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Store Profile

 

A&P's new concept in fresh

 

 

Floral is one of the showcase departments in the company’s prototype store.

 

by Cynthia L. McGowan

 

The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, Inc.’s (A&P) new prototype store in Park Ridge, N.J., packs a lot of merchandising punch in a relatively small space. Since the Sept. 17 opening, customers have flocked to the 25,000-square-foot store’s 17 specialty shops, including a full-service floral department brimming with colorful, lush selections.

The store, dubbed “A&P

 Fresh,” takes the company’s commitment to the fresh-format concept to a new level, company officials say, setting the prototype for future stores and remodels. “We’re very proud to open this truly special store, both to best serve our customers in and around Park Ridge and also as an example of the fresh thinking that’s revolutionizing A&P,” Eric Claus, A&P president & CEO, said in a press release when the store opened.

 

strategy for growth

A&P, founded in 1859, is one of the nation’s first supermarket chains, and at its peak in the 1930s, the company was the nation’s No. 1 grocery chain with 16,000 stores from coast to coast. Today, after a series of financial setbacks over the years followed by several restructurings, it ranks No. 21 in Supermarket News’ 2007 list of the “Top 75 North American Food Retailers,” with $6.9 billion in sales for fiscal year 2006.

Part of A&P’s strategy to turn its performance around has been to make the Northeastern United States its core market. After divesting stores in the Midwest and the South, it now operates 316 stores in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia under several A&P banners. It also recently acquired Pathmark Stores Inc., forming a company with a total of 456 stores, all in the Northeast, and sales of $9.4 billion in 2006.

 

Another key to its growth plan is offering new formats while keeping prices competitive, a strategy that is embodied in the Park Ridge store, which was remodeled from an existing A&P. Comments Mr. Claus, “In reinventing the food shopping experience for our customers, our goal in Park Ridge was to marry the best elements of innovative American and traditional European food-selling approaches.”

 

upscale style

The result is a “store within the store” format that entices shoppers with tempting offerings and aromas from the 17 specialty shops. A palette of earth tones and subdued lighting set a stylish tone for shoppers, who are greeted at the entrance by a floral department designed to look like a European flower market and a huge produce section in the style of a farmers’ market.

The other specialty shops include a bakery with an old-world brick oven that bakes artisan breads all day; a large deli that makes pizza while customers watch; a cheese shop with hundreds of selections; a “Fresh to Go” shop with chef-prepared entrées; and a seafood and sushi shop, with sushi made to order.

 

The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, Inc. (A&P)

HEADQUARTERS Montvale, N.J.

EXECUTIVE CHAIRMAN Christian W.E. Haub

PRESIDENT AND CEO Eric Claus

UNITS 456 with the completion of the purchase of Pathmark Stores Inc. in December, under nine banners: A&P, A&P Fresh, A&P Super Foodmart, Waldbaum’s, Super Fresh, The Food Emporium, Food Basics USA, A&P Liquor and Pathmark; in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia

SALES $9.4 billion in fiscal year 2006 (both A&P and Pathmark Stores Inc.)

ESTABLISHED 1859 by George Huntington Hartford and George Gilman

STORES' AVERAGE SIZE 35,500 to 50,000 square feet

EMPLOYEES 62,030

FLORAL EMPLOYEES Average one to two per store

FLORAL SERVICES Full-service floral departments in some stores; limited service in others

BIGGEST FLORAL HOLIDAYS Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day

CORPORATE floral personnel Dave Lessard, director of produce and floral; Rose Clayton, senior category manager, floral; Cathy Maneri, national category manager; Kevin Prill, buyer; Jerry Wohlgemuth, buyer; Patricia DelliSanti, administrative assistant

FLORAL MANAGER, PARK RIDGE, N.J., STORE Pattie Matonti

WEB SITES www.aptea.com; www.apsupermarket.com

 

Icons on walls identify each specialty shop, replacing overhead signage. Low-profile merchandisers add to the store’s feeling of openness. To make the most of the square footage, which is smaller than the average A&P, some food-preparation areas were moved to the basement.

The high-end feel of the A&P Fresh store is perfect for a town like Park Ridge, an upscale community in northern New Jersey—just 30 miles from New York City—with a median household income estimated at $94,800 in 2005. However, A&P Fresh also offers private label products, “Red Tag” price reductions and weekly specials to keep prices competitive.

Consumers have responded to the new store. Although A&P declines to release sales figures, early results “had exceeded all expectations,” Mr. Claus said in a second-quarter earnings conference call reported by Progressive Grocer. Further, Richard P. De Santa, senior director of corporate affairs, shares that the “striking” increase in sales “has been maintained since the grand opening, so it’s been quite a hit.”

 

floral pizzazz

Also a hit is the new floral department, remarks Rose Clayton, senior category manager, floral. Its placement at the entrance helps to create the store’s fresh atmosphere, greeting customers with shelves full of colorful flowers by the stem, consumer bunches, bouquets, and blooming and foliage plants.

The department before the remodeling, Ms. Clayton confides, “was pretty much a very standard floral location. There’s a lot more pizzazz going on now.” She points to a greater selection of floral products, new fixtures and lighting, a new cooler and more space.

Customers reacted warmly to the change. “The first thing we noticed was people’s mouths dropped,” she recalls. “They just stopped and looked around. We got a lot of oohs and ahhs.”

And although the store has been open only a few months, the full-service department is building a loyal clientele. “It’s becoming a destination,” Ms. Clayton says, by offering a large variety of products and custom design services, including the ability to create arrangements for customers while they shop.

 

keys to success

FRESH FOCUS The A&P Fresh floral department offers a tempting selection of cut flowers and plants, merchandised like a European market, to entice customers to buy.

TRAINING Floral associates and managers take A&P’s floral certification classes, which teach the basics of design, care and handling, running a department, customer service and more.

CROSS-MERCHANDISING The floral departments cross-merchandise with bakery and general merchandise, using plan-o-grams provided by the corporate floral team.

GETTING THE WORD OUT Effective visual merchandising sparks impulse sales. A&P also gives florals good presence in newspaper advertisements and on its consumer Web site, www.apsupermarket.com. The Web site also offers a virtual tour of the Park Ridge A&P Fresh floral department.

 

best-selling products

Bouquets, the best-selling product, are offered in a range of price points (which the company declined to share) and a variety of themes. The department arranges them by color and theme, often pairing them with matching balloons.

The department is building a stem program with growing results. “We’re finding out that the consumers are gobbling up particular flower types we put out,” Ms. Clayton remarks. “They have not been used to this, so our consumers are experimenting with different design methods.”

Flowers that A&P Fresh has offered by the stem include birds-of-paradise, Proteas, lilies, Lisianthuses, Dendrobium orchids and Hydrangeas.

 

Also important to the department’s product selection are blooming and foliage plants. Ms. Clayton says customers buy them mostly for gifts or home décor. Favorite blooming plants are Hydrangeas and callas, and top-selling foliage plants include Spathiphyllums (peace lilies), Calatheas and African masks (Alocasias).

Products are sourced both direct from growers and through wholesalers, going to a distribution center before they are sent to A&P’s floral departments. All cut flowers come in wet packs, eliminating the need for processing at the store or distribution center level.

interaction with customers

Custom designs offer an opportunity for Floral Manager Pattie Matonti and her part-time associate to showcase their skills and interact with customers. The work station is on the floor so customers can watch them create the beautiful arrangements that fill the three-door cooler. “It’s an immediate theater arena, where the consumer will be attracted and then purchase,” Ms. Clayton shares.

 

Those kinds of customer service skills are among topics taught at A&P’s floral certification classes, which are offered to floral associates and managers. The classes also cover the financial aspects of the department, store merchandising, care and handling of fresh products, and floral design, shares Dave Lessard, director of produce and floral. A vendor instructs the design sessions, and the corporate staff instructs the others. Remarks Ms. Clayton: “It’s not only the fun stuff, it’s also understanding their business and how they need to run it.”

 

The company changes the looks of the floral departments often to keep customers’ interest high, with detailed plan-o-grams coming from the corporate office. “We specify the location for bouquets, plants, balloons and specialty promotions,” Mr. Lessard comments. “We also provide detailed plan-o-grams for the floral coolers.”

The corporate team also conducts meetings for senior district managers, district managers and produce/floral specialists to discuss holiday promotions. “We review, in detail, the financial goals for the season, merchandising plans and operational procedures,” Mr. Lessard says. Everyone at the holiday meetings receives a CD of the information, helping to make sure all the departments have what they need to be successful.

That kind of corporate backing has helped fuel floral’s growth at the Park Ridge store. Shares Ms. Clayton: “Our management team is behind floral 100 percent.” sfr

 

 

 

 

a snowy valentine's day

Valentine’s Day is a challenge any year, most florists will agree. They also likely will agree with Rose Clayton, senior category manager, floral, for The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company, Inc. (A&P), that “snow at Valentine’s Day is a nightmare.”

Last Valentine’s Day, that worst-case scenario came true when a massive blizzard caused power outages and dangerous traveling conditions for millions of Americans from the Midwest to the East Coast and, in the process, caused many floral operations like A&P’s to quickly adjust to the adverse conditions.

Ms. Clayton looks back on that Valentine’s Day with a shudder.  “When I heard the weather report, it was very frightening,” she recalls. To top it all off, it was Ms. Clayton’s first Valentine’s Day at A&P.

Teamwork, she says, saved the day. Vendors, store associates and corporate personnel worked together to get products to consumers. “Everybody really pitched in, and we made adjustments where we could,” she shares. Despite the obstacles, “all and all, it was successful,” she says.

Ms. Clayton is wishing for a better forecast this year. “Hopefully,” she says, “it will be sunny and 80 degrees.”

 

Reach Cynthia L. McGowan at cmcgowan@superflo ralretailing.com or (800) 355-8086.

 

 

 

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