KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- The BJ's Wholesale Club here, which opened late last year in this middle-income suburb of Orlando, touts merchandising that is suspiciously similar to its supermarket competitors.
The store is considered a test lab for the company to experiment with new merchandising strategies and design elements, such as a children's play area and fitting rooms.
A recent visit to the store by SN revealed that the grocery department contains some of the newest merchandising strategies the company is pursuing.
Small packages of produce, meat and bread are sold next to wholesale packs of the same items, breaking from other wholesale stores like Costco and Sam's Club, which carry almost exclusively large sizes. A BJ's Express Cafe features coffee, hot dogs and Pizza Hut pizza.
There's also an optical center, a pharmacy and BJ's Communications Center, where shoppers can sign up for cellular phone plans and Internet service.
Another emulation of supermarkets are magazine racks -- promoted with "20% Off" signs -- that are included at each of the 16 checkouts, four of which are equipped for self-checkout.
Even the lettering on the bakery department's Oven Fresh Bakery sign is a throwback to the old-fashioned grocery store sign style heralding each department. While the bakery primarily sells large packs of bread, buns and other baked goods, smaller packs of buns are offered as well.
The fresh departments are grouped together at the back of the store, with refrigerated cases and dry bins in the center and refrigerated cases along the wall.
At the deli case, rotisserie chicken and chicken wings are offered hot, alongside cold sliced meats. In the cases, supermarket-size packs of Purdue chicken wings are selling for $1.59 a pound, alongside club-size packs. For ground beef, only large packs are offered, but Round Top steaks are offered in small packs of two and three, for $3.89 a pound.
The meat selection -- from lunch meats to frozen meats -- runs 136 feet, in addition to several seafood cases. The seafood department features a large, open tank of live lobsters for $8.99 a pound.
In the produce section, several dry stands feature the same small and large pack arrangement. Five- and 10-pound bags of potatoes are stacked next to larger packs, and mushrooms are packaged in 10- and 24-ounce sizes. Apples and oranges -- $2.99 for a bag of Valencias, for example -- are sold in grocery-size bags; head lettuce is sold in packages of two. Romaine lettuce is sold in smaller packages than most club stores, about four heads per pack for $2.69, vs. six to eight heads at Costco.
While most of the dairy products are sold in larger packs -- including all 16 running feet of cheese -- individual packages of butter are selling for $3.19 a pound. The new store also places much more emphasis on high-ticket items.
The store's jewelry section, right near the entrance, features more than 100 running feet of diamond rings and necklaces, watches and figurines. Several selections of Waterford Crystal vases retail for between $189.99 and $504.99. Sixteen running feet are devoted to watches, including Coach watches for $299.99 and higher.
A clothing department with men's, women's and children's clothing -- complete with fitting rooms -- also receives prime real estate at the front of the store.
At the entrance is the electronics section, a usual department for the retailer. Yet in this case, displays are more grand and higher-priced items are featured. DVDs play above the section on squares on the store's wall, serving as two gargantuan movie screens. In addition to several standard television sets, this store carries large HDTV Flat Screen sets for $2,699.
In front of the bakery section -- which touts customized cakes and Carvel frozen cakes -- is an upscale, wooden display case featuring wines that range from $16.99 to $70.99 per bottle.
A section in the middle of the store features All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs), utility vehicles and several scooter selections. A Zoomex, battery-powered mini scooter sells for $179.99, while a Q Electric Chariot retails for $799.99. The highest ticket item in this department is a Scout Compact Utility Vehicle for $3,999.99.
The store also sells band instruments in its back-to-school section. Instruments include a brass trumpet with case and stand for $179.89.
The store's play section -- large enough to outdo most McDonald Playland departments -- is next to the front door. BJ's employees will supervise children in the playroom, which includes round plastic sections that reach to the ceiling, closed in by glass walls.
While BJ's executives have stressed that the Kissimmee store is only a testing ground for new concepts and is not a prototype, a visit to an older BJ's in another suburb of Orlando showed that similar changes have been made. Again, supermarket-size offerings are prolific, along with the same high-ticket items as the Kissimmee store, including jewelry and scooters.