Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Retail Innovation Memo: Piggly Wiggly Carolina's Innovative, New 'Consumer Intuitive' Format Pilot Store to Open on April 3

Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co., the South Carolina-based grocery company which is one of Piggly Wiggly LLC's largest franchisees, is set to introduce an innovative new grocery retailing format when it opens a pilot supermarket on April 3 in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. is a wholesale and retail grocery company. It currently operates about 100 Piggly Wiggly banner supermarkets. About 60% of the stores are company owned. The other 40% are owned by independents, who have a franchise agreement with the company, and buy all of their grocery products from the wholesale division.

The 100 Piggly Wiggly banner supermarkets are located across South Carolina and into South Georgia. Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. is the largest privately-owned, family-operated company in South Carolina. It had sales of about $700 million in 2007 and currently has 5,000 employees. The grocery company also owns a real estate firm, a printing company and a couple of other related enterprises.

Piggly Wiggly LLC is a supermarket franchise, retail support service and marketing company. It's affiliated with C&S Wholesale Grocery Company. Piggly Wiggly LLC licenses the Piggly Wiggly banner to over 600 supermarkets in the U.S. and provides retail, marketing and advertising support to the franchisee stores (or groups like Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co).

Piggly Wiggly is calling its new, pilot format, the first completely restructured grocery store format designed to fit how people intuitively shop. The focus of the "shopper intuitive" format is to make shopping easier for customers and to...well, make the shopping experience more like it is in the mind of the shopper (intuitive).

The premise of the new format store's interior is to create a natural flow rather than use the conventional strategies common in most stores today which are thought to make shoppers stay longer in the store and as a result spend more money.

For example, similar or "like" grocery products will be grouped together in the new-format store--cereal and milk, fresh, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables, coffee and creamers, breakfast items like eggs, bacon and butter, for example--rather than in the common supermarket merchandising scheme in which these various categories and items are spread throughout the core and perimeter of the store on grocery shelves and in refrigerated cases.

The innovative, new Piggly Wiggly supermarket format also will have a large, open kitchen in the center of the store as its focal point. Professional chefs will prepare recipes throughout the day and evening for store shoppers, who can watch and linger in the store kitchen as often and as much as they desire.

Another innovative feature of the pilot store format are what the grocer is calling "one-stop meal stations." This merchandising element--which is a companion to the "logical" or intuitive merchandising plan mentioned above, in which like products are merchandised together--will feature "meal solution" stations in which items like hamburger, hamburger buns, chips, soda pop, beer, pickles and condiments will be grouped together on a regular basis.

Supermarkets have built "meal solution" displays like this for decades. However, what makes it somewhat different and innovative in the new Piggly Wiggly format is that the "one stop meal solution stations" will be numerous and permanent--and are part of the store's entire "like product" merchandising philosophy rather than the common practice of grouping items by category and how they are packaged and sold (eg: dry grocery, frozen, refrigerated, fresh and the like).

The store will look much different to shoppers and others in that unlike the majority of U.S. supermarkets which tend to have all the fresh (produce, meat, bakery, deli) and perishable categories around the store perimeter, and dry grocery in the core of the store, the new format Piggly Wiggly will mix dry grocery and fresh and perishable categories throughout the store. It's all based on the premise of shopper flow rather than perimeter/core of the store theory and practice.

In fact, the store's design and decor will be different than the common U.S. supermarket model as well. There are so many different formats and store designs in the U.S. today--from zero-frills warehouse stores to European Market Hall style upscale food emporiums and more--that using the term "common" is best defined as the standard box, which still is the majority design element for American grocery stores.

The Myrtle Beach pilot format Piggly Wiggly supermarket will be very "homelike inside". The store's floors will be all hardwood, the center-store demonstration kitchen is designed to look upscale yet homey, and soft lighting and residential-like accent colors will be used throughout the store's interior. The supermarket's exterior will reflect this theme as well. We call it sort of an "Upscale Homescape" design.

The store's location in the seaside city of Myrtle Beach should be a good test for the pilot intuitive supermarket format. The city is fairly upscale in its demographics but also includes a substantial middle-class population. The city also is a major tourist area which draws visitors from throughout the U.S. (especially the south and the east coast) and many from overseas as well.

Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. tells us they plan to use the pilot, new format supermarket in two ways. First, they want to see which design and merchandising elements work the best in it and use them when they remodel existing supermarkets. Second, they want to study the "intuitive" format, make changes if and as needed, and then be able to use it as a model format for new supermarkets. If it works as well as the grocer thinks, and is successful, they plan on building more supermarkets using the new format and merchandising scheme.

There are a number of grocery chains--Whole Foods Market, H.E. Butt in Texas and others--that have built stores using a similar intuitive design and merchandising approach to varying degrees. For example, last October Whole Foods' opened its European Market Hall-style food store in Oakland, California, which uses a similar intuitive and natural traffic flow-based, rather than traditional, design and merchandising philosophy in it.

What makes the Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. format prototype innovative though are two things: First, it's an attempt to redesign the conventional (albeit in this store's case a somewhat upscale format) supermarket format and merchandising scheme completely; to turn it on its head if you will. This is the case because the pilot store changes the central conventional supermatket merchandising premise--which is fresh and perishable products on the perimeter, dry grocery in the core of the store--entirely with its "like product" grouping merchandising scheme throughout the store.

Look at it this way: Since Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. is not known as a trail-blazing specialty grocer like Whole Foods Market, Wegmans or H.E. Butt, for example, its designing and opening a supermarket with such a paradigm-shifting format and merchandising scheme could actually have more influence than the format innovations these cutting-edge grocers do because Piggly Wiggly is considered more in the mainstream of traditional supermarket retailing than the others are.

The argument might go something like this: (Conventional grocery chain executive): "Well, of course Whole Foods Market, H.E. Butt and Wegmans Food Markets' create these innovative formats...But we aren't Whole Foods, H.E. Butt or Wegmans; we're a more mainstream grocery chain."

However, perhaps if a more mainstream grocery chain like Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. makes such a format paradigm shift, these majority retailers will take notice. (Conventional grocery chain executive now): "A chain like us did what? Grouping together similar or 'like' items regardless of whether or not they are in cans, frozen or refrigerated? Well... if Piggly Wiggly did it, maybe we should take a look at it."

Further, it's the grocer's goal--if the format is a success and even if it needs some tweaking after the first store opens--to use the new format for most if not all of its future new stores. Doing this would represent an interesting change in basic supermarket design, format development and merchandising in the U.S. It also could lead to other mainstream (rather than specialty grocers which Piggly Wiggly is not) grocery chains adopting the format innovation completely or in parts.

Readers shouldn't be too surprised that its a Piggly Wiggly franchisee--Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co.-- that's being so innovative. Why?

A little supermarket industry history: the first Piggly Wiggly grocery store was founded in Memphis, Tennessee on September 6, 1916 by a man named Clarence Saunders. This was the pre-self service supermarket era. In fact, the term supermarket had yet to be coined in 1916.

In those days, customers handed their handwritten grocery order to a store clerk who then filled the order, added it up, and put it in a cardboard box for the shopper to take home. Full-service was not only the norm, it was the only option.

Saunders was a rather innovative, flamboyant and restless grocer according to accounts of his life. One day he decided the full-service system was a waste of time and man hours, so he developed what today (with some modifications) is the self-service system of supermarket retailing. To this day, nobody knows why Saunders chose the name Piggly Wiggly for his store, which became a grocery chain, by the way.

{Note: Michael Kullen, founder of the New York-based King Kullen supermarket chain, also shares credit for inventing the first supermarket and self-service scheme, although most believe Saunders was first in terms of actual self-service.}

So, as you can see, Piggly Wiggly does have some historic claim to innovation. Piggly Wiggly also is generally credited with coming up with the first supermarket checkstand to go with that self-service system creation. The grocer also generally gets credit for introducing the first supermarket shopping cart on wheels

Other innovations for Piggly Wiggly include being one of the first (if not the first) grocers to merchandise some fresh produce items in refrigerated cases to prolong the products' freshness. Prior to this innovation it was commonplace to merchandise all produce items on a dry rack.

Piggly Wiggly also is credited as being one of the first grocers to: introduce uniforms for store clerks, create a high-volume/lower-profit margin retailing scheme, offer a full line of nationally advertised grocery brands, and franchise independent grocers to operate under the self-service supermarket model that's so common today.

Therefore, as you can see, Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. is following in the well-proven Piggly Wiggly history of grocery retailing innovation by creating its new, "intuitive-style" supermarket format.

Even though the grocery chain Charles Sounders founded and used as a format and merchandising innovation incubator is now an independent grocer franchisee, retail support and marketing company rather than a company-owned supermarket chain like it used to be, we think he would be pleased to hear about the new, innovative retail supermarket format and merchandising scheme that franchisee Piggly Wiggly Carolina Co. is set to open on April 3.

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