Natural Foods Merchandiser

Expert advice: Building your dream store

NFM recently spoke with Eric Hatting (L), project manager, and Sean Doyle (R), general manager, both of Seward Co-Op Grocery and Deli in Minneapolis. Having just been through designing their own store from scratch, these experts say the most important first step in designing is gathering community feedback. Next up? Making sure you’ve got your budget established and that dealers and contractors are on the same page.

Whether you’re building from the ground up or remodeling an existing store, having a clear mission is key to your success. For the managers of Seward Co-op Grocery and Deli in Minneapolis, the mission was to be LEED certified and serve their community. Building Seward’s new location, with twice the floor space of its previous location, required extensive conversations with neighbors, meticulous selection of the right equipment and sticking to the store’s mission. Now the company is set to become the third grocery store in the nation to achieve gold LEED certification. “They said ‘build it green,’” says Sean Doyle, Seward’s general manager. And that’s what they did. Here, are lessons about building a store that satisfies the needs of your business, your customers and the environment.

Gather community feedback
Over the 14 months prior to Seward’s opening, the stores’ managers convened with an existing neighborhood task force to determine the needs of the community. “As we went through the design process, the task force became a sounding board for our plans, and a focus group,” Doyle says.

Their needs helped guide Seward toward three important things: a service counter where customers could buy cut meats and ask questions; a convenient lunch option, including a hot-food and salad bar with non-disposable plates and flatware; and a light-filled space with comfortable seating. Translation? New tables and chairs, an expanded deli area and sharp-looking display pieces.

In the end, the store’s lighting choices became the most attractive, most commented on and most cost-effective components of the store. For example, Seward installed solar tubes right above the registers, providing an astounding amount of light. “People really notice those,” Doyle says.

Set your budget first
Because they knew they wanted to be LEED-certified, Seward’s planners designed the budget accordingly. They knew their refrigeration costs, for example, would be heftier because they had to be extremely energy-efficient to qualify for certification (which precluded them using any of the previous store’s refrigeration equipment). “I knew that refrigeration had come a long way in the last five years,” says Eric Hatting, project manager for the Seward redesign. “So it wasn’t feasible to use anything older.”

By developing a realistic budget, they were able to raise the appropriate funding. “We did a comparison on the major brands of refrigeration systems,” Hatting says. “We bought a Tyler system because it’s proven to be the most efficient with the lowest operating temperature.”

Hatting concurs. “When we were looking for equipment, we would always put the premium on Energy Star.” Seward also relied on the guidance of the store-development services provided by United Natural Foods (UNFI). UNFI’s consultants provide discounted design advice and competitive equipment pricing to customers, and assist both small and large independent food stores. (Listen to a podcast with UNFI’s store development manager PJ Hoffman.)

“We spent more money on the meat-service case to get more efficiency, and we spent extra money on the freezer doors to make sure that they insulate well.” Hatting notes that all of their refrigeration cases had model numbers that ended in “HP,” a Tyler designation for “high performance.”

Get dealers and contractors on the same page
“Be really careful about coordination between equipment vendors and contractors,” Doyle says. “Make sure that everyone’s on the same page regarding how the equipment gets placed and how it gets wired.” Doyle recommends getting everyone in a room together regularly. “Negotiate in your contract that the store designer (and other design professionals) must be at the weekly construction-team meetings during critical periods of the project (i.e. when trenching is being mapped out, when drains are being set, etc.).”

Hatting also recommends creating a specific design—centered on your mission for the store—and sticking to it. “The more you screw around with the floor plan,” Hatting says, “the more difficult it is to finalize the equipment.”

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