RICHMOND, Va. -- Retailers may come from all over the world to see what Ukrop's Super Markets here is doing right with solution selling, but Jackie Legg is well aware of what it could be doing better.
Legg, Ukrop's vice president of solution selling, is certainly proud of the 10 solution areas that make Colonial Square -- its newest and, at 63,000 square feet, its largest store -- one of the most cutting-edge in the nation. But she also knows that the sections are still ignoring Ukrop's core, the Center Store.
"So many manufacturers have asked to be part of our food courts and that's not right. Let's bring the excitement back to the Center Store," Legg said two weeks ago at a regional solution selling seminar, hosted by the Grocery Manufacturers of America, Washington, and Andersen Consulting, Chicago. Dominick's Finer Foods, Northlake, Ill., was slated to be the subject of a second seminar this past Friday.
Legg said Ukrop's is also looking to expand its solution selling techniques to include seasonal centers organized around holidays and vacations, as well as nonfood solutions highlighting themes such as pet care, baby needs, photo developing and dry cleaning.
As part of the seminar, Legg led GMA members through the six-month-old Colonial Square store, which she said embodies Ukrop's four-year-old mission to build a better supermarket.
The unit offers customers 10 different meal idea centers, including "Ukrop's Kitchen," which features premade, take-home dinners for two; an "Italian Kitchen," which offers fresh-made pizza and panini sandwiches; and "Meal Ideas" sections, which combine daily new recipes, the necessary packaged products and a chef pulling it all together for sample taste testing.
Meal Ideas was what attracted the most interest from GMA members in attendance at the meeting.
"You see the potential for what brands can do overall," said Bill James, the GMA's senior director of industry relations and education. To make it work, retailers and manufacturers need to figure out how to bring solution selling not only to new stores -- such as Ukrop's Colonial Square unit, whose design was based on the new format -- but older stores as well.
Ukrop's is working on that. It's already installed Meal Idea centers in seven of its 24 older stores, and plans to add four more next year. The Colonial Square format itself will be replicated in a new store slated to open in Fredericksburg, Va., in August.
Nevertheless, Ukrop's said it has difficulty finding the fixtures it needs to make its solution selling sites work as it wants them to. For example, Legg said she is now searching for a manufacturer to build a smaller freezer case she's designed for Meal Ideas.
She's not the only one looking for help. Brokers, too, are finding few existing supermarkets equipped to try solution selling, said Michael E. Bernaches, senior vice president of marketing and sales development for MAI-Alper, a Framingham, Mass.-based broker. In response, Bernaches said MAI-Alper has developed its own eight-week solution selling approach, called "We Make Life Simple."
The program combines an easel displaying weekly solution ideas and locations for necessary ingredients with tear-off shopping lists, shelf talkers and a half-page ad in the store's weekly circular.
The question is more than fixtures, said Randall While, corporate vice president and assistant to the chairman at Sara Lee Corp., Chicago. "The challenge is really commercial," White said at the seminar. "It's not product development, and ideas are not the issue. What really is at the heart of it is the commercial -- that you're going after the consumer."
White said that means retailers and manufacturers need to share fresh information regarding which solutions are working and which aren't.