As the supermarket business becomes more complex, there are more and more demands on store designers. They must continue to emphasize fresh departments to provide an area of distinction. But they also have rediscovered the importance of the center store to repel inroads from other classes of trade. At the same time, a store must be efficient and productive, keeping costs down while continuing to emphasize service.
In the midst of all this, designers say, the most important factor continues to be attracting shoppers and merchandising to them. For Hy-Vee, West Des Moines, Iowa, it is paramount to make the store more convenient for customers to buy home-meal-replacement foods, Ruth Mitchell, assistant vice president for communications, told SN.
In newer stores the HMR department is the first in the food area (there are separate entrances for food and nonfood), Mitchell said. Hy-Vee has pay stations in the food courts for takeout hot meals or eating in as well as separate pay stations for beverages.
All this is in two basic size stores: 70,000-square-foot combination stores in larger communities and a scaled-down 50,000-square-foot replica, including a pharmacy, in smaller communities. Ten years ago, the smaller stores probably would have been 35,000 to 40,000 square feet and the bigger ones 60,000 to 63,000, Mitchell said.
For Roundy's, Pewaukee, Wis., supermarkets are getting smaller. Although the wholesaler is not ignoring its 100,000-square-foot Pick 'N Save warehouse stores, it is concentrating growth on two new formats, both typically 53,000 to 55,000 square feet, according to David Busch, vice president for corporate administration.
One of the concepts is called Central Market, and is designed to make it more convenient to shop for perishables. There is a separate entrance and checkout area for the shopper who wants to pick up a couple of perishable items, such as a ready-to-heat meal or a salad, said Busch.
The other spinoff is called Pick 'N Save Marketplace. There are about a half-dozen of these stores with expanded bakeries/delis as well as coffee shops and wine shops, where the latter are permitted. "Even though the concept has a high labor factor, it is what shoppers are looking for," Busch said. "Home-meal replacement may not be the be all and end all for the supermarket industry, and never will be, but it is nice to have when the customer base permits."
In selecting a store for these formats, much depends on the customer base and the location. For the Central Market concept, front and side entrances are necessary, he pointed out.
In another experiment, Roundy's has one Pick 'N Save with produce in the center of the store, which was where it was located years ago, Busch said. The other perishables departments are on the perimeter.
Another company that must design stores for a variety of formats is Niemann Foods, Quincy, Ill. The chain has conventional units, limited-assortment stores, and discounters under the Cub and County Market names. Of its 33 stores, 11 are Save-A-Lot limited-assortment units, six of them purchased earlier this year from the chain's wholesaler, Supervalu, along with a Cub store, all in Kansas City and St. Joseph, Mo., a new territory for Niemann.
The chain has been doing two or three major renovations a year, said Richard Niemann Jr., president. In these remodels, Niemann is moving the fresh departments to the right side. It has been adding service meat departments where feasible, he said. In a store opening in December in Quincy, the chain is installing its second made-to-order sub program as well as its second child-care department.
Niemann's wholesaler, Supervalu, Minneapolis, is concentrating on ease of shopping in its new and remodeled stores, which range all the way from tiny conventionals in small towns to units of more than 100,000 square feet.
"We are trying to make it possible for people who shop in fresh departments a few times a week, where they may shop the store in total once a week, or every other week, to get in and out more easily," said Tom Ryan, president of Supervalu's Design Services Group. That could call for a side and front entrance or two front entrances, with checkouts positioned for convenience, he said.
Ease of entrance and exit also is a factor for Supervalu in pharmacies, which are more prevalent in larger conventional stores as well as in Cub units. Any new stores with pharmacies will be designed with drive-up windows to pick up prescriptions if possible, said David Norton, manager of the store planning department.
Although new corporate Cub stores now have perishables up front instead of the traditional wall of values, the price effect is maintained with a small area for seasonal or weekly specials.
Basically, Supervalu has cut back on backrooms. "We're trying to get them as small as we can," said Ryan. Customer-service departments, such as photo-developing, lottery and money orders, are bigger; grocery is smaller; deli is slightly smaller; produce is about the same; and frozen food and dairy are growing. Supervalu is putting banks in all Cubs and most larger conventional stores.
Some aspects of store layout are cyclical, said David Morrow, a former wholesaler who now is national sales manager for Zero Zone, North Prairie, Wis., manufacturer of refrigerated display cases. Diagonal shelving seems to come up every six years or so. "But, layout really boils down to what kind of property you have and what you want to achieve," Morrow stressed. "The perimeter doesn't necessarily bear on how you turn center-store departments within the box."
The center store is getting more attention, agreed Gary Lind, president of Lind Design, College Point, N.Y. This is being done at the same time that new stores are more service-oriented, with continued emphasis on fresh departments.
"Retailers are creating more power aisles and special departments with double-wide aisles and pallets in the middle," Lind said. He described them as destination aisles in departments such as household products, paper goods and cosmetics.
"These departments are huge areas with special lighting and shelving instead of 6-foot-high gondolas. Retailers are bringing in trees, aquariums and pet centers. There is a lot of 3-D animation. You need bigger stores for this to break up the shopping experience rather than merely having 20 or 30 boring aisles. There are mezzanines atop elevators and double-decker cafes using the dead space for offices. Designers are thinking in terms of cubic footage instead of square footage," Lind said.
For Supervalu, changes in the grocery department have resulted from category management. There are more mass displays and club packs, said Norton. There also are more specialty departments such as baby centers. "There are more pallet drop areas with splits in shelving -- two 40-foot shelves instead of one of 80 feet, with more end displays," he said.
Niemann is tightening up in some grocery departments, but is expanding in pet food and pet supplies, where it wants to become a destination store, and in candy. Niemann also is rolling out a new front-end profile to permit more customer contact.
The chain is trying to control its backroom better in new stores to increase productivity there. Hy-Vee is taking the same approach. At Hy-Vee, backrooms are not smaller, but the chain is trying to make them more efficient to accommodate more product in larger stores, Mitchell said. "We have been encouraging managers to keep inventory down. This prevents product from getting lost, cuts expenses and boosts productivity," she said. Staffing is an issue since there is virtually zero unemployment in some markets. There are some shared facilities, such as storage, dishwashing and food-prep areas. Examples she gave included Chinese and Italian food areas.
Morrow of Zero Zone agreed that labor is a big issue. Retailers are beginning to look at ready-packed meats. This was tried years ago, and now may be coming of age, he said. Preparing case-ready packs in a central commissary will enable store people to be out on the floor doing marketing. The infrastructure is now present to support this concept, he said.
Another labor-saving device is self-checking and self scanning. A few chains, including Kroger Co. and A&P, are experimenting with that. "Not that the industry will change overnight in that or any other direction. It just doesn't do that," Morrow said.
He sees another trend affecting store construction as being environmentally friendly. There is beginning to be more stress again on environmental issues, he said. This includes low mercury fluorescent lights, disposal systems, composting, environmental controls and the use of alternate sources of power.
The big challenge for retailers is to be flexible in merchandising to optimize sales, whether this means moving individual categories or entire departments, he said. One development in line with this is overhead plumbing, so service departments can be moved without changing the plumbing, he said.
Hy-Vee store managers, who do their own merchandising, are experimenting with different ways to arrange products in meal groupings to encourage customers who shop with different mind-sets today to think in terms of a meal rather than individual ingredients, Mitchell said.
Quantity is a major factor, according to Lind. "Everybody in the supermarket field is expanding and the biggest challenge for store designers is how fast they can get the job done. Retailers are developing prototype concepts and going right into store drawings. They are also using these concepts in remodels. It is a question of expand or get eaten."
Meanwhile, he said, independents have to stake out their own niches, which is more of a problem as chains are rediscovering big cities. For southern California independents, expansion has come largely through sites that chains have divested following mergers. This presents a number of store-design problems, said Ken Hopwood, director of store planning and equipment for Certified Grocers of California, Los Angeles.
The problems occur because the new stores either are smaller units or other-use buildings. A recent location in the San Fernando Valley was a former bank, Hopwood said. Very few new independents in the area are being built from the ground up and there is a problem in fitting all departments into small stores.
Another design challenge is the broad ethnic base in the area. "You have to display product for all the ethnic groups in the area in a small space," he pointed out. "For example, if you want to change a former chain store to a Hispanic format, you need a larger service meat department." That could be anywhere from 36 to 72 feet of service cases in a 25,000- to 28,000-square-foot store, Hopwood said. In addition, the store was designed for self service, so there isn't enough access to the service cases. "At the same time, you have to keep costs down because the average independent doesn't have the resources the chain does.
"For independents, we try to achieve a niche and be different, which is a challenge in a small space and with a small budget, so you have to compromise," he said. "At the same time, these independents are entrepreneurs and are usually willing to take risks." As an example, Hopwood cited devoting a disproportionate amount of space to produce.
"You need suitably sized departments despite the small space," he said. "We can't overdesign, although that usually isn't a problem because, since we are usually working with small stores, we tend to work toward the lower limits. Every store is a separate challenge," he said.