Light Fantastic

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Light Fantastic

By Meg Major, EnsembleIQ - 03/02/2013

With super-green features that maximize efficiencies and its bottom line, Brookshire Brothers' compact replacement store shines the way for the company's next-generation design.

Brookshire Brothers has amped up its design future with a luminescent concept store that company executives believe will radiate durable value for years to come in an ever-changing retail world.

Opting to relocate and downsize its former 55,000-square-foot location on University Boulevard in Nacogdoches, Texas, to a more compact, 31,000-square-foot site about two blocks down the street, the Lufkin, Texas-based regional grocer spent three lightning-fast months transforming the vacant building into a lean, pristine, super-green space that Eric Johnson, director of construction, says not only vividly affirms that good things come in small packages, but also, and more importantly, that change is indeed good.

"This store truly embodies our fresh approach to value," explains Johnson, noting that the move was painstakingly planned to maximize efficiencies and create an optimal shopping experience for both new and existing customers to shop an "environmentally sound store while also reaping the savings that go along with it."

Situated in the heart of a residential area, near a bustling business corridor and a stone's throw from Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA), the concept location at 1420 N. University Drive embodies the grocer's energized value proposition, which extends to increased offerings in fresh, natural and specialty foods.

As the working design template for future store projects, the 5-month-old replacement store is "exceptional," according to Johnson, who continues: "We downsized from our previous location to develop a whole new concept in merchandising" that revolves around efficiency, presentation and convenience. "It's a little edgy and a bit more contemporary," observes Johnson, noting how the earth-friendly tones complement a down-home ambience ideally suited to various customer segments, including the local college crowd that gravitates to its SFA-themed café near the deli, with a wide array of fresh and grab-and-go fare.

Johnson equates the project with a labor of love, the end result of which he calls monumental. "We had crews working nearly around the clock to get the store ready," he says. "On any given day, there could be anywhere from 20 to 50 contractors on the job." Recalling a distinct memory from last summer, before the project began, Johnson says: "I walked in here for the first time on July 4 and sketched out the building. Within a month, we were on site and construction was underway. It was truly amazing."

Watt Up!

With the store boasting the best lighting configuration in the industry, comprising high-wattage, low-energy lighting and signage outside and cutting-edge case and cooler lights inside, Johnson admits there's no way around it: "It's bright!" Indeed, from the parking lot to the wall packs, signs, cases and coolers, LED lighting is everywhere. Johnson says it will easily "pay for itself in reduced energy costs and higher sales, because products look better and will move faster."

While energy efficiency was a critical component in selecting equipment throughout, the store inherently imparts an innovative, fresh feel because "it's filled with cutting-edge green technology," Johnson says. "The interior is simple and refreshing, with bright colors and LED-lit department signs."

Further, in a part of town where getting in and out fast is critical, "We heard our customers, and acted accordingly," Johnson continues. "We know when it comes to core groceries or dry goods, consumers can go anywhere — drug stores, big-box retailers, dollar stores or online. If we are to keep their business and grow our business, we have to give them what they want, the way they want it."

To that end, the store features an expanded pharmacy with a drive-through, Conoco gas and a Tobacco Barn, as well as more organics, produce, natural foods, pre-cut options, and expanded frozen, dairy and meat departments with something for everyone within its diverse customer base.

When deciding on the best ways to exceed shopper demands and expectations, Store Director Vincent Smith says the store's compact size "offers more variety than any grocer in the area," because of the layout, the freshness and that overall value proposition. The large produce and meat departments establish a healthy and fresh atmosphere, says Smith, adding that most of the refrigerated displays are housed behind doors with improved lighting and more climate-controlled store temperatures. "This is a big plus with our customers," he declares.

Exceptionally Electrifying

A 30-year Brookshire Brothers veteran, Smith has seen his share of stores, but he finds this latest assignment to be as electrifying as anything he's ever been involved with. "It's all about the customer," he says, "not only when it comes to the ease of shopping, but the fresh quality and unique displays of the produce, meats, deli and dairy, and exceptional service."

Smith is ebullient when noting the nostalgia the little/big store inspires. "Customers love this store. We've taken something old — in this case, a vacant building — and made it new," he says. "People are familiar with the location and they are comfortable with it, but appreciate that it's new and fresh and energy-efficient. It's comparable to a grocer you might find in a major metropolitan area, and positions us as an environmentally conscious retailer and local employer."

With 6,000 employee-owners and 73 supermarkets throughout Texas and Louisiana in predominantly rural markets and on the outskirts of the Houston metro area, Brookshire Brothers — which also operates 30 Polk's Pick It Up convenience stores — has closely inventoried its business model and zeroed in on the middle-size store as its niche.

"What matters to consumers has changed from our parents' time," affirms Johnson. "Shoppers are looking for more partially prepared foods and a wider variety of fresh offerings" in a smaller footprint, ideally in the 30,000-square-foot range, which he considers the archetypal size for a neighborhood store. "They are easier to shop, compact but not cramped, and have every amenity that larger stores have."

Johnson references his aging mother as an example: "She is not able to walk the aisles of super-big stores. She prefers a smaller store that is well merchandised with plenty of handicapped parking and motorized carts." Regardless of their physical limitations, Johnson says, people don't want to spend hours traipsing through a sprawling store on a retail excursion. "They simply want to get in and get out, so convenience, variety and value are key."

As for how the new store fits into the company's overall strategies, Johnson is unwavering in his contention that "moving and renovating was the right thing to do." Looking to the future, he concludes, "With its green environment and more efficient and attractive smaller footprint, this store positions us well."