While real estate at the checkstand can be some of the most lucrative in the store from a profit perspective, a group of stores in Philadelphia is demonstrating they can also be used to bank brand equity and customer connections.
Last August, a newly opened ShopRite store in Philadelphia’s Brookhaven neighborhood introduced a “sensory-friendly” checkout line designed to accommodate parents of children with autism. In place of candy, the aisle stocks toys like Play-Doh, rattles and balls that provide options for autistic children who often struggle with low-impulse control and, in some cases, are prone to “meltdowns” in the aisle.
The checkout was an answer to the prayers of a local mom who petitioned for such a change — at Target stores. But when ShopRite Store Director Paul Kouris heard about the request through mutual acquaintances, he asked Store Owner Pat Burns for permission to make some changes. After checking warehouse inventories with supplier Wakefern Food Corp., the new lane was up in three days.
“We realized this was something that we could easily do,” explained Carly Spross, marketing director of Burns Family Neighborhood Markets. “We were new in the neighborhood and saw this as an example of the type of operator we want to be. Our perspective was, even if you don’t have a child with autism, you know someone who does.
“And even if autism is something you don’t have to worry about for your kids, its nice to have a lane where instead of candy you can buy some Play-Doh,” she added.
Cheered by advocates for autism, Burns subsequently expanded the program to two additional stores. By the end of February, Spross said, such lanes could be in all nine ShopRite and The Fresh Grocer stores operated by Burns. New permanent lane signs utilizing a handprint design highlight the sensory-friendly lanes.
Spross acknowledged the company was still learning about the product arrangements and offering that works best, as well as optimizing the return: “What we can say is that from the customer’s perspective, they appreciate it. And that has a value in and of itself that goes over and above the dollars and cents. If its going to build loyalty and if it’s going to connect us with our customers on a personal level and let them know we care and we listen to them, that has a huge value rather than comparing the gross profit I make off of Silly Putty vs. that what I make off of a candy bar.”