As the Merchandiser for Willy Street Co-op, my part in the Northside store project is focused on the presentation and placement of products as well as providing the shopping experience people have come to expect here. By the time you read this, I will have been working on the store layout and merchandising plans for our future Northside site for over three months. I’ve utilized my 16 years in retail merchandising, a great deal of collaboration from my coworkers, and support from some of the best businesses and merchandisers in the natural food industry. So I’d love to share with all of you the results of that time, energy and love that was spent and shared over the last few months that led us to now. Take a walk with me through your future Willy Street Co-op North!
Printed on the next page is a floor map of the future Willy North. This labor of love was focused on creating both a uniquely Willy Street Co-op store (complete with all of the things that make the Co-op wonderful) while adapting to the needs and desires of the local community. Reaching this end will be simultaneously challenging and exciting given the increase in size (the Northside location will be over twice the retail space we currently have at East or West), as well as a limited budget and short timeframe.
Refresh & Rebrand
The store has not had any major renovations or remodels since Pierce’s opened in 2005. Like anytime a long-standing tenant moves out, there will be a need for some deep cleaning, painting and updating of furnishings. We intend to do just that right alongside everything we can to make the store visually and aesthetically a Willy Street Co-op store. That means purchasing new and/or repurposed equipment to fit our needs, acquiring fixtures and shelving to add a Bulk department and other necessities, adding signage you are used to seeing, and even the gooseneck lights at the registers you see every time you check out at our other stores.
To keep the transition from Pierce’s to Willy Street Co-op as familiar to regular Pierce’s shoppers as possible, the departmental layout of the store is very similar to what it once was. For example, the produce area that was in Pierce’s will be the same area of the store in the future Co-op. Same as with the deli, grocery, body care, and alcohol departments. What has changed is how those areas will look and what products will be available within each department as well as the addition of a bulk department.
Product Mix, Set Design & Building: Oh My!
There has been a great deal of discussion about what products we will be carrying at this new site. Megan Minnick, the Director of Purchasing, goes into more depth regarding this topic in her article on page 9 in this newsletter, so be sure to check it out. My focus will be on the placement and presentation of all of our delicious products throughout this new store. Since this project is so large and has such a short turnaround, I’ve reached out to other merchandising entities in the grocery industry for some help. UNFI (United Natural Foods, Inc.), our main grocery distributor, will be working on designing the packaged and refrigerated grocery sets with guidance from category managers and me. Amy’s Kitchen will be helping us to set up our huge new frozen department. We will have four times the amount of freezer doors as in our other stores!
The packaged grocery area in the center store will be nearly three times the amount of space we currently have at either store. That means we will have more room for new products, both conventional and organic. The challenge is to not bring in too many products as we don’t want to just double our selection and end up not selling most of it. This purposeful restraint will make it easy for us to review product mix later on this year to see what is working and what changes need to be made.
Exciting New Approaches
A unique challenge at this new site is the lack of office space. Since we don’t have the resources to build offices, I focused on concepts I have seen and used in the past in different retail settings, although I have not seen a grocery store do anything quite like it. We are going to be utilizing department workstations right on the retail floor.
The idea is similar to the Wellness desk we have at our other sites but with additional work space tucked away behind the desk for our buyers to do their ordering and everything else they need to accomplish on a daily basis while still being easily accessible to provide amazing customer service. There will now be a desk/workstation for Grocery as well as one for the wine department along with the Wellness desk we have all been familiar with. It should be a very unique design and really help to step up staff involvement on the sales floor.
Another unique approach that I am very excited about is the space that has been dedicated to pallet deals. Many large grocery stores have space throughout the store to place pallets of products at a discounted price along the ends of the aisles. Until now, we just have not had the space to do this but with the removal of some very large and outdated reach-in freezers, we will be able to have a full aisle dedicated to bringing the best possible price to some of our best products. Buying product by the pallet means less cost for us, which in turn means we can sell it at a lower cost, and because we are just setting the pallet on the floor instead of stocking shelves, it means less labor. It’s a big win for all of us!
This is just the beginning! We just picked up the keys to our new place and we are already talking about a remodel down the road to potentially add a Juice Bar and Community Room and all kinds of crazy fun ideas. One thing is certain, we are so excited to be moving in to the Northside location and can’t wait to be an integral part of the community and do what we do best. This opportunity is huge and we will do everything possible to not only make this project successful but a shining example of what a food co-op and a driven neighborhood can do when they come together for a common purpose.