Everything's coming up yellow roses
By Richard Turcsik
Market Street blossoms in Flower Mound, Texas, with local produce, Texas-raised beef, artisan bakery products, unique gifts, competitive groceries, the biggest gluten-free selection in town and superior customer service. Officials at United Supermarkets have taken a “fresh” approach with the latest prototype of their upscale Market Street format. In the Flower Mound, Texas store, up to a dozen types of artisan breads are baked daily from scratch. House-made salmon jerky is the specialty in seafood, Texas-raised beef in the meat case. Shoppers can even enjoy a glass of wine or bottle of beer with their smoked Texas brisket platter from the Texas Kitchen prepared foods case. However, the most distinct difference is the big emphasis on produce. It has literally been placed front-and-center, right at the entrance. Produce can even be seen in Market Street’s new logo, debuting with the store, which features a stylized Texas grapefruit and spoon—after all, it is the State Fruit of Texas. “Through focus groups and different projects that we’ve all been working on we realized that we are really proud of our produce,” says Kurt McMillan, regional vice president of operations, Market Street/DFW, in the Frisco, Texas office of Lubbock, Texas-based United Supermarkets. “In most of our stores it is toward the back end of the store. It is the same design we’ve had for years. Somebody once mentioned, ‘If you’re so proud of it, why isn’t it front-and-center?’ We really thought about that and that is what we wanted to do.” The other Market Street stores begin the shopping experience with a gift basket station and the dish giftware department. “We’re all about food, so we made sure with this store that food was one of the first things you saw and that you were able to start smelling and touching it right when you walk in,” McMillan says. Lots of stores kick off the shopping pattern with produce, but most run it in a linear aisle. This Market Street uses more of a boxy boutique approach. “So far it has been very well received by shoppers,” McMillan says. The emphasis is really on local. “Texas Fresh” is blazoned on the department’s back wall; signs over items give detailed family histories of the farmers—personally visited by United buyers—and a scoreboard-style sign at the front of the department states how many locally grown fruits and veggies are being offered today. “Local is such a big deal,” McMillan says. “This sign changes every other day or so when we get our trucks in.” On a blustery late January morning 37 locally grown fruits or vegetables were offered; during the peak summer growing season that number will easily surpass 100. The prototype, in the upscale Dallas/Ft. Worth suburb of Flower Mound, opened in December. At 55,000 square feet, it is noticeably smaller than the average Market Street, which comes in at around 72,000 square feet. Its size was reduced to protect a grove of old oak trees. United officials like the smaller footprint. McMillan says that the larger the store, the higher the land costs, overhead and utility bills. “We reengineered this store to take out some of the wasted space and take a look at our offering and keep the best of the best,” he says. “We really think that this footprint can be something that can take us to the future.” One of the “best of the best” offerings is the concierge desk, located against the front wall opposite produce. Different from the courtesy booth, the concierge is where associates assist customers with party planning, catering, corporate affairs and social events, like weddings and graduations. “This team is invaluable to us,” McMillan says. “We do a tremendous amount of weddings and they help with every bit of that, including planning the cake, the food and even help with selecting the right champagne.” Oprah’s favorite coffee The shopping pattern then swings shoppers to the foodservice area of the store, anchored by Peet’s Coffee & Tea Shop. United officials thought long and hard about selecting Peet’s, McMillan says, noting that it would have been easier to put in a Starbucks, as did competitors Tom Thumb and Kroger. “Peet’s coffee is Oprah’s favorite coffee,” McMillan says. “Peet’s is huge on the West Coast. The biggest thing about them is the freshness. They don’t roast the coffee until we order it and a lot of time it is only five days old when we receive it. In traditional supply channels that is not even possible. “In this market Peet’s is a lesser known product, but our customers have tried it and continue to try it. If we were to get rid of it now there’d be a mutiny on our hands,” he says. Adjacent to Peet’s, fronting the foodservice seating area, is Libations—Market Street’s beer and wine bar. “This is brand new to this store and we feel that once the weather warms up people will take full advantage of the outdoor patio,” McMillan says. On the opposite side of Peet’s is an AFC Sushi counter, followed by the Texas Kitchen hot food service counter featuring a stone pizza oven and smoked meats, including pork ribs and beef briskets. “The briskets are brought in from our Praters Foods central kitchen in Lubbock,” McMillan says. “We found that we can do a better, more consistent brisket there than we can individually in the stores.” Directly across from Texas Kitchen is Market Street’s famous self-service salad bar. In addition to standard salad bar fixings there are more unusual components, including a blue cheese iceberg wedge, artichoke and palm hearts salad, carrot/pineapple slaw and legendary homemade soups. “Every city has a ‘Best of’ list and we are always listed as the best salad bar,” McMillan says. “It is fascinating to us because there are some really big restaurants in the category and we beat ’em.” To the left of Texas Kitchen is a Boar’s Head Deli. “Boar’s Head is a real good partner for us,” McMillan says. “They are in Kroger and a couple of other places in town. There are other programs out there but Boar’s Head quality is second to none. They have a great program and we just felt they matched up with what we were trying to do.” The Deli area includes a 200-plus SKU service cheese case and leads into the Bakery. Thumbprint cookies “There are some really good par baked breads out there, but all of our breads are done in-house, 100% from scratch,” McMillan says. Around a dozen are available daily, including Bay City sourdough, spinach feta, good-n-grainy and white chocolate apricot. Other popular items are brownies and cookies. “Our Thumbprint cookies are 100% from scratch,” McMillan says. “We roll them out and cut them and the baker literally puts a thumb in it to make an indentation for the icing. It is a tedious process, but a signature item that has done real well.” Across from the bakery is an extensive beer and wine department specializing in craft beers and staffed with wine stewards and beer cicerones. Along the store’s back wall is the extensive service seafood and meat case. One unique item is the store-made salmon jerky, available in cherry habanero, pineapple mango and spicy apple varieties and made with salmon that is smoked in-house. A specialty of the adjacent service meat case is the Texas Tumble chicken breast, available in flavors that include beer brined, citrus rosemary, chipotle lime fajita and ginger teriyaki. “This is not just a marinated product, but we literally put it in a tumbler which is vacuum-sealed and pulls the muscle apart so the flavor and seasoning goes all through the breast,” McMillan says. Two other specialties are the 21-day dry- aged beef and the Genuine Texas Beef—By Texans for Texans. “We are the only ones in Texas that have this,” McMillan says. A key part of the grocery department is the self-service bulk section, featuring hundreds of items, including grinders where customers can make their own peanut butter, and stainless steel urns filled with local Texas honey, agave nectar, extra virgin olive oil and U.S. Grade A maple syrup. Another important grocery component is an extensive selection of gluten-free products. Not only is an entire aisle devoted to them, but national brand gluten-free items are also interspersed with their regular counterparts. “Most stores just have a small six-foot section, but this store has the largest selection of gluten-free products in the entire city of Dallas,” McMillan says. “We don’t just feel comfortable saying that—that is a fact.” Local and regional items are stocked in grocery and United officials pride themselves that Market Street is price competitive with market leaders Walmart, Kroger and Tom Thumb. Due to its smaller size, this Market Street does not have a pharmacy, but it still has an extensive selection of HBC items, including many homeopathic remedies and unusual goods, such as fragrant cut-to-order Zumbar Goat’s Milk Soaps, available in varieties that include Frankincense and Myrrh, Patchouli Oatmeal Lavender, Tea Tree Citrus and Grapefruit. “When people walk in we don’t want them to think that this is just another me-too Kroger or Safeway,” McMillan says. “These things help differentiate us.” Another differentiator is the large selection of supplements in the living well department. “There are a lot of products in this area that will not sell to supermarkets, but only health food stores,” McMillan says. “But when they came in to look at our operation they realized that we have a trained specialist in our store who is here seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. They realize that we try to uphold the integrity of this area and won’t mix anything with artificial ingredients in this area.” Adjoining the living well department is the dish giftware department, overflowing with unique items including hand-painted pottery, china, crystal and lamps. Items are hand-selected at merchandise marts, including the one in Dallas. “A lot of people who shop here really love this department,” McMillan says. “You are not going to find your basic thing that is shipped over from China or picked from some catalog. Everything in this area had a decision made behind it.” By stocking these types of unique items Market Street is holding its own against formidable competition that includes Safeway’s Tom Thumb chain, Sprouts Farmers Market, Walmart Neighborhood Market and a Kroger directly across the street that was expanded and remodeled into a Kroger Signature format to combat its new competition. Adding more fuel to the fire, a Whole Foods is slated to open in town later this year. “This is certainly one of the most competitive markets that we are in,” says Eddie Owens, director of communications and public relations at United. DFW is a much different market than the more rural Lubbock in West Texas, he says. “It has been a learning experience being down here and figuring what we have to do differently.” Carryout service One thing management refused to change was United’s renowned carryout service. “For 95-plus years we have been carrying out groceries,” McMillan says, “and if you shop here today we will wrestle you for your groceries to carry them out. We feel that our biggest differentiator, especially in this market, is our service. Ultimate service is our mission statement.” The practice has been quickly embraced by DFW residents. “It kind of takes you back to that Norman Rockwell feeling,” McMillan says. Another benefit, he adds, is that it gives many teens their first chance at having a real job. “We employ a lot of young kids from 15 up. It is a great place for them to learn,” he says. The carryout service has taken Metroplex residents some getting used to, Owens says. “When we go into a big community like this, number one, people don’t expect it, and, number two, they are shocked when the kids won’t take tips,” he says. “We are such a fixture in West Texas that everyone knows about our carryout service and it is expected.” Knock on woods Building the Market Street in Flower Mound was no walk in the park. In fact, the project was seven years in the making, thanks to a grove of old majestic oak trees growing in the back of the store site. “There are three main trees out here and believe it or not, these three trees almost held up the whole project,” says Kurt McMillan, regional vice president of operations, Market Street/DFW, in the Frisco, Texas, office of Lubbock-based United Supermarkets. “This was supposed to be the third store we opened in the Dallas/Ft. Worth market and instead it ended up being our seventh.” To preserve the trees and surrounding woodlands, Flower Mound officials declared the site an “urban forest” and have dubbed it “River Walk.” Their ultimate goal is to have a smaller scale version of San Antonio’s famed River Walk, lined with trees, shops, hotels and offices, McMillan says. As a result of the trees, the Flower Mound Market Street is somewhat smaller than its sister stores in the DFW Metroplex. While agreeing that the mighty gnarled oaks should be saved, United officials also wanted to ensure that their patrons could enjoy them. That is why they built a side entrance that leads to a breezeway that opens up into an outdoor patio/dining/event/playground area. “We hated having these beautiful trees back here and only having delivery-truck drivers seeing them, so we wanted to do something different,” McMillan says. The result is a large patio wrapped in wrought iron fencing and filled with about a dozen umbrella-topped patio tables that will afford patrons an outdoor dining experience while shielding them from the shimmering Texas summer heat. “We hope this will be a place for sports teams, like the local Little Leagues, to come and meet after the games, and also a place where families can hold birthday parties. We are set up that we can do some live entertainment,” McMillan says.