Grocerants Part 3: Building a Better Dinner-Time Experience for your Customers

Jan 11, 2019

When IGA retailer Fred Zanotto, owner of Zanotto’s Markets in California’s Bay Area, had an opportunity to build out the design and concepts for his fifth store, he was able to customize the offerings for potential customers literally next door. The recently-opened Fruitdale Station Market in San Jose is housed in a mixed-use building, with apartments above it and all around. So he tailored the store to meet the expectations of its urban clientele, creating a coffee bar, state-of-the-art deli that features all house-made offerings, and plenty of grab and go meals.

Since opening in November, they’ve seen a big response, with the bulk of their traffic in the early hours (the coffee bar opens at 6 a.m.) and post-work dinner rush (5-8 p.m.), with lunch starting to pick up as well.

When designing this store, Zanotto, who has been in the business “since he could walk,” understands that continued success means paying attention to what consumers are looking for, which increasingly means the ability to shop for easy-to-prepare, healthy meals.

In the first two articles in this series we looked at the driving forces behind these trends  and ideas for rethinking your approach to prepared foods. Here, we’ll get the gears turning on ways to shake up your store layout to make it more shopper-friendly.

Create an experience

Ask the experts how brick and mortars can best compete with online and you’ll hear that it comes down to the shopping experience. Looking ahead to the next few years, the big five strategic elements to pay attention to are: technology, convenience, experience, fresh food, and local, according to Steve Duffy, VP of grocery for Orlando, Florida-based Cuhaci & Peterson Architects, Engineers and Planners, speaking in this article on

grocerant_2Lewis Shaye of the Grocerant Design Group works with stores of all sizes on how to make the spaces more convenience -friendly and create a multi-sensory experience.

“If you’re a brick and mortar location, you need to create something unique and remarkable enough to get people in the door. Otherwise, they won’t come in,” said Lewis Shaye of the Grocerant Design Group. Before launching his consulting business, Shaye served as vice president of culinary concepts for Price Chopper, a 136-store supermarket chain, as well as in senior executive roles for four fast-casual restaurant chains. For brick and mortars, the biggest aspects for attracting and retaining customers are to focus on driving convenience in the system and creating a multi-sensory experience, he said.

From Shaye’s viewpoint, independents have an advantage over chains due to their ability to adapt and change faster. “I see failures in regional players that have been bombarded by competition because they are moving too slowly. Take advantage of that indie flexibility, and be nimble to stay ahead of the curve,” he said.

Bring the business to your customers

This customizable approach has worked well for Patrick Longmire Jr. of Red’s IGA in Spring Grove, Minnesota. After seven years living in Texas and playing music in a country band, Longmire moved with his wife and two young children back home to work with his dad at the store. While away, Longmire had developed a love and appreciation of Texas-style barbecue and wanted to bring that taste and flavor to their customers and community. The Longmires invested in a smoker and food trailer and Fat Pat’s BBQ was born in June 2017.

5b6dfe826b4b3.imagePatrick Longmire Jr. and his father, Pat Longmire, Sr. of Red’s IGA in Spring Grove, MN, invested in a smoker and food trailer to experiment with Texas-style barbecue. Fat Pat’s BBQ brings food to fairs, festivals, and farmers’ markets, along with in-store sales.

Now open a full summer season, Longmire has been able to “go mobile” and use the trailer to bring the barbecue out to fairs, festivals, and farmers’ markets, spreading the word about this new offering through Red’s IGA. They use social media to promote barbecue sales in the store, as well, which has brought people in to buy grab and go containers of ready-to-eat chicken and ribs.

“It’s like having a restaurant with no waste. It blows my mind how well it sells the next day,” he said. “It took off a lot more than we thought it would.” Fat Pat’s is doing so well that this spring Red’s IGA plans to break ground on a store expansion to create a dedicated area for an in-store smoker, as well as adding a coffee bar complete with drive-through window.

Make changes within your existing store footprint

For business owners who are reluctant to take on the extra expense of adding on to a store, or don’t have the luxury of designing from scratch, there are smaller projects you can do to create a fresh look and feel.

Lewis Shaye Photo (1)“Staying static doesn’t succeed. I recommend looking at your business with an analytical eye,” Shaye said. If you have a limited footprint to work with, you’ll probably want to start with making some changes in your centerstore. This is an area that’s seen the biggest increase in competition, especially with online dry goods providers like Amazon taking an edge on the market. According to Shaye, through trimming the number of items you carry, you’ll be able to condense the centerstore enough to add in other fresh food service concepts or revamp your produce department, adding some focus areas by building out a growing category.

Whether you’re planning on adding some new displays or building out an entire eatery, you’ll want to be sure and position it close to the entrance, said Shaye, who also recommends planning ahead for technology-driven features like mobile ordering or self check-outs, which reduce waiting in lines and create a “frictionless” experience.

The key is to be strategic, to know your market, and to avoid trying to be everything to everybody. When Shaye starts working with an individual store or group of stores, he starts with an assessment of where the store is now and what directions they want to go in, along with completing a SWOT analysis (looking at strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) and how you are positioned in your local marketplace. From there, you can see if those new ideas you’ve been considering are a good fit. Maybe it’s installing a drive-thru lane with fast-food-type ordering? Or maybe it’s expanding your kitchen to offer catering in a bigger, more impactful way? There are a number of things to try and Shaye encourages taking that next step. 

“Don’t be afraid to fail. You can’t afford to get stale; you have to keep things moving forward,” he said.  



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