Friday, May 16, 2008

Tesco is Incorporating New Interior Design Elements and Enhancements Inside its 61 Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market Grocery Stores

The Fresh & Easy store pictured above in Laguna Hills, California is one of the first of the 61 stores currently open to receive the retailer's new interior design enhancements. For example, The mural-graphic above the front doors in the photograph is brand new. (Photo: Courtesy Fast Food Maven Blog, Orange County Register.)

Tesco has started making some interior design additions and upgrades to its Fresh & Easy small-format, convenience-oriented grocery stores.

The retailer currently operates 61 of the combination basic grocery and fresh foods markets in Southern California, the Phoenix Metropolitan-East Valley region in Arizona, and in the Las Vegas Metropolitan area in Nevada.

The interior design enhancements and upgrades include adding brighter colors inside the grocery markets, more directional, informational and product signage, some new graphics, and creating a brighter, warmer and less sterile in-store experience overall for shoppers.

Fresh & Easy Buzz welcomes these in-store design changes, additions and enhancements, since we've been one of the first and most-regularly vocal constructive critics of what we've called a lack of a "sense of place" inside the Fresh & Easy grocery stores.

[This pertains to the majority of the stores which are located in former retail buildings Tesco has remodeled into its Fresh & Easy format and stores. We've visited two stores, one in Las Vegas the other in Indio, California, which are brand new, built from the ground up Fresh & Easy markets, and have a generally favorable opinion of the interior design and look of those stores, which are built to the Fresh & Easy new store prototype.)

Many other analysts have joined Fresh & Easy Buzz's "lack of a sense of place" position over the last few months regarding the look and feel of the Fresh & Easy stores. We based our assessment of the store interiors not only on our own experience and analysis, but on conversations we've had with about 250 Fresh & Easy customers over the last five months or so, as well as on reading hundreds of online comments from consumers about the stores, lots of emails and comments on the blog.

In addition to our own analysis that the stores are too cold and sterile and lack a "sense of place," this opinion has been predominant in our conversations with customers, as well as from the other information sources mentioned above.

It appears Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market also agrees with our and others (especially customers) assessment, as the retailer sent a memo to all its store-level employees in Southern California, Arizona and Nevada, informing them of the new store interior design additions and enhancements, saying in the memo the retailer was responding to customer feedback that the stores are cold and sterile, and therefore is introducing the interior design enhancements.

Thus far, Tesco has introduced the interior design enhancements at two Fresh & Easy stores in Southern California: the Laguna Hills store in Orange County and the Eagle Rock store in Los Angeles; along with making the additions in a couple stores in Arizona.

Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market says all of its stores will have the interior design enhancements by July 2. July 2 also is the date the next new Fresh & Easy grocery store opens, in Manhattan Beach, California.

Tesco is taking a new store opening pause from April until July 2, as we've written about several times.

One Wednesday, we talked to an employee of the Laguna Hills store, who told us customers have been responding rather positively to the interior design enhancements. In particular the employee said numerous customers have mentioned the store feels much less sterile and is far brighter than it was before the new brighter color and other design additions were made.

Additionally, Mike Ragone, a Fresh & Easy Buzz reader who lives not far form the Laguna Hills store and has been in it before the design enhancements were made, told us he visited the Laguna Hills store this week, and noticed the changes.

Ragone says the improvement is considerable in terms of brightening the store up, but added he thinks other interior changes should be made in order to give the store (and all the Fresh & Easy stores in the converted buildings) a warmer, more appealing look and feel.

A consumer, Troy, commented in the Fast Food Maven Blog written by Orange County Register business reporter Nancy Luna, he particularly likes the "Thank You For Shopping With Us" mural in the picture at the top of this piece that's been added on the wall above the entrance doors in the Laguna Hills store. Troy's comment:

Troy Says: May 12th, 2008 at 1:14 pm
I like the new “thank you for shopping with us” mural they just added to the Laguna store, pictured above. That’s exactly the type of decor and personality infusion these sterile stores need. See Tesco, it’s not that hard to have a personality! Keep it up and I may give the Orange store another try after you fix it.

Fresh & Easy Buzz is looking forward to seeing the new interior design enhancements in the stores in the coming week or so.

Since we've been one of the major proponents suggesting Tesco needs to make the stores warmer and brighter in a quest to create a "sense of place" in them, we think the changes--whether they are enough or not at this point in time--are a good, positive and welcome move by Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market.

As our regular readers know,--and non-regular readers will learn by reading further--Fresh & Easy Buzz also suggests Tesco needs to customize and localize the store interiors a bit on top of its basic Fresh & Easy blueprint and footprint.

For example, we suggest adding Southwestern or similar flairs in the Arizona stores, along with minor things unique to particular neighborhoods in the region, as well as doing the same with the Southern California and Las Vegas Metropolitan area stores, regarding local attributes in those store's areas.

In many cases, this can be as simple as using signage, artwork and murals reflecting local history, culture and demographics.

The customization and localization process also can be tied-in to bringing in locally-produced foods, and then using in-store graphics and signage to play up the local products. This serves two purposes: it promotes local foods, and it better localizes the stores to their respective neighborhoods. In other words, it helps to put the "Neighborhood" in Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market.

Fresh & Easy Buzz recently talked with a source who was present when Tesco's Fresh & Easy was interviewing potential new public relations firms a couple months ago. As we reported here, the retailer has chosen a new PR firm. The source told us during the "pitch meeting" Fresh & Easy executives mentioned recognizing a need to better customize and localize the stores, including using the phrase "to better reflect the history and culture of the neighborhoods."

The Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market executives said in the meeting however, that it wasn't something they were going to be able to do anytime soon, because of the rapid new store opening pace on the agenda, along with some other "more pressing" things.

Based on this information, it does appear a couple key Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market execs clearly get the need to and the importance of customizing and localizing the store's interior design elements as a way to create a better "sense of the place" in the stores, which most likely will result in our analysis in creating more repeat and primary customers, bigger store average ring or market basic averages, and generating lots of new customer trail for the stores. Of course, often timing is everything in food retailing.

Perhaps they current decision to add the interior enhancement package is in part a stop gap to eventually being able to also add regional and local customized design elements to the stores on top of the basic Fresh & Easy store format blueprint?

As we've often written here on Fresh & Easy Buzz, one of Tesco's key strengths as a retailer is its proven ability to course-correct. We give Fresh & Easy credit for doing so in the current design enhancement package the retailer is adding to the stores--even if when we see the enhancements we personally don't like them--which would not in any way detract from our giving the retailer credit for making them, and making the course correction.

We don't shy away from our analysis that Fresh & Easy has numerous problems. But like we always caution, those who've already ruled Tesco out of the success equation with its small-format, convenience-oriented Fresh & Easy grocery stores do so at their own peril.

After all, most of the 61 stores haven't even been open for more than four months, and Tesco is course-correcting by making the interior design package enhancements to the stores. Perhaps they should have done it sooner, and perhaps it won't make a difference--but then again perhaps it will. A bit of time is needed to make a proper assessment either way.

But, what's important is the retailer listened to those (especially customers who are the most important) and made a course-correction in terms of realizing the stores were too sterile and cold, and is attempting to do something to improve that fact by adding the interior design enhancements.

That's what good, world-class retailers do. [By the way, we also like the mural/graphic depicted in the photograph at the top of this piece, which is above the front doors in the Laguna Hills' Fresh & Easy store.]

Vox Populi: Let The People Speak

Feel free to use the "comments" link below to offer your analysis and opinions on the design of the Fresh & Easy grocery stores, along with offering any ideas and suggestions about interior design enhancements Tesco could or should make to the stores in order to improve them. If you like the stores just as they are, feel free to express that opinion as well, and to elaborate as much as you like.

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