Store of the Month: From the Bottom Up
By Jim Dudlicek
Cooking classes, wellness programs and underground parking are among the highlights of Dierbergs' new St. Louis-area flagship.
St. Louis-area grocery shoppers have certain expectations when they shop at their neighborhood Dierbergs, a fourth-generation family-owned chain with roots dating back to the 1850s.
With that kind of rich history and community equity, Dierbergs had a tall order when developing its Market at Des Peres, which opened last July in that suburb of the Gateway City.
"Our intent was to exceed customer expectations of what makes a store a Dierbergs store," says Greg Dierberg, president of Dierbergs Markets Inc. "So we focused on areas of growing interest such as meal convenience, wine selection, culinary education, and health and wellness. Each of those areas is an existing competitive strength for the Dierbergs brand. So our goal was to build on those strengths to create a store that reinvigorates the mundane task of shopping and creates an opportunity for a culinary experience."
Shoppers visiting the Market at Des Peres are finding the services and features considered to be the hallmarks of Dierbergs stores, but taken up a notch. There's a larger deli with new made-fresh offerings; an expanded Whole Life department with natural, organic and gluten-free products; a fresh bakery with a European pastry chef; full-service meat and seafood departments with expanded product offerings; and a huge wine department with tasting stations on the main floor and the mezzanine level.
And it's all in a setting designed to turn the drudgery of grocery shopping into a pleasant experience. "Our stores have a reputation for being light, bright and roomy," Dierberg says. "We elevated that concept with our Produce Market Hall, with high ceilings and plenty of light from skylights and banks of windows around the store."
"Our goal was to create a store that reinvigorates the mundane task of shopping and creates an opportunity for a culinary experience."
Drawings by local artists decorate the outer walls and interior columns, and include references to local products, the company's local roots and its history in the community. "All these are prevalent themes in our marketing, and we've incorporated those signature messages throughout the store," Dierberg notes.
One of the market's most distinctive aspects is actually below the sales floor. "The new store has the distinction of being St. Louis County's only supermarket with covered parking, with space for 175 cars," Dierberg says. "The lower-level parking area below the store is very bright, with 40 percent of the perimeter exposed to natural light."
Of course, helping folks get their loaded grocery carts safely down to their vehicles presented a unique challenge. Two escalators take customers to and from the main level of the store, while a third, cart-dedicated conveyor — dubbed the "cartolator" — moves customer carts from the main level to the garage.
"It really comes down to playing to our strengths," Dierberg says. "As an organization, we're very confident in them: culinary education; bright, clean and well-managed stores; exceptional variety; strong perishable departments; exceptional beer and wine selections; and high customer-service levels."
The Des Peres store was designed to showcase these and other key attributes "in unprecedented fashion," he says. "We are always building on what we know. It is so important we don't rest on our laurels. Now we are asking, ‘How do we make it even better?'"
Head of the Class
"When my dad opened our Manchester store in 1978, it held the distinction of being the first supermarket cooking school in the United States," says Laura Dierberg Padousis, VP and secretary. "With the Des Peres opening, we now operate six cooking schools, which we're led to believe is more cooking schools in one market than any other U.S. retailer."
The new school accommodates 34 participants, with up-close viewing via multiple LCD screens and counter-focused cameras.
But the Culinary Event Center is leading Dierbergs to new opportunities, too. "It's a one-of-a-kind culinary gathering place, as we're creating wellness programs, interactive events and group programs," Padousis says, with wi-fi and interactive capabilities for Skype wine tastings and cooking demonstrations offering access to nationally recognized chefs. "Plus our cooking school serves as working set kitchen for Dierbergs cooking shows and social media-based recipe programs." Dierbergs hosts a quarterly cooking show and weekly recipe box segments that air on local television network affiliates.
The facility also can host private events, birthday parties, wedding and baby showers, corporate meetings, and team-building cooking activities, "all with a culinary twist," Padousis says. "We'd call it the icing on the cake."
Wellness has been part of the Dierbergs store experience for nearly 30 years, from heart-health education to company-wide initiatives focused on childhood obesity, and the Culinary Event Center was designed to provide the space, tools and platform to build on those programs.
"We formalized those programs with a wellness team operating from the center," Padousis explains. "That team promotes storewide initiatives to inspire healthy lifestyle choices, while working in tandem with our staff nutritionist and culinary professionals, Dierbergs Pharmacy, [the on-site] St. Luke's Convenient Care Clinic and Dierbergs Whole Life Department." Programs will expand from the Des Peres wellness team to other store locations, to complement and build on wellness programs already in place.
The store has hosted live wellness Twitter chats, complimentary store tours and tastings for individuals with gluten allergies, and a sold-out class with chef Eric Brenner, chief culinary officer of New York-based Bold Organics, which produces a frozen gluten-free pizza. "We hosted a meet-and-greet session with Hungry Girl, the Food Network's Lisa Lillien, that attracted more than 300 fans," Padousis adds.
"Learning how to staff the store adequately to accommodate various traffic and dining patterns is a learning process, since we don't have the roadmap of our typical stores," Padousis says. "We have live entertainment on weekend evenings, and the Culinary Event Center is opening up a whole new schedule of site-based activities. Roles within the store are evolving with those programs, and it's a learning process."
Other challenges concerned the site itself. "For years, we've had requests from customers to bring a Dierbergs store to this St. Louis County community serving Des Peres, Kirkwood and surrounding municipalities. Finding a location that made sense for us and our customers was no easy task, as suitable property along this highly commercial stretch of Manchester Road is scarce," Dierberg says.
While the location was great, the footprint of the property was considerably less than required for Dierbergs' typical 70,000-square-foot-plus store. "We weren't going to shortchange this community on the Dierbergs experience, so we added levels," Dierberg explains. "I think our solutions were elegant."
The new market also presented new sustainability opportunities. The Des Peres store is the first in the St. Louis metropolitan area to have a rainwater harvesting tank, "a modern moniker for what my dad calls a cistern," Dierberg says. The tank holds 45,000 gallons of rainwater collected from the roof and used to irrigate grass and landscaping elements on the property, a natural purification method. Further, the Des Peres store builds upon energy management initiatives launched at other stores, including enclosed beer and dairy cases, and energy-efficient, motion-controlled LED lighting.
"Our merchandising plan shouts freshness — it's impossible to shop our store and not see that commitment."
A month later, Florence visited the store, shot a segment for Dierbergs' cooking show and greeted more than 500 guests during a wine-bottle signing. "I think that only hints at the promotional potential of this store," Dierberg says.
Dierbergs' "slow and steady" growth strategy is accomplished organically rather than through acquisitions. As such, the features of the Market at Des Peres have set new standards storewide, particularly for foodservice, which Dierberg says "will be particularly important as we expand outside the immediate St. Louis metro area," including a store opening next spring in the Missouri vacation community of Lake of the Ozarks.
"Every time I walk the store, I get very excited about the steps we've taken to showcase signature items," Padousis says. "The market hall entrance is an impressive reminder that we're serious about produce, with its high ceilings, natural skylights and NBA court-sized selling floor. Vertical full-vision-style display cases offer an unprecedented selling opportunity for our kitchen's baked-to-order pizzas, panini and sandwiches. The curved glass cases in our deli, meat and seafood departments are, in my opinion, the best in our chain at showcasing signature items."
She concludes: "Our merchandising plan shouts freshness. It's impossible to shop our store and not see that commitment."
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