An eye on design

Satisfying the consumer is first and foremost as supermarkets focus on designs that enhance the shopper experience.

Space is a precious commodity, especially for retailers. As the competition for consumers’ food dollars continues to increase, supermarkets are looking for ways to make the most of the space they have. When undergoing a redesign there is a fine line retailers—and designers—must walk. And while “classic never goes out of style,” it is also important to stay on top of the latest trends.

Currently in vogue, according to industry observers, are streamlined designs and less-cluttered aisles. For example, The SKU rationalization program at Hen House Market [Tremont] enabled designer Jeff Maple, owner of Jeff Maple Design, based in Kansas City, Mo., to remove an entire aisle, increasing aisle widths. “[The redesign] was also intended to improve the shopper experience by only presenting the most relevant options, making product selection easier and less overwhelming,” says Maple.

Observers also say retailers are exploring ways to reduce store size in the future while keeping all the offerings of their larger predecessors. “This not only saves the client money up front and in operating costs but is also intended to enhance the shopper experience by continuing to making it more efficient and enjoyable,” Maple says.

Another trend is to bypass the hot look of the moment and stick with classic elements and colors that appeal to the store’s target demographics. “A good brand ignores trends,” says Scott Jeffrey, chief creative officer for Dayton, Ohio-based Interbrand Design Forum. “Be true to your brand and be the color that you should be. Your store has to stand for five to 10 years and following the hot materials and latest colors will make your space feel out of date sooner.”

In our annual Design Showcase, Grocery Headquarters takes a look at some examples of the best in design among stores that have been recently built or remodeled.

Standing out among the skyscrapers
PROJECT:   Potash Markets, Chicago
DESIGN TEAM:  Mehmert Store Services, Sussex, Wis.

Potash Markets is a family-owned grocery retailer that has served the Chicago community since 1950. The retailer has three locations in Chicago—two stores nestled among the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago and a third inside a skyscraper. The retailer prides itself on superior personal service, providing specialty products and maintaining a local community presence.

“We are in upscale Chicago neighborhoods, with one store on State Street, one on Clark Street and one on the 44th floor of John Hancock Center just for Oprah,” says owner Art Potash. “We wanted a design that would reflect what our customers are looking for.”

Designers at Sussex, Wis.-based Mehmert Store Services worked with Potash officials to renovate both the Clark Street and State Street stores. Mehmert provided a new branding/logo concept, which is evident throughout with interior décor, signage, employee apparel and other elements.

The State Street Market redesign included an extensive interior and exterior renovation, say Mehmert officials. The store has occupied this location since 1962. The remodel included the produce area at Aisle 1 and the deli, meat and seafood areas at the back of the store. The layout was also opened up to make the store more spacious and inviting. The beer and wine aisle was re-done to feel like its own unique space with an overhead graphics/signage package and energy-efficient refrigerated door cases. New checkouts line the front end, along with new flooring and an enclosed café/seating area adjacent to the exit.

The entire exterior storefront was renovated to coordinate with the store’s interior. The existing concrete façade was painted a rich dark green, cultured stone now wraps the planters below the windows and the entire entrance system, with a dark orange cornice above. Burnt orange awnings provide functional protection for pedestrians as well as an enticing attraction to the store. New façade signage reflects the new logo and natural wood siding was implemented in the oversized blade sign above the entrance and two informational wall signs at the pedestrian level replace blank concrete walls.

Officials for the design firm say the blade sign and awnings are visible from cars and by pedestrians from blocks away, and the entire storefront now has a very high-end, contemporary individuality, which carries throughout the entire store.

A grande design
PROJECT:  Ralph’s Food Warehouse, Rio Grande, Puerto Rico
DESIGN TEAM:  CIP Retail, Fairfield, Ohio

Ralph’s Food Warehouse, a progressive and well-known grocery operator in Puerto Rico, recently put its best foot forward with a new, 52,000-square-foot store in Rio Grande. The company operates eight Ralph’s stores and two Supermercado Del Este grocery stores on the island.

Officials for CIP Retail, based in Fairfield, Ohio, say the sleek new design concept for Rio Grande includes state-of-the-art equipment, the latest lighting technology and abundant skylights. The resulting environment caters to a large volume of customers with ease, while focusing shoppers’ attention onto the food.

A high ceiling and its visible structure are painted white and interspersed with skylights that allow natural light to flood the space. Further brightening the interior is the light, natural and artificial, that bounces off the white floors.

The color palette is a sophisticated mix of white and various shades of yellow and orange with accent points of warm, dark red and subtle gray/greens, say officials for the design firm.

Large, close-up photographs of the food offerings are placed in the appropriate departments directly above product displays and on the walls. Additional graphics in stylized food patterns can be found on vertical way-finding signs and accent panels in the large eat-in cafeteria. In addition, officials for CIP Retail say departments are clearly labeled with dimensional typography that curves from the bulkheads.

One of the predominant elements of the design can be found at the checkout area. Suspended above the registers are custom-designed accent panels that form a canopy overhead—creating an interesting perspective and reducing the scale of the space as customers checkout. Although the panels have a very dimensional—even heavy—appearance, they are actually lightweight foam core panels laminated with printed Sintra sheets, each weighing only about 35 pounds.

Officials for the design firm and the retailer say the finished store is clean and vibrant—an enjoyable environment for Ralph’s loyal shoppers and new customers alike.

Unifying image
PROJECT: Homeland Stores, Okla. City, Okla.
DESIGN TEAM: D|Fab, Madison Heights, Mich.

Executives at Homeland Stores had focused their energy on building the chain through acquisitions for a decade. The result was the lack of a defining, unifying brand image. By 2010, the chain split its focus to concentrate on building a brand image and store design that would appeal to their existing customer base and capture a new higher-end customer as well, according to officials for the retailer.

Before addressing the design of the space, officials for D|Fab, a Madison Heights, Mich.-based design firm, conducted research on the customer base, Homeland Stores’ unique offerings, competitors in the market and the variety of current store conditions. Among the key discoveries: an unrivaled meat program and store conditions ranging from low-ceiling spaces to larger open-ceiling stores; calling for a modular, adaptable design to address the variety of buildings that Homeland Stores had in their stable. They also determined that the increasingly international and educated population of the area was hungry for a stimulating grocery shopping experience.

D|Fab officials approached the store design by pairing a contemporary style— to position Homeland as a forward-thinking retailer—with familiar textures, to connect with the customers on an emotional level.

They say the result was a unique store experience featuring rounded forms dressed in distressed and natural finishes, a simple font typeface used in way-finding signage and an earthy palette that set a warm and inviting backdrop to the merchandise and fresh product, say officials for the design firm. Additionally, glass tile, rich-toned wood plank flooring and delicate wall stenciling all enhance the overarching “natural” ambiance.

Textural finishes such as ledge stone and barn wood are grazed with accent lighting to create dramatic focal areas on the perimeter. The dimensional department slabs, with engraved lettering, create mass and focus to these departments, while adjoining product categories such as olives and cheese, are called out with complementing overhead signs, say officials.

Marketing messages are placed front and center through the fixed signage throughout the space, creating a cohesive store brand and marketing message. Simple signage language provides a contemporary feel and easy way-finding throughout the store. D|Fab officials say a metal case valance lends a finished look to the perimeter’s multi-deck cases, and reiterates Homeland’s tagline—a fresh experience—at customer eye level. Homeland Stores’ renowned “Red River Ranch” and “Buy One Get One” meat programs are highlighted with special call-outs.

The pharmacy received a facelift with a more comfortable waiting area for customers and a distinctive look within the store. To promote the health and wellness of its customers, Homeland Stores also implemented the Guiding Stars program to offer customers at-a-glance, patented, nutritional ranking information throughout the store. Additionally, natural and organic products have been given more visibility in the store through signage and fixturing arrangements that group products for customers to easily shop, say officials.

This contemporary store design highlights Homeland Stores’ attributes and customers are responding to the remodeled stores with a fresh and definitively positive attitude. It also suffuses Homeland Stores associates with a refreshed, unprecedented look at who they are to their customers and their region.

Youthful, casual vibe
PROJECT:  Hen House Market (Tremont), Kansas City, Mo.
DESIGN TEAM:  Jeff Maple Design, Kansas City, Mo.; Baero North America, St. Louis

Officials for Hen House Market, a banner of Balls Food Stores, were looking to reflect the youthful, casual sophistication of its shoppers as it embarked on a redesign of the Tremont store. They also wanted to freshen the look of the store to reflect the focus on fresh products and high level of service the store provides, says David Gryszowka vice president of operations for Balls Food Stores.

“We tried to develop a design that would be current and appeal to a younger shopper,” says Jeff Maple, owner of Kansas City, Mo.-based Jeff Maple Design. Some elements include beiges and warm grays, brick veneer and signage in handwritten-looking types.

The lighting, which was designed by St. Louis-based Baero North America, was key to creating the right atmosphere. “The Baero lighting is so good at illuminating the product,” Maple says. Residential-quality fixtures were also used to create a home-like feel. “The lighting is low-key, so shoppers feel as if they want to linger.”

In the fresh departments, a draw for Hen House customers, Baero used unique combinations of lamps, filters and reflectors to help enhance and protect the meat, seafood, bakery items and locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables.

Maple says the ceiling in the produce department is painted a bright green and some of the lighting is turned toward the ceiling to “provide an element of energy.” There are also several “shop within a shop” concepts, including health food, health and beauty and a high-end liquor section.

This store also has an in-store smoker from Southern Pride, based in Marion, Ill.  “We’re in Kansas City, so smoked meat is a big thing,” says Gryszowka. The company also installed energy-efficient dairy cases from Bridgeton, Mo.-based Hussmann.

Refreshingly different
PROJECT:  Sweetbay, Palm Harbor, Fla.
DESIGN TEAM:  api(+), Tampa, Fla.

In a hotly contested market such as Palm Harbor, Fla., it is crucial to understand the target consumer. In the case of the redesigned Sweetbay, the store is aimed at pleasing a slightly younger food- and price-conscious customer who has a sense of humor and an eclectic view of cooking and design.

“We looked at freshening up the interior design with a more coordinated look that brought together the signage and design of the building,” says Curtis McIntyre, manager of engineering services for Salisbury, N.C.-based Delhaize America, which operates the Sweetbay banner. “We wanted a design that would keep in step with our brand and go along with our new strategy of being ‘refreshingly different.’ We wanted to addresses the post-2007 consumer who wants to save money but also wants an enjoyable and pleasant shopping experience. We’ve been cost conscious in our use of materials, finish and fixtures.”

The contemporary palette of food-inspired colors combines with highly finished modern materials—woods, glass tile, ceramics and stainless steel—to create the backdrop for displaying foods and featuring services in a warm, soothing environment, say officials for the retailer and design firm.

“The previous design was built around foodies, so this is a little different,” says Tom Henken, vice president and director of design for Tampa, Fla.-based api(+).

The new design combines seafood and meat service areas in order to lower operational costs and provide a market atmosphere. Pairing rich dark wood with brushed metal set against tile walls featuring glass and stainless steel inserts creates a strong backdrop to the department. The overall result is a modern commercial grade kitchen aesthetic communicating cleanliness and professionalism. “We call it aspirational kitchen,” Henken says.

The pharmacy incorporates “many spa-like design cues,” McIntyre says, including the wood finishes, a welcoming color balance and an open, inviting space that allows customers direct visual contact with the pharmacist. Large-scale light tubes above the pharmacists’ work area mimic natural illumination and provide a dramatic punctuation to this department making it easily recognizable from any location in the store. Soft lighting and comfortable seating, placed outside the traffic pattern, provide customers with a pleasant waiting respite.

The balance of the store supports the signature fresh and service departments with a consistent usage of graphic pattern appliqués and lighthearted messaging. Api(+) collaborated with Sweetbay to develop this series of department-specific messages. For example, in the milk department, shoppers are encouraged to “take your cookie for a dip.” The added character and spontaneity throughout aligns with Sweetbay’s “refreshingly different” brand message, officials for the retailer say.

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