EQUIPMENT & DESIGN: Moving mountains

It took Kash n' Karry's retail open coordinator Tom Bloom six hours to shift 12 fully loaded 72-foot aisles a foot and a half each. Six hours, and one jar of spaghetti sauce. "That's the only thing that fell off the shelf during the entire move," says Bloom. "Twelve aisles of products -- and we didn't even wrap them." Truth be told, he did lose something else during the move: two weeks of labor, and approximately $15,000 in expenses.

Bloom shifted the aisles to make room for a new Nature's Place health food department in one of the Tampa, Fla.-based chain's Sarasota locations. But what's unusual about the task is the tool that allowed Bloom to accomplish this feat so quickly. The tool, produced by Gondola Skate Moving Systems of San Diego, Calif., is based on a principle so ubiquitous that it makes you wonder why it hasn't been standard-issue equipment at retail forever.

In essence, anyone who has ever moved furniture using a dolly has relied on the principle on which this equipment operates. The system consists of a jack to lift the gondola, and a specialized dolly, or "skate," used to support and move it.

The Gondola Skate is a four-caster dolly molded out of high-strength plastic, with one-ton or three-ton capacities.

There are three versions of the device. System 1 uses pallet jacks and lifting bars to raise the gondolas. The Gondola Skate is then slid under each base bracket. This system is designed to handle smaller-sized gondolas.

System 2 employs the company's custom-designed hydraulic jacks, three-ton Gondola Skates, steel bars, and pull bars. This system is capable of moving fully loaded gondolas of up to 80 feet in length.

System 3 is customized specifically for unique projects. This includes System 3i, which employs a skate designed to handle international gondola designs.

Without the Gondola Skate, moving aisles is a time- and labor-consuming task, says Bloom. "I would have had to bring a crew in -- probably four employees -- and unload the products onto rolling racks and wheel them to the back of the store," he explains. "Then our installation contractor would take the gondola down, move it over about a foot and change, and set it back up. After this we would have to restock the product."

Bloom estimates that doing it this way would take three to four hours per aisle, using four dedicated staffers. To move all 12 aisles would have taken a week and a half. Using the new equipment, the job didn't even require one full day.

"We brought the equipment in at 9 p.m. -- near our 11 p.m. closing," says Bloom. "We were finished by 3 a.m. It took us about 40 minutes to move each aisle. We had two hydraulic jacks, one on each side of the gondola. We jacked up a four-foot section at a time, rolled the skate underneath it. Then we'd move to the next four-foot section. Once all the skates were in place, we moved the entire aisle at once."

Tons of savings

The time savings allowed Bloom more opportunity to focus on the main job of the store redesign, which was to make room for a Nature's Place department, as well as remodeled deli/bakery and meat/seafood departments that required more space.

"Overall the system is a great way to do a set, save a ton of labor, a ton of time, and a ton of money," notes Bloom. "The cost of doing it this way is probably one-sixth of what it would have cost to do it manually."

Bloom plans to use the Gondola Skate system in all remodels that call for moving gondolas. And though this means fewer billable hours for his installation services company, with about 90 Kash n' Karry stores to convert to Sweetbay supermarkets over the next few years, he'll have plenty of other work to keep him occupied.
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