Slapdash grocerant a missed opportunity

September 6, 2017

Store Brands | September 6, 2017 – A grocery chain with several stores near where I live is known for its bakery, produce, fresh meat and center store packaged SKUs but not for fresh-prepared food. I do shop at one of these stores regularly for staples because the selection beats that of the chain’s trendier competitors. But it has long struck me that this store, which anchors a fairly large suburban strip mall with very few places to eat, is missing out by not having a grocerant.

For years, the store has had a decent salad and soup bar and some deli-made grab-and-go sandwiches but, until recently, no dine-in seating; the ready-to-eat food was clearly intended to be consumed elsewhere. Then a few weeks ago, I noticed that a handful of tables had been squeezed into a narrow shoebox-style space between two walls, next to the shopping cart storage area by one of the main entrances. Besides the tables, this seating area includes a counter in front of the window overlooking the parking lot.

Along one side of the dining space is a cappuccino vending machine, which makes sense in a store that doesn’t sell any fresh-brewed coffee. But right next to it is a Lotto machine and an ATM. The retailer obviously has space constraints in the store and felt the need to wedge in disparate contraptions for customers’ convenience. Nevertheless, more could have been done to create an inviting ambiance for people choosing to eat in the store.

Yesterday, I noticed that a bulk candy display had been squeezed into the dine-in area as well. And the only person eating in the space was a store employee on a break. Clearly, the store’s foray into the grocerant realm has been underperforming.

Remodeling a store is an expensive and disruptive undertaking so I don’t fault the retailer for pursuing an economical makeshift solution. But as Nicole Peranick, director of global consumer strategy and culinary for Daymon, emphasizes, so much can be done with cost-effective “low-hanging fruit” to enliven and brand a store’s perimeter.  A little bit of creativity and inspiration can go a long way toward adding charm and a sense of community to a grocerant, no matter what its size. Indeed, a small space with tables can be a destination that will draw retail customers into the store.

What could improve the ambiance of the grocerant in question? Here are a few suggestions:

  • First, move the Lotto and ATM machines to another part of the store perimeter. They serve a broader demographic than those individuals most likely to dine in-store on soup, salad and cappuccino and would likely cause too many shoppers to enter and leave the space to the distraction and annoyance of the people who are eating.
  • Many appealing grocerants do not have walls at all. But when walls do enclose a narrow dine-in space, they can be made more interesting with a community bulletin board, on which customers could post that they are offering music lessons, selling puppies or starting a photography club, for example. In addition, local artists and professional photographers could be invited to display (and sell) their work. Or perhaps high school art students could be asked to paint a mural on one wall.
  • In addition to complimentary condiments, disposable flatware and napkins, be sure to have free Wi-Fi available for customers and outlets near each table so customers can charge their smart phones and tablets.
  • Peranick points out that the store perimeter can be a place of community engagement. Although the dining area in this store is small, it would be possible for the space to showcase a local small business from time to time. An art teacher, a dog trainer, a local handyman and other individuals in the community could have a small display table periodically.
  • Chessboards and other games on hand would encourage people to stay, interact and enjoy the experience.
  • And by all means, add an intriguing hot bar to the selection of fresh-prepared foods. A salad and soup bar is no longer enough. The aroma of people dining on fried chicken and various ethnic dishes will only drive sales throughout the store.

If this grocerant were to become a popular destination, the store might have to renovate to accommodate the crowds. But by then, the return on investment should be clear.

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