The trend toward smaller stores is getting bigger. Small-format dollar stores and drug stores now claim about half of consumers’ short shopping trips, according to market researcher IRI. Meanwhile, traditional supermarkets are netting just 25 percent of those in-and-out sprees, IRI reports.
These statistics reflect a shift in consumers’ definition of convenience. The all-in-one big box is losing its allure. These days, on-the-go consumers would rather make more frequent trips to smaller stores where they can get what they want and be on their way.
In this environment, supermarkets still have an edge because they’ve got the product mix and consumer knowledge to make even a short shopping trip a delightful experience. The key is to design smaller-footprint groceries with smartly curated shelves and meal “destination” spots.
The definition of “small format” isn’t set in stone. Some stores are 8,000 square feet. Others may be 15,000 square feet or even a little more. The secret to accomplishing an abbreviated-but-alluring shopping experience lies in creating a design that prioritizes whatever space is available, says Hillphoenix Designer Kevin Sprague.
Sprague outlines six design considerations that are essential prerequisites for any grocer thinking of creating a small-format store.
1. Prep space. Grocers must begin their small-store design plans by asking themselves a simple but fundamental question: Will you prepare your ready-made meal offerings in the store or contract with a local vendor to bring in fresh sandwiches, salads, juices and baked goods? “This is a grocer’s most important consideration because it determines how much prep space they’ll need for ready-to-eat meals. And prep space drives how much space will be left for everything else,” Sprague says.
2. Receiving. Will you have a bay out back, or will delivery trucks pull up in front to bring in supplies? This affects how often you’ll be able to refresh your stock without disrupting your business. And small-store receiving requires a keen focus on scheduling. “When you only have one delivery bay or only a front-door option for deliveries, you have to train your staff to operate like air-traffic controllers,” Sprague warns. “You need to tightly control who’s bringing products and when. And you need to make sure you’ve got storage space inside to accommodate whatever is being delivered.”
3. Storage. Even with a tight, just-in-time delivery schedule, you’ll need space to hold products headed for the shelves. If a grocer doesn’t think this through on the front end, they will end up with an avalanche of products or — even worse — sparsely stocked shelves. “Think carefully about refrigeration,” Sprague advises. Do you want a line of coolers in the back of the store with extra storage space behind the display shelves? Or do you want to create more varied and intimate cold-food spaces around the store? The latter will amp up your gourmet credentials, but you must have a plan for how you’ll keep products adequately chilled or frozen elsewhere.
4. Display. Consider refrigerated display space first. It must adequately accommodate your plans for ready-made meals and staples. Then move on to planning shelf space for dry goods. “The key to creating an inviting small-store space is to keep it well stocked but never cluttered,” Sprague says. “It’s a balancing act. You always want to have the products your local shoppers expect, but you never want to look like you crammed big-box inventory into a store a fraction of that size.”
5. Gathering space. Do you want your small store to become a local destination — a spot for customers in the community to come together? If so, you must think through how that will happen. Will you have a stand-up bar selling craft beers? Will you have tables and chairs inside or out? “Location and demographics will determine whether a small grocery wants to create a gathering space,” Sprague says. “If it is part of your business strategy, you need to plan ahead for it so customers feel cozy but not crowded.”
6. Cleanup. “Don’t forget the dirty work when planning a small-store layout,” Sprague warns. You’ll probably need three sinks to adhere to health codes: one for washing hands, one for sanitizing and cleaning and a third for prepping fresh-cut foods like fruits and vegetables. If you’ll be cooking onsite, you’ll need to consider space for dishwashers, ventilation, oil disposal and more. “This stuff isn’t sexy, but it’s necessary, and it takes up space,” he says. “It has to be factored into any small-store equation.”
A smart small-format design ensures every square foot is used wisely, Sprague says. “The goal is to condense a traditional trip to the supermarket down to a high-quality experience that’s also convenient.”
Learn more at the Hillphoenix Design Center.