Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Retail Memo: Washington D.C's Famous Georgetown Neighborhood Could Finally Get its Long-Desired 'Social Safeway' Supermarket

From the Natural~Specialty Foods Editor's Desk: Nearly three years ago Pleasanton, California USA-based Safeway Stores, Inc. embarked on the huge task of converting what are now about 1,755 supermarkets under numerous retail banners in the United States into what it calls its "Lifestyle" format.

Safeway's "Lifestyle" format is a fairly upscale store design package which features soft colors inside the store, hardwood flooring in departments like produce and wine, and spot lighting instead of bright lights, along with numerous other attractive design elements.

The "Lifestyle" format combines Safeway's traditional value-oriented style of food and grocery retailing with a greater focus on natural, organic, premium and specialty products merchandising across all store categories.

This merchandising emphasis includes expanded selections of natural, healthy and organic food and grocery products like Safeway's own popular O' Organics and Eating Right store brands, along with manufacturers' brands.

The "Lifestyle" merchandising focus also includes store branding of Safeway's fresh, prepared foods offerings, including its premium Signature Cafe brand of ready-to-eat and ready-to-heat items. Additionally, under the "Lifestyle" format Safeway has dramatically expanded the number of premium, specialty, ethnic and gourmet food and grocery items it carries in its supermarkets.

Perhaps the most interesting and important aspect of the "Lifestyle" format is that with it Safeway has tried to create a much more social supermarket. The retailer has used design features like outdoor patios and terraces in some cases, farmers market-style produce departments, wine cellars and old fashion butcher shop-style meat departments in both its new and remodeled supermarkets as ways to create a more social and enjoyable shopping experience for customers.

By and large the "Lifestyle" format has been a big success for Safeway, which has thus far converted about 70% of its U.S. supermarkets--which operate under such banners as Safeway (Northern California, Oregon, Washington state, Arizona, Colorado, Washington D.C., Maryland and Virginia); Vons (Southern California and Nevada); Carrs (Alaska); Dominicks (Illinios and Indiana) and others--into the "Lifestyle" format, according to CEO Steve Burd. Plans call for all of the supermarket chain's stores (except the handful of Pak-N-Sav warehouse stores it operates in Northern California) to be converted to the "Lifestyle" format by the end of 2009, Burd told Natural~Specialty Foods Memo earlier this year.

One strategy Safeway has been using during its three year "Lifestyle" conversion format is to expand the size of certain stores and upscale them considerably in neighborhoods in which the shopper demographics are strong for food stores offering a lifestyle experience along with expanded selections of natural, organic, premium and specialty foods.

The supermarket chain has a number of stores that were opened long ago that sit in such premium demographic neighborhoods. Many of those stores, such a one currently being proposed (a remodel) in Oakland, California's upscale College neighborhood, another in Berkeley, California and yet another in the upscale Georgetown district in Washington D.C., are older, small supermarkets that once fit well in these neighborhoods but have long outgrown the gentrification and upscaling that's gone on in them. These stores and others present a huge sales opportunity (at least a doubling of annual gross sales) if expanded and remodeled based on the respective neighborhoods' demographic profiles.

Washington D.C's Georgetown, home to Senators, lobbyists and the well known Georgetown University, has long wanted Safeway to grow and upscale the Safeway supermarket that's been in the neighborhood for decades.

This has particularly been the desire of Georgetown University students and faculty who like most university communities are on the cutting edge of the natural and organic foods trend. Additionally, the wealthy political and business movers and shakers of Washington D.C., many who reside in Georgetown, have wanted a Safeway supermarket in the neighborhood like the ones ("Lifestyle" format) in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, which is one of the more wealthier suburbs of the nation's capital city.

This desire for a more "social" Safeway has been discussed in the Washington Post newspaper, on numerous area online food forums, and in the pages of the Hoya, the student newspaper of Georgetown University.

Well, it looks like Georgetown University students and the Georgetown neighborhood's who's who of political and corporate residents and their frequently entertaining spouses are going to get their long-desired "social Safeway", according to a story in today's edition of the Hoya, the Georgetown University student newspaper that was founded in 1920.

And, according to the article reprinted below, it looks like Safeway plans to serve up a "Lifestyle" format supermarket for Washington D.C.'s Georgetown neighborhood (where former President John F. Kennedy lived before being elected to office) befitting the areas demographics, love of food and desire for a more social grocery shopping experience.

Perhaps the new Georgetown "Social Safeway" will be ready for the new U.S. President and his family when he--either Barack Obama or John McCain--takes office next year?

Safeway to Get a Little More 'Social'
The Hoya--Georgetown University
By Sep 01 2008

Who would have thought that a mundane trip to Safeway could turn into a social event?

In an effort to create a more welcoming atmosphere, owners of the Wisconsin Avenue Safeway are planning extensive renovations to turn the current grocery store into a “Social Safeway” shopping center almost 50 percent larger.

The new establishment is envisioned as a curbside, two-level shopping complex complete with an outdoor terrace and two parking levels.

Craig Muckle, a Safeway public affairs manager, said the renovation plans are still in the developmental stages. “We are still working with the Advisory Neighborhood Committee and the District government, so the start date hasn’t been identified yet,” Muckle said.

The building would be moved curbside to make it more accessible and inviting than its current spot behind a large parking lot. It would also be turned into a two-level complex, with the lower level occupied by separate businesses and the grocery store on the top. Safeway administrators are currently unsure which businesses would occupy the downstairs level, according to Muckle.

Muckle also said the terrace would be added to give weary shoppers a place to rest. “It essentially will be like an indoor/outdoor cafĂ© setup where you can purchase food, sit and overlook the store.”

The enormous parking lot will be scaled down, but according to the renovations, parking won’t become scarce: There will be two levels of parking behind and below the store. As a result, there will also be two entrances.

The Georgetown store’s redevelopment is part of Safeway’s long-term rebranding strategy announced in 2004 in which existing stores in North America will get hardwood floors, muted lighting and improved produce, delicatessen, bakery and floral sections.

The renovations specific to the Wisconsin Avenue Safeway, though, such as the shopping area and outdoor terrace, were designed to suit the Georgetown community.

“Every store is different in and of itself, but this plan is strictly for Georgetown,” he said.

The square footage of the new store would be approximately 65,000 square feet, which will be nearly 45 percent larger than the existing store.

“I definitely think it will make the shopping experience more enjoyable, and it will definitely be a way for more people to meet,” said local resident and frequent Safeway customer Elizabeth Williams. “This already is considered the ‘social Safeway’ in D.C., but these changes will only make it that much more social.”

The closure of the current store during construction is projected to be an issue for local customers, but Muckle said he hopes customers will remain loyal to Safeway and use its home delivery service or visit nearby grocery stores in the interim.

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