Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Putting the 'Neighborhood' in Neighborhood Market: 'Localism' and Tesco's Proposed Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market in Sacramento's Oak Park

Fresh & Easy Buzz has received a number of notes today via email about our piece yesterday about the Oak Park Neighborhood Association's appeal of the design of the proposed Fresh & Easy grocery store to be located in Sacramento's Oak Park neighborhood.

[Click on the headline link to read the piece published in the Blog yesterday: "Sacramento's Oak Park Neighborhood Association Files Appeal On Design of Proposed Neighborhood Fresh & Easy Store; Hearing Set For Oct.15."]

The basic thrust of the contents of those notes is this question: Has Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market built and opened any stores to date in Southern California, Nevada and Arizona that are intentionally "Localized" in terms of their design to a specific community or neighborhood?

Here is what we know based on our observations, research and coverage of Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market:

Tesco basically has two store design formats for Fresh & Easy.

The first design format is the one for the Fresh & Easy stores it puts in vacant retail box-style buildings that formerly housed drug stores, supermarkets, big box stores and other retail formats. Fresh & Easy guts these buildings and then remodels them into a Fresh & Easy store.

At this link is a photograph of what the typical Fresh & Easy store that's located in a formerly vacant and then remodeled standard box retail store looks like. The stores can differ in exterior look in terms of their profile/ scale and facade depending on if they are in a former drug store, supermarket or big box store. But they have the same basic exterior design look.

The particular store in Manhattan Beach, California pictured in the link above went into a portion of a vacant Office Depot big box store. The store's profile/scale is higher (vertically) than those Fresh & Easy stores located in former supermarkets and drug stores. But the design look is essentially the same.

The interiors of the Fresh & Easy stores in remodeled retail standard box stores are essentially the same regardless of which market region, city or neighborhood the respective Fresh & Easy store is located at or in.

Fresh & Easy is in the process of adding interior design enhancements to the existing Fresh & Easy stores located in remodeled retail buildings. Therefore, although it has converted most of the existing stores to this new interior package, there still might be a couple not yet finished. Therefore they would look a bit different inside than the ones already converted since those stores would still lack the interior design enhancements. However, once finished all of the stores in this class will look essentially the same inside.

The exteriors of the stores in the remodeled standard box retail buildings also all look pretty much the same, as we mentioned above.

In some cases different types of graphics such as signage are used on the exteriors, along with a couple other differences in a few instances. But in the main the typical Fresh & Easy store located in a remodeled retail standard box building looks the same on the exterior, be it in Southern California, Metropolitan Las Vegas, Nevada or in the Phoenix, Arizona Metropolitan region.

At this link is a photograph of the exterior of a Fresh & Easy store in Anaheim, California that uses a slight signage addition (the metal backing on the sign) and a color change (the four-tone paint job on the exterior) which makes its exterior look a bit different than most of the other existing Fresh & Easy stores in remodeled standard box retail buildings do.

There also are a few Fresh & Easy stores in remodeled formerly vacant retail buildings that have a slightly different look on the outside then the Fresh & Easy store norm in this class because those existing buildings had for example brick on part of the exterior, such as a Fresh & Easy store in Las Vegas we have seen has, or has an archway or two in the front, such as another Fresh & Easy store (the Las Vegas Sun City store) located in a former vacant retail building we are aware of has. But those are a handful of exceptions, and the design isn't purposeful or local. It just happens to be what the existing building looked like in the main.

One significant exception to the standard design norm we are aware of is the Hollywood, California Fresh & Easy store. This store, which was put into an existing building, looks much different than all of the other Fresh & Easy stores located in existing buildings. This is primarily because the space the store went into is different than the former drug stores, supermarkets and other vacant standard retail buildings the majority of the Fresh & Easy stores (those not built from the ground up) are in.

The Hollywood Fresh & Easy store is in an urban center along Hollywood Blvd. The space it went into is of a design unlike those other typical retail boxes. Therefore the store is different from a design perspective because the existing space it went into is different. In other words, the Hollywood Fresh & Easy wasn't custom built to look different. Rather it followed the existing design of the space it went in.

Click here for a photograph of the exterior of the Hollywood, California Fresh & Easy store.

The second design format Tesco has for its Fresh & Easy stores is its built from the ground up new store prototype. Tesco uses this design for all of the new stores it is building from the ground up on empty parcels.

At this link is a photograph of a built from the ground up Fresh & Easy store. All of the new construction Fresh & Easy stores to date use this design or blueprint.

Some of these new store format stores might and can have certain cosmetic additions on the exterior. However, they are limited to graphics differences or slight additions as well.

Based on what we know, Tesco has thus far proposed to customize and localize somewhat one store. That store is a proposed unit in Fresno, California that would go into a popular former restaurant in the city. We reported on this development in Fresh & Easy Buzz on July 23, 2008.

Below is the July 23 piece from Fresh & Easy Buzz:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fresno, California Fresh & Easy Grocery Store to Be First in Chain to Include Local, Community and Neighborhood Design Elements and Features

The Fresno, California City Council last night approved plans for an approximately 15,000 square foot Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market at 2820 Tulare Street in the Central Valley city in California.

The 2820 Tulare Street location is the site of Fresno's historic old Hofbrau restaurant, pictured at top, which once was a city landmark famous for its generous portions of roasted beef, turkey, ham, pastrami and other meats and side dishes, along with its numerous varieties of cold draft beers, before it was closed down.

Fresh & Easy Buzz has learned the Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market at the old Hofbrau location in Fresno will be the first store in which the grocery chain plans to incorporate local, community and neighborhood elements into the design theme of, which is something we've been suggesting since January Tesco do with its Fresh & Easy stores.

Plans for the Fresh & Easy grocery market going into the old Hafbrau include the store having a clock tower as part of the design, a masonry facade and murals that reflect the historic and cultural nature of Fresno and the 2820 Tulare Street neighborhood.

Including local (community and neighborhood) design features, including using murals with a local flair, is something Fresh & Easy Buzz has suggested in numerous blog pieces Tesco do with its Fresh & Easy stores in order to localize them, better fit into the communities and neighborhoods where it has its stores, and create a better "sense of place" to enhance the shopping experience in the stores for customers.

A member of the Fresno planning department told Fresh & Easy Buzz Tesco wants the store to fit into the historic elements of the neighborhood, as well as play up on the old Hafbrau's historic home there.

We've argued for a number of months that it's important--and will lead to greater success for the grocery chain--for Tesco to localize some of the design elements of its stores so as to respect and reflect the history and culture of the communities and neighborhoods it locates its small-format, combination grocery and fresh foods markets in because doing so will make the retailer not only a more accepted member of the neighborhood, but will pay dividends in the form of increased sales and customer loyalty in return.

As we were the first publication to report on March 17 (with a detailed follow up piece in May), Tesco plans to open at least an initial five Fresh & Easy grocery stores in the Fresno Metropolitan region, and likely will open additional stores in the region down the road. The first Fresno market region stores should start opening in early 2009.

We haven't heard anything from our Fresno sources, both within the city government and in the commercial real estate and business community in the city, about any of the other four planned Fresno region Fresh & Easy stores having localized design enhancements like plans call for the 2820 Tulare Street store going into the old Hofbrau to have. We are continuing to investigate that aspect however.

Meanwhile, based on the overview we received from a source who was at last night's Fresno City Council meeting, it appears the plans for the old Hofbrau building Fresh & Easy grocery store are singularly unique compared to the 63 small-format grocery stores the grocery chain has opened thus far in that the retailer is taking some local community and neighborhood elements and aspects into consideration in the design of the store, rather than it being a cookie cutter-designed grocery market like the current stores, the majority of which have gone into remodeled existing buildings, are.

Like we've been suggesting since December, 2007--localization of some elements of a grocery store's design, along with some aspects of its product mix, is key in today's food retailing and local consumer-conscious society. Or, as the late, longtime former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Thomas "Tip" O'Neill used to say when asked to explain his fabulous success in politics..."Everything is local."

[Note: Here is a link to the original story from the Blog. At this link are links to a number of past Fresh & Easy Buzz about the "Localization" of store design and retail product selection. Those links are located at the bottom of the story at the link.]

[Reader Note: If any Fresh & Easy Buzz readers are aware of any existing Fresh & Easy stores that have customized, local design elements which were intentionally included in the store's design by Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market in order to fit into the style, history and culture of a given neighborhood, please let us know at: Please tell us the specific store and where it's located. Thank you. You also may offer any comments in that regard or in any regard on the topic using the "comments" link below.]

The proposed Oak Park, Sacramento Fresh & Easy

The Fresh & Easy grocery store slated to be built (and opened in 2009) in Sacramento's Oak Park neighborhood is a built from scratch store. Therefore, what the members of the Oak Park Neighborhood Association refer to in this piece as Fresh & Easy's "original design" is the built from the ground up format described above and pictured (the San Diego store) at the link above.

Theoretically and practically, if it wants to Tesco's Fresh & Easy can make any exterior additions and modifications to one of these new built from scratch stores that it desires. They can be painted different colors or multiple colors, different signs and graphics can be used on the exterior, bike racks can be added outside, as can umbrella tables with chairs and other additions. These modifications and additions can be added at very little cost in the larger scheme of things.

Additionally, Tesco can change how such stores face the street or how they are situated on the parcel without much added expense and very little effort, since the stores are built from the ground up.

Further, certain physical design modifications can even be made to the store exteriors at very little added cost.

Such neighborhood customization and "Localization" is done all the time by retailers ranging from Wal-Mart, Inc. and Safeway Stores, Inc. to Whole Foods Market. These are three very different chains. One is a traditional supermarket chain (Safeway), the other a natural foods retailer (Whole Foods), and the other the largest discount food and general merchandise products retailer in the world.

For example, if you look at Whole Foods' four stores in the city of San Francisco each one looks distinct from the other. Each has certain exterior (and interior) design elements intentionally designed-in so the store fits into its respective neighborhoods look, character, history and culture. They may not be what all neighborhood residents desire, which seldom is the case. But the point is the design elements are included intentionally to "Localize" the store to its neighborhood.

Whole Foods did this most specifically in the 55,000 square foot Oakland, California store it opened in September, 2007 near the city's downtown. That store, which is located in an old car dealership building Whole Foods' gutted, is designed like a European Food Hall.

Whole Foods did this on its own. There was no demand from either the city of Oakland or community groups to do so.

The reason Whole Foods designed the store this way is because the very popular historic Oakland Housewives Market, which closed down years ago, used to be nearby the new Whole Foods food market hall-style store.

The retailer wanted to pay honor to that historic market by making its store "Localized." At the same time the retailer knew doing so made good business sense because residents of a city love stores (and shop in them) that take local elements into consideration. The food hall-style Whole Foods Market store has received praise from Oakland residents, the local press and city officials. And it's doing very well.

Safeway Stores does this "Localization" throughout the U.S. with its Lifestyle supermarkets as well, both for new stores built from scratch and store remodels.

The supermarket chain currently has a proposal to remodel and expand a Safeway store in Washington D.C.'s Georgetown neighborhood for example that's specifically designed to fit into that historic neighborhood in the nation's capital. The neighborhood residents who've viewed the plans are even referring to it as the "Social Safeway," according to the Washington Post, because of how the design, which includes a patio and other features, for the remodeled store fits into the Georgetown neighborhood much better than the existing store does.

Safeway also has proposals for two San Francisco Bay Area store remodels -- one in Berkeley and the other in Oakland -- which include specific local elements suggested by community and neighborhood groups and associations. In fact the discussion involving additional design changes with a focus on neighborhood local elements is ongoing between Safeway and these groups in both cities.

Even Wal-Mart, which receives its share of attention for perhaps not being community minded enough, has in recent years put a major focuses on "Localizing" a number of its huge 160,000 -to over 200,000 square foot Supercenters.

For example, Wal-Mart opened a new Supercenter in Clinton, Tennessee On May 21 of this year that has specific local design elements incorporated into the entire store.

Additionally, Wal-Mart opened a "Localized" Supercenter in July, 2008 in Austin, Texas that included building and paying for the following local amenities: A bike path; a new road behind the store; a newneighborhood bus stop; and three retention ponds. The retailer also paid for and installed two traffic lights to improve neighborhood traffic management.

In 2007 Wal-Mart also built and opened a localized Supercenter in Highland Village, Texas, which is a city with a strong bicycling culture.

Wal-Mart bought additional land around the Supercenter where it built a system of bike paths for neighborhood and city residents. The bike paths connect to the shopping center.

Next to the Supercenter Wal-Mart built a gazebo for neighborhood bike riders. The gazebo features bike racks, drinking water fountains, benches to rest on and compressed air hoses cyclists can use for free to fill their bike tires. Wal-Mart also put a bicycle sales and repair shop inside the Supercenter, demonstrating how going local can also be smart merchandising.

Using local design elements and focusing on additional forms of community and neighborhood "Localization" actually is becoming more the norm rather than the exception for Wal-Mart not only with its Supercenters but with all of its various format stores. This includes paying for, creating and building local neighborhood improvements like it did in the stores mentioned above and has and is doing with numerous others. Wal-Mart is far from the perfect neighbor. But there's no question it has and is becoming a much better "local" retailer.


We end by mentioning what we think is an ironic twist.

Tesco chose the name "Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market" for its small-format grocery and fresh foods stores specifically because it wants the stores to be the primary neighborhood grocery shopping choice for residents who live in the neighborhoods where the stores are and will be located. In other words Fresh & Easy is your neighborhood food store.

In the specific case of Sacramento's Oak Park neighborhood there are significant numbers (the members of the neighborhood association and others) of neighborhood residents who care so much about their neighborhood they want to have an impact on how what will be the neighborhood's only supermarket when it opens looks and is situated at its location, along with having an input on a few other design and related elements.

It seems to us Tesco's Fresh & Easy is missing out on a huge opportunity which presentins itself in Oak Park. That opportunity is to work closely with the Oak Park Neighborhood Association in the design of the neighborhood Fresh & Easy store. Bring them into the design and building process. Adopt as many of their ideas as they can -- that make sense and don't cost astronomical sums of money. After all it is their neighborhood

Follow that old saying: "If you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem." If one or more of the group's ideas for the store's design and siting don't make practical or economic sense, tell them so. Argue a bit. Debate. Explain why. They know the retailer has the last say if a final design is approved by the city.

But bringing them into the process will most likely create a better Fresh & Easy store for the neighborhood. It also will go a long way towards making the Oak Park Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market the neighborhood's market once it opens. After all, unless we missed something really big, isn't that Tesco Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market's mission statement?


Anonymous said...

Las Vegas Tropicana and Jones has a rather odd look, a bit more of a mid-80s supermarket shape, to fit into a somewhat older shape in town. They added a lot of green paint and maybe some exterior signage elements to make it look newer, but from street level it's obviously an older building (older by Vegas standards is, well, not that old.) The Smith's and Albertsons sharing the intersection have undergone renovations in the past five years. I know the Albertsons did, and the Smiths looks better than, say, the ones here that are just old Raley's stores renamed.

Anonymous said...

Great piece!

Anonymous said...

I live in Oakland near downtown. What Whole Foods did with its market hall store here fits perfectly into the city and neighborhood. The store's manager told me it cost the company much more money to design the store the way they did but that they did so because they wanted to etablish themselves as a part of the city even though they are a national grocer. While it might take them longer to get their investment back, they are really appreciated for making that store local. It will pay off big time for them in the long run.


Anonymous said...

Since the Oak Park people don't have a supermarket in the neighborhood and haven't been able to get one for what appears to be ever, I wonder what they will do if Fresh-Easy says all the hassle isn't worth it and just pulls out and decides to put it's store in another neighborhood? Wonder if they thought about that at all?

Anonymous said...

Seriously? Yes, we've absolutely considered the fact they might leave. It is worth it to us.

Anonymous said...

I live in Davis and we're trying to get a grocery store to come to West Davis. Fresh & Easy wasn't interested. I am hearing though that Fresh & Easy is interested in going into the Corti Bros. store in Sac if Corti can't get his new lease with the building's landlord. Good Eats Grocer started by Michael Teel who used to run Raley's was going to go into Corti's but he backed out when the campaign to save Corti Bros. started.

Any of you heard about Fresh & Easy going into the Corti store. Corti hasn't got his new lease yet and its been over a month now. There has been some talk if he doesn't he might come to Davis, although I doubt it if he can find a new place in Sac. Any 411?