ST. LOUIS -- When Schnuck Markets officials took steps to recreate their store prototype, they really took steps.
"We literally counted the steps that were required to operate the various departments and looked at ways throughout the store we could reduce them," explained Ross Hutsel, director of facilities engineering for the retailer based here. The resulting store prototype, the first version of which opened last month in Cottleville, Mo., is a store that maximizes efficiency, reduces labor, and is faster and less expensive to build than the model it replaces, Hutsel told SN. "We measured the travel distance, the time and the route that our employees had to negotiate to do things, and we went to work."
Though Schnucks declined to provide a precise number of hours or labor cost the new design is expected to save, studies conducted by the retailer "definitely projects to reduced hours needed to operate the store," Hutsel said. "We predict significant savings on labor."
Key to the effort was examining Schnucks' previous prototype, which was introduced eight years ago, and incorporating its best aspects in a more efficient design, Hutsel said. This required designing the store so as to reduce and re-route the traffic its employees need to take to operate the store.
For example, Hutsel said, by consolidating various prep rooms and incorporating fewer "island" perishable departments, the new design reduces both traffic on the sales floor and the overall number of trips employees must take to stock product.
"The old model had some island departments. To get to them, our associates had to travel through the sales floor to get the product to the island and then back to back room. [In the new store], we designed the perishables to be on the perimeter of the first aisle, and then we designed every department with a basic product flow where the product comes off the truck and directly to refrigerated space, from there to the production area, and from there directly to the case. There's no need to cross the sales floor with product unless you're taking it directly to the case."
Besides reducing trips and traffic, consolidating the prep areas offered the benefit of a more efficient and less expensive way to build the stores, Hutsel added.
"We reduced the amount of construction required in terms of drywall, partitions and ceilings," he said. "When you go from having three or four separate production facilities to build, you're building four walls, the production area and the cooling areas. What's left is the sales floor."
The sales floor is more open in the new model, as the introduction of vertical multi-level cases and other space-saving initiatives allowed Schnuck to add a foot to the width of its aisles without reducing product offerings or increasing the overall store size, Hutsel said. Both the new prototype and the model it replaces measure 63,000 square feet.
The new model also eliminates mezzanine space in front of the store that the previous model used for associate support, and moves that area to a separate first-floor area closer to where employees do the majority of their work, Hutsel said. This also reduces trips through the sales floor, saves time, and saves money by eliminating the need to install and operate an elevator as required by the Americans With Disabilities Act.
Schnucks expects the resulting reduction in building materials, fixtures and equipment to decrease overall building costs by 9%, as compared with the previous model, Hutsel said. Projected time to build the store was cut by two weeks, "but it looks more like it will be four weeks," he added.
"It's a simple concept, but if you reduce cost per unit and time to execute per unit by 20%, you can build five stores instead of four," Hutsel added.
That will aid Schnucks as it transitions from a recent remodeling focus to a growth strategy based on new-store construction.
Despite the more efficient floor plan, Hutsel said the store improves upon the "market feel" its predecessor did well. New design touches unify the feel between the perishable presentation and the grocery, frozen, dairy and drug store sections of the store, and is accented by new decor, and signs inside and outside of the store.
"We thought we had a pretty good model to start with," Hutsel noted. "We didn't want to throw out the market feel of the environment we were building. We just wanted to update it, and open up the store more so it didn't feel as if you were shopping two stores."
"Our biggest concern was what they had was a little dated and needed to be contemporized," Gary Oakley, vice president of creative for Perennial, told SN. "They had a nice fresh-market feel to their existing stores, but it wasn't coming through the decor."
Canopies on the store exterior detailing the product offerings inside help the retailer welcome customers and reinforce the market feel of the new store, Oakley said. Inside, the designer worked to improve overall vistas, allowing shoppers to see the various sections at a glance, and worked to ensure that all the sight lines "had something at the end that would draw customers to it." Simple icons -- an illustration of a single carrot in produce, for example -- designate the store's various sections.
Schnucks said it expected to roll out the prototype in Eureka, Mo.; Jennings, Mo.; and Bettendorf, Iowa.