Inside The Box


Both form and function are changing in the design of today's supermarkets.

"Build it high and watch it fly" used to be a supermarket merchandising mantra. That, of course, has changed as retail food marketing has grown more sophisticated.

Store design philosophy has also changed with the times. "There is a trend away from using one or two prototypes and forcing them to fit into every neighborhood," says Kim Vandenberg, a design associate at Paradigm Design in Grand Rapids, Mich. "New supermarket design is focused on making sure the building is properly sized and scaled for the local market it is going into."

With Meijer and Spartan Stores among its clients, Paradigm Design provides architecture, civil engineering and interior design services.

Among other recent design trends, Vandenburg says, "Finishes are being upgraded and used to further designate different areas, with floor patterns and changing wall colors, as well as bringing more design to the store to create more of an experience in the store."

The so-called green movement has had an impact on store design, too, she notes. "There has been a desire expressed by some clients to select products with recycled content where possible and update lighting where possible to save energy," Vandenberg says.

Regarding the future of supermarket design, Vandenberg sees a trend toward comforting spaces using materials and colors to help with way-finding and keep the space from feeling like one big mass, as opposed to smaller, broken-up spaces. "In contrast with that," she concludes, "is the desire to express value. In difficult times, retailers don't want patrons to feel they are being overcharged because a store is too upscale."

At Phillips Enterprises Inc. in Bellevue, Wash., project manager Dan Phillips says his company specializes in all facets of a project, among them layout design, construction, project management and interior design, including lighting.

"Currently," he says, "we have been involved with designs that have ranged from 2,400 square feet to 110,000 square feet, and focus on all schemes, from price-driven to high-end facilities. Our focus is on the independent grocery retailer."

Phillips sees smaller overall footprints as a significant recent store design trend. He notes that seven years ago, when Phillips Enterprises was formed, 90 percent of the projects ranged from 35,000 to 55,000 square feet, while today the range is 10,000 to 25,000 square feet.

Phillips sees this dramatic shrink in footprints as a result of small profit margins that result in a long wait for a return on investment. "Pair that with skyrocketing commercial rent rates, and it is easy to see why stores are shrinking in size," he asserts.

Phillips also thinks that retailers are realizing that a large store equates to higher labor costs. "Your two biggest profit-killers in grocery are labor and shrink. Designing a 75,000-square-foot store with service pods scattered throughout suddenly becomes a labor-cost nightmare," he says. "We now design stores that address this issue by utilizing labor in multiple departments."

Green-wise, Phillips continues: "We mostly see this movement in the refrigeration and lighting side of things. Our company has been involved in projects that strive for LEED certification. Unfortunately, it is a financially difficult prospect for a grocery store to attain LEED certification, but we contribute our efforts where we can."

Down the store design road, Phillips says: "I can even see stores running their own produce gardens inside the store, or even central commissaries. The focus of grocery concepts these days is to produce a fresh and local image. People want to invest in their local communities, and what better place to do it than at your neighborhood market?"

MulvannyG2, also in Bellevue, Wash, is a multidisciplinary firm with five offices, including one in Shanghai. "I think we're going to see less of a traditional separation between grocery retail and the rest of retail," says Randy Sauer, principal. "As lifestyle centers and mixed-use developments continue to combine live/work environments, the need to have easy access to multifaceted and collaborative retail locations will be essential."

Smaller, more compact urban stores are starting to emerge, catering to millennials and recently retired customers, and a prominent example of fill-in urban grocery is the new CityTarget in Chicago, Seattle and Los Angeles, with more locations in the pipeline, according to MulvannyG2.

"Previously, our clients were only interested in sustainability if it made good business sense," says Casey McKenna, senior associate. "Now retailers are more willing to relax those business requirements. I think this is due to an increasing amount of stress from their customer base to be more sustainable."

McKenna feels that many retailers are using LEED standards only when required by local jurisdictions, or as a bargaining tool because "design costs to certify a project are high" and retailers are using other programs like Energy Star to measure sustainability.

At API(+) in Tampa, Fla., VP and director of design Tom Henken says, "Prior to 2008, most grocery stores we designed required a traditional approach to product and service offerings, but since the economy has slumped, we've begun creating concepts that accomplish much more and call for outside-the-box solutions."

Henken feels that intense multichannel competition has sparked the evolution of grocery stores to become competitors with restaurants, convenience stores, farmers' markets, supercenters and warehouse clubs. "We've developed concepts that rival all of those," he notes, "tailoring each to a local market. Many of our recent projects blur the lines between once-separate retail offerings, ultimately creating convenience for consumers."

Many of the newer concepts that API(+) has developed feature a full lineup of prepared food stations, which offer restaurant-quality meals to take home or to be eaten in-store. "To successfully integrate these components," Henken explains, "we've designed unique architectural, store-planning and signage components with an intention to assure differentiated concepts and to direct and inform shoppers."

With operating and leasehold costs increasing, Henken adds, his company is optimizing store layout to operate at peak efficiency, and engineering stores' sustainability from both an environmental and a business model perspective. "We've combined functions to reduce square footage and labor, designed walk-in coolers that display product while they facilitate preparation, and created flow-through service departments to allow reduced staffing during peak hours," he says.

Joe Hier, an account executive at I-5 Design and Manufacture in Lacey, Wash., says, "We are typically hired to create the 'Wow!' for the inside and outside of the store."

Hier says that I-5 has been helping customers differentiate themselves from chain stores and other competition by creating an atmosphere appealing to a more health-conscious clientele, or featuring locally inspired elements that give a store a unique identity and local flavor, like natural color palettes, materials and finishes.

"From a décor standpoint," he notes, "we utilize the latest LED technology, which is integrated into many elements throughout the store. This way, we provide a very interesting and fun shopping experience while reducing energy requirements."

"The focus of grocery concepts these days is to produce a fresh and local image."

—Dan Phillips, Phillips Enterprises

"We're going to see less of a traditional separation between grocery retail and the rest of retail."

—Randy Sauer, MulvannyG2

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