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Latest store flaunts organized, almost upscale appearance

BY Mike Troy

HIGHLAND VILLAGE, Texas —Were it not for the sign on the front of Wal-Mart’s newest store in this community northwest of Dallas, customers might think they were in another retailer’s store. As it is, many of those who are accustomed to shopping at Wal-Mart’s older stores are certain to leave the new 203,000-square-foot store scratching their heads. Aside from low prices on a broad array of merchandise, Wal-Mart pulled out all the stops at its Highland Village store where abundant merchandising initiatives and new category adjacencies combine to create a customer experience that is unlike any other Wal-Mart store.

The experience begins when customers pull into the parking lot and see a massive pecan tree surrounded by green space in front of a store facade that features brick, limestone, large windows and a sloping metal roof intended to resemble the architecture of a Texas ranch. Wal-Mart’s name appears on the exterior signage, but it is understated. The food side of the store is identified by a “market and pharmacy” sign, while the entrance to general merchandise is identified by a “home and living” sign.

Once inside the store the customer experience grows even more radically different, especially for those who visit the store to do their food shopping. The Dallas area is well-known as an intensely competitive market for food, but Wal-Mart’s Highland Village location could prove unsettling to the likes of Kroger, Whole Foods and HEB’s Central Market. Clearly, the new store in Highland Village takes aim at these companies, a move which is likely to help Wal-Mart grow share in pharmacy, as well as food. Clearly, if Wal-Mart is able to steal food shoppers from these chains, it stands to reason it has a fair chance of converting that pharmacy business, as well.

In terms of pharmacy share, Wal-Mart clearly is causing fits for supermarket-combo operators in the area already. According to data from Drug Store News sister-organization, Chain Store Guides, a leading provider of retail market intelligence, Wal-Mart, the No. 3 pharmacy retailer in the metro-Dallas area, holds a 10.6 percent share of the local pharmacy market compared with the three biggest food-pharmacy chains in the area: Albertsons LLC (9.3 percent), Kroger (8.3 percent) and Safe-way (4.5 percent). Factor in Sam’s Club, and Wal-Mart controls almost 12 percent of the local pharmacy spend. (Of course, CVS and Walgreens, the Nos. 1 and 2 in the market, control more than half of the local pharmacy market, with 26.7 percent and 26 percent, respectively.)

Still elements of each of those supermarkets’ signature stores can be found in Wal-Mart’s new supercenter, which has been infused with a heavy dose of theater, as well as substantially expanded service departments. For example, the entire fresh department underwent a radical transformation with such new elements as a pastry shop, an open-hearth bakery and an upgraded, circular deli department. The new store also features many of the upgraded food departments first seen in the prototype store Wal-Mart opened in March 2006, in Plano, Texas, including, a more expensive wine shop, gourmet cheese and sushi bar.

The deli department and meal-solutions area is the first thing customers see when they enter the store, and eyes then gravitate to the right where angled cosmetics fixtures, colorful graphics and a freestanding pharmacy occupy an interior corner of the pad formed by the store’s main race track.

Beyond the addition of new departments, the overall experience of shopping and navigating through the large store has been addressed through a variety of means. Within the dry grocery area for example, about half of the gondolas feature breaks in the middle so customers don’t have to travel all the way down an aisle if they want to go down a different aisle. Paper products and household chemicals also have been removed from the food area and moved to an area along the store’s rear wall where they can be more easily replenished without disrupting customers.

Navigation clearly was a priority in this store, as is evident by the presence of fewer, larger overhead signs that are easily visible from either entrance of the store due to lower overall fixture heights. As a result, customers who arrive through the “market and pharmacy” entrance can clearly locate such departments as electronics and home, which are on the opposite side of the store.

The overall experience and ease of navigation also benefits from a clean-aisle policy, which means pallet displays with large signs calling out price points don’t clutter main aisles. Wal-Mart also sought to create a calmer environment by eliminating the in-store television network. Televisions in the electronics area broadcast Wal-Mart messages, but the televisions that hang overhead in aisles and at checkouts in many other stores are absent in Highland Village.

While the Highland Village store breaks much new ground for Wal-Mart, there are elements that were carried over from the Plano prototype. That store featured a similar layout, with the pharmacy moved to the food side of the store on the inside of the main racetrack, lower fixture heights and improved navigation.

The Plano store’s expensive wines, gourmet foods and a sushi bar, as well as the store’s attractive brick exterior, drew considerable media attention and led to the conclusion that Wal-Mart was moving upscale. Wal-Mart vice chairman John Menzer told Drug Store News, “we are not going upscale,” at the Plano opening, and Wal-Mart chief merchandising officer John Fleming asserted Plano was “not about going upscale.”

Even so, senior executives spent much of 2006 and early 2007 refuting comments about Wal-Mart’s move upscale.

Executives on hand for the Highland Village opening again asserted that such stores as Plano and Highland Village have nothing to do with moving upscale and everything to do with being more relevant to the needs and wants of customers. Highland Village features its share of high price point cheeses and wines, and one bicycle costs nearly $2,000. But a closer look at prices throughout the building reveals a clear emphasis on low prices on a product assortment where overall quality has been upgraded.

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Stick Me Designs adds style to glucose meter bags

BY Michael Johnsen

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. Stick Me Designs, an emerging accessory designer of diabetes glucose carrying cases for women, teens and children, announced the launch of their glucose meter bag collection Friday.

“While the medical supply industry is busy working on adding color, convenience and function to their meters, they’ve forgotten the most important aspect of their portability—the carrying case,” stated Rickina Velte, founder of Stick Me Designs. “We’ve taken on the task of infusing design, style and function that adds personality to an everyday necessity for people with diabetes.”

The new diabetes bags offer choices in color, fabrics, design and functionality.

The first collection features four contemporary designs created for the One Touch Ultra glucose meter and other more traditional larger-style testing meters. The bags have elastic placeholders for lancet devices, testing strips and glucose tabs or candy. They also feature interior open and zippered pockets for such everyday essentials as credit cards, identification, money, sanitizing wipes and an outside zipper pocket for other essentials.

Stick Me Designs’ introductory collection also features hand-selected faux suedes, designer upholsteries and cotton fabrics in retro and contemporary styles and colors.

Suggested retail prices will range from $32.99 to $45.99, the company reported.

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Continucare opens first clinic at Navarro

BY Antoinette Alexander

MIAMI Continucare Corp. has announced the opening of its first ValuClinic in-store health clinic within a Navarro Discount Pharmacy in Hollywood, Fla.

Similar to many other retail-based clinic models, the walk-in clinic will treat acute conditions and will be staffed by nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

According to Gabe Navarro, chief executive officer of the Miami-based pharmacy chain, Continucare was on the verge of opening a few locations in the recently acquired Sedano’s stores, so Navarro proceeded with the openings.

In October, it was announced that Navarro Discount Pharmacy would merge its operations with Sedano’s Pharmacy & Discount Store. Sedano’s is a Hispanic drug retail company with 11 pharmacies in the southern Florida market. Combined, the entity has more than 30 stores with annual revenues of more than $350 million. All of the stores are operating under the Navarro banner in the southern Florida market.

According to Navarro, plans call for Continucare to have three ValuClinics open in Navarro stores by the end of the year. It expects to have a total of 15 clinics in operation in 2008.

In late 2006 it was announced that Navarro had partnered with Express Clinics to introduce in-store health clinics to the southern Florida market; however, it is possible that partnership will come to an end.

“It is uncertain whether Express Clinics will continue to operate clinics in our stores,” Navarro told Drug Store News. “[We] should know more in the coming weeks.”

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