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Pat and Bob Fox of Fox Bros. Piggly Wiggly in Oconomowoc, Wis., have their cake and are eating it, too. Following crafty retail design and merchandising guidance from Piggly Wiggly wholesaler Fresh Brands and an outside consultant, the brothers, co-owners of the franchise operation, replaced an old store with a new one that took their offering upscale without turning off a well-established base of mainstream customers.
The project called for a strategic balancing act that would allow the new 52,000-square-foot store to be just upscale enough to tap into a nomadic trade that was being underserved. In an area surrounded by lakes drawing a strong seasonal consumer base that likes a party lifestyle, shoppers were routinely driving 10 to 15 minutes to get to the nearest premium supermarket.
"The upscale market was leaking out, and nobody was servicing that market," says Pat Fox. "The demographic base didn't change. We changed."
To compete for that lucrative segment, the Foxes decided to add a wider variety of fresh seafood, branded beef and deli selections, and specialties such as an olive bar, a coffee bar, and an expanded liquor department.
But the Piggly Wiggly operator still needed to remain competitive with local mainstream grocers as well as discounters Target and Wal-Mart. The Foxes wanted to avoid alienating the established clientele, who had supported the store in Oconomowoc since 1997. "The Wisconsin consumer will spend whatever it costs on special occasions, but they also want value. So we adjusted our center store pricing down, while adding in upscale elements. The new store design reflects that," says Pat Fox.
The brothers turned to Scott Spencer, design director of Detroit-based Shaw Design Group, for direction. Spencer had already helped remodel their other store in Hartland, Wis., and they'd liked the result.
"Shaw has been very good to us, and Spencer has a real uniqueness in the way he does grocery stores," says Pat Fox. "I just marvel at the way he could come in, look at the store, and then look at competitors in the marketplace and come back six to eight weeks later with a plan. He could visualize what we wanted to do."
Piggly Wiggly franchiser Fresh Brands seconded the Foxes' strategy for balance. "While trying to get a new audience, it was important not to exclude any customer -- not to have a design so sophisticated that it would be intimidating," explains Karla Krueger, corporate store designer for the Sheboygan, Wis.-based wholesaler, of which Piggly Wiggly is a retail division.
Fresh Brands owns 102 stores nationwide, including 21 corporate and 81 franchised locations. Fresh Brands doesn't use corporate prototypes for its stores, but it does help design each retail plant to assure it fits its own market's needs.
Krueger, along with Kim Harder, another corporate store designer for Fresh Brands, worked closely with the Foxes on the overall store layout and fixturing plan before approaching Shaw to create buildouts, signage, and interior design.
"The process went through many revisions," recalls Harder. "We were information gatherers. We would take everyone's ideas, put them on paper, and present them in such a way as to have a point of discussion. It was like a map to look at, and [then we could] decide what to do to make it work, make it flow."
"Fresh Brands likes to give its franchisees the freedom to create their own kind of brand niche," says Shaw's Spencer. "Piggly Wiggly wanted to offer a classy alternative and a nice atmosphere, but also have cost-driven products."
The result is dramatic, and has been quite successful, too, according to Pat Fox. "What we were and what we are, are two different worlds," he says, noting that sales for the first five weeks of 2005 increased more than 50 percent compared with performance at the old, 34,000-square-foot store.
Let go the logo
Spencer started the redesign process by revamping the chain's old logo. "I took the traditional Piggly Wiggly logo and incorporated it into a custom icon, with the Fox Bros. name and a few of its general colors used throughout the store," he explains. "It not only gave them a new look, but also gave the Piggly Wiggly logo a new look."
The layout of the store itself is designed to be more welcoming, with floral and produce departments in the front, leading toward the coffee bar. At the bar, customers can buy Fox Bros.' exclusive brand of Milwaukee-roasted coffee, either in fresh beans to take home or as a latte to sip as they shop. Shopping carts include a cup holder for convenience.
Throughout the store, natural materials, including stone, brick, and wood, are balanced by brushed aluminum metal tones for an updated look. "The whole design is based on creating an organic, natural feel," notes Spencer.
The space is flooded with natural light from windows along the north wall and large circular skylights, as well as a supplementary blend of ambient and direct lighting. It's the first store in the Fresh Brands chain to use T8 high-bay halide fluorescent fixtures that not only save on energy and replacement costs, but also provide a pleasing appearance, says Krueger. "There's a twinkle effect," she says. "It's not a dull light."
Each merchandising section is made more distinct through the use of architectural and design elements. "We created a lot of interesting patterns and curves to add interest to each department, as well as around the perimeter and leading into and out of each area," says Spencer. "Each has a unique identity of its own."
Walls in the lobby are 20 feet high, while those around the perimeter of the racetrack layout are open to the roof. There are 28 shades of paint, mostly muted tones of olive, gold, and terra cotta, in addition to faux paint finishes done by a local artist to simulate different textures. The majority of the flooring is vinyl and colored in 15 styles and textures that simulate wood, slate, and marble.
All of this natural design is balanced by black fixtures in the meat, frozen foods, and dairy sections. "It really showcases the product and makes the refrigerator disappear behind it," says Spencer. Shaw added cornice board at the top of the refrigerated cases to impart a unique feel.
A dropped ceiling accentuates the expanded liquor department, which includes a 45-foot-by-40-foot walk-in cooler. The cooler's 11 doors are stocked with impulse items such as microbrewery beers, wine, and champagne, while the cooler's interior keeps the department mainstays ice-cold.
The design firm also departmentalized each area with individual signage, using different fonts, colors, and special effects. In the sweet shop, for instance, metal letters float in front of stonework on the soffit, and faux fire pots appear to "flame" behind the letters, thanks to electric fans blowing material behind them.
"One of the nice things about this project is that we were able to create an upgraded feel," says Spencer. "A lot of people want a traditional, sterile supermarket experience, but we were able to upgrade both the image and the shopping experience."
Faye Musselman is Senior Editor of Display and Design Ideas magazine, a sister publication to Progressive Grocer under the umbrella of VNU Business Media.