Sunday, January 20, 2008

Retail Memo: Designing the 'Perfect' Small-Format Grocery Store in a 'Near-Perfect' Place

Today's Boston Globe Magazine has a piece about retail grocery industry veteran Michael Szathmary who, along with a group of developers and advisors, is designing what the group hopes will be the "perfect" grocery store for residents of a nearly 3,200 acre planned residential development in Plymouth, Massachusetts called Pinehills.

The article's author, Lisa Prevost, describes the Pinehills residential community as "a designer version of classic old New England."

The attractive planned community has a bank, Post Office, community center, health club, and even a wine shop, but it has no supermarket--and hasn't had one since it opened six years ago. And it's residents are dying for one; they currently have to drive six miles to get to the nearest supermarket. The lack of a grocery store also has been a negative for the community's marketing people when trying to lure new residents to the development.

Pinehills' residents (Prevost calls them a mix of casual cooks and connoisseurs) have high expectations for their neighborhood grocery store. As a result, Szathmary and his store development team have brought a number of the residents in on the store design process.

And, these folks have lots of ideas. Among the products and features they want in "their" store is lots of "freshness"--squeeky-fresh produce, eye-tempting cuts of fresh prime meet, and mouth-watering fresh baked goods are just some of the group's "must-haves" for the store. A culinary center with a demonstration kitchen, attractive, well-groomed employees, lots of specialty foods, and even e-mail alerts telling customers about weekly specials, are some of the other ideas Pinehill residents, who've been serving as focus group members during the store development process, have.

Perhaps neighborhood resident and focus group member Sandi Blanda summed-up the group's desires best when she told Prevost, "I basically feel that when you walk into a market, it should always feel like Thanksgiving." Blanda, a professional artist who says she is used to New York City's specialty foods markets and custom butcher shops from her many years living there, says "It's (all) about variety and freshness," a theme her fellow residents in the group agree on.

Grocer Szathmary, who's spent most of his life in the retail food business (including helping to launch the Nature's Heartland natural-foods store chain which was bought out by Whole Foods Market, Inc. in 2000), and his development team are equally passionate about wanting to create the "perfect" grocery store for the planned community, which has a current population of about 2,500.

Team-Szathmary's store design thus far is a small-format (about 14,000 square feet) market that's a mix of the traditional neighborhood grocery store--where shoppers can get all the basic grocery items they need at competitive prices--and a specialty market, with the kinds of fresh and upscale features (and products) on the wish list of the focus group's members.

The design team also wants the store to fit "perfectly" into the community. The current design offers a bit of an old New England look (like Pinehills) with an upscale flair. The goal is for the store to not be too upscale, but at the same time not be too basic. That's a tall order for any retail store design team.

Because of it's small size, the store will by necessity have a limited assortment of products compared to the supermarkets nearby, most of which are at least twice as big, and in many cases three-to-four times its size.

This isn't a problem though in many ways. As we write about regularly here, small-format stores are all the rage today. Trader Joe's grocery markets, for example, average about 10,00 square feet. Tesco's new Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market stores average 13,000 to 15,000 square feet--and in fact are a similar basic neighborhood grocery, specialty store format to what Szathmary's team is designing for Pinehills.

Further, the new small-format grocery stores that Wal-Mart and Safeway Stores, Inc. plan to build and open later this year in Arizona and Northern California respectively, are in the 20,000 square-foot range. In other words, the Pinehills' team is right on (format size) trend. All have or will have limited product selection.

The Boston Globe Magazine piece is an interesting explanation and dissection of how a group of people go about planning and designing a retail food store--and all the considerations that need to go into doing so if that group is passionate and cares strongly about the end result.

Read the full Boston Globe Magazine article, "Building an Appetite," here.

>Click here to see a full-sized, graphic diagram of the store's design. (Once at the link, go to the "Building an Appetite" story, then go to "Graphic: Shopper Paradise?" and click there to view the graphic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey, is this going to be another Zathmary's leaving vendors in the lurtch?