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First Drive-through Supercenters Planned for Late 2005

LAS CRUCES, N.M. - AutoCart, LLC, based here, said it plans to roll out the world's first "drive-through supercenter" format, a 130,000-square-foot facility equipped to deliver more than 25,000 SKUs directly to consumers in their cars. The first of the supercenters, designed with 60 ordering/pickup stations, are projected to open in December 2005 in Albuquerque, N.M. and Tucson, Ariz., according to AutoCart.

Steve Beardsley, AutoCart's president, said the company intends over the next decade to open more than 1,500 such supercenters in North America. Beardsley told Progressive Grocer that his company was still looking at several sites in Albuquerque and Tucson, but that he had already received signed letters of intent from seven retailers looking to get involved.

Among the more than 17 classifications of products and services that AutoCart said it will offer at the proposed supercenters are grocery, pharmacy, banking, movie and game rental, bakery, office supplies, florists, photography development, dry cleaning, liquor, and lottery sales.

"We feel that AutoCart's primary benefit is the coalescence of converging technologies to provide a consolidated product and service availability to retail customers," said Beardsley in a statement. "This combined approach will give AutoCart a distinctive advantage to all box stores, conventional grocery, and stand-alone retailers. Customers will choose the AutoCart Supercenter facility every time over fighting traffic, harsh weather conditions, and parking problems that are inherent when shopping at conventional retail facilities. There are two consumables that when, once spent, the consumers never get back. These are time and money. The AutoCart Drive-Thru Supercenter is designed to save every consumer time and money."

Beardsley enthusiastically proclaimed the goal of the retailing concept is to "eliminate the errand." He said his drive-through supercenter idea has received "a tremendous amount of interest" from retailers. Tenants, he explained, would be able to eliminate or dramatically reduce many of the expenses related to operating a conventional retail store, such as costs associated with maintaining pedestrian retail space, shrinkage, and in-store labor. AutoCart will staff the facilities, he explained, while retail tenants will have a representative on-site to provide the necessary "human touch." Beardsley added that he expects tenants will pass savings along to consumers.

Beardsley said AutoCart is interested in giving regional grocers a chance to become involved. "Our goal is to work with local entities whenever possible." The time is right to build these supercenters, he said, because "the technology is out there to make this happen. The technology has finally caught up with the concept."

Store features will include interactive drop-down touchscreens at all order/pickup stations, allowing customers to place orders and communicate with retailer representatives on-site; the ability to order off-site by phone, fax, PC, laptop, or PDA; and the delivery of orders in a shuttle/lift, which will open up next to the car so that shoppers can take out their bags and drive away in a matter of minutes.

Moreland Hills, Ohio-based FKI Logistex, a materials-handling company, will provide the supercenters' tenants with an advanced automated warehouse management system, according to AutoCart. Said Al Jervinsky, FKI Logistex systems sales supervisor manager: "This is the first system that places our expertise in high-speed materials handling, developed for our hundreds of distribution centers, in a retail configuration. The concept can revolutionize retailing as we know it today, and FKI Logistex is very excited about the tremendous future opportunity and benefits it provides to the AutoCart tenants and customers."
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