segment manager at Display Technologies. "It has an internal lubricant, and there are no moving parts. It arranges all products in an organized manner face forward."
Benefits of this system, said Zittnan, include labor savings from not having to stock or face-out the product as often, which also makes it easier to reorder. Visi-Floor is also designed to eliminate unreachables and perceived out-of-stocks, and makes product rotation easy.
Since last fall, Adams Food Stores has replaced its previous endcaps with shelving endcaps, also called promotional endcaps, from Lozier. These units feature shelves built into the displays. "One advantage is that they help to control inventory," said Kelley. "If they are managed correctly, we can have almost just-in-time inventory."
In the past, Kelley explained, Adams would have a mass display of one item. "Now, we can display two or three items on the endcap and one on the top shelf, which offers numerous possibilities for merchandising." There are also fencing gates around the sides of the endcap from which to hang merchandise. Another advantage of the Lozier endcap is that it gives customers more room to maneuver since it is not as deep as a conventional endcap.
Tweaking the Lanes
Trends in checkout lanes include modification of existing designs, as well as the growing popularity of self-scanning lanes. At Royston, Jasper, Ga., which represents Reynolds and Burroughs brands, Executive Vice President Lou Soumas said there is continuous tweaking of the left-hand take-away lane, a common design representing about 75% to 80% of the new checkout lanes installed in the past seven to 10 years.
"One trend has been to take the cash drawer out and place it underneath the scanner, which makes it easier for the cashier," said Soumas. In addition, he said, the grocery industry has continued to make small improvements in processing technology. "More touchscreens are replacing keypads for cashiers," he said. "They can use a pulldown menu to find a particular variety of fruit rather than search through a booklet."
Giant Food, Landover, Md., began installing new checkout lanes about two-and-a-half years ago, according to Soumas. The supermarket chain is installing the left-hand take-away with extending rear belt, allowing cashiers to adjust the checkout lanes to the customer flow. They can use the scan-and-bag option when it is slower or the rear take-away belt when it is busier, with someone to bag, he noted. At present, about 15% of Giant Food stores have the new checkout lanes, and all of stores should be equipped by the end of the year.
Mackenthun's has installed three IBM self-scanning lanes in its new store. "The self-scanner handles full grocery loads rather than just express lanes like some others," said Mackenthun, adding that the self-scanners account for between 33% and 34% of the total store volume.