GETTING TO KNOW YOU

Busch's Supermarkets' new store in Rochester Hills, Mich., is kind of like a test kitchen for the retailer.The 46,000-square-foot store, which opened in May in an upscale suburb north of Detroit, has been a launching pad for products that, up until now, have not been offered at the retailer's 11 other stores. A handful of items, including organic cheeses and deli meats, exotic produce and prepared

Busch's Supermarkets' new store in Rochester Hills, Mich., is kind of like a test kitchen for the retailer.

The 46,000-square-foot store, which opened in May in an upscale suburb north of Detroit, has been a launching pad for products that, up until now, have not been offered at the retailer's 11 other stores. A handful of items, including organic cheeses and deli meats, exotic produce and prepared seafood items, have gone over so well here that the retailer plans to make them available at the other stores. The store also is testing a line of exotic meats, including ostrich, buffalo, rabbit and quail.

"It's phenomenal," said Dan Courser, chief operating officer for Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Busch's. "Every time you open a brand new store, it gives you an excellent opportunity to test new concepts in a fresh market. This is the first Busch's store from the ground up that totally has our new brand image from the floor tile to all the decor. We started a branding program three years ago. We've been adding elements to each store."

From the outside, the store has a completely different look. Busch's was built at the site of a closed supermarket, in what used to be an underperforming shopping area. In the newly remodeled University Square Shopping Center, Busch's was designed to reflect the company's brand, and blend well with the neighborhood, which happens to be a new market for Busch's. Across the street from the store, there's a "streetscape" shopping center with a mix of upscale tenants, including J. Crew, Banana Republic and Pottery Barn.

"For Busch's customers, the goal was to design an enjoyable, dynamic and magnetic shopping experience that creates a 'Wow, I love this store' effect," said Nick Giammarco, principal and director

of retail design for Cubellis Marco Retail, a leading retail design firm that oversaw the design and construction of the new store. "We applied set design principles from performing arts to help meet those goals, while also delivering a high level of economic value to our client."

SHOPPING IN STYLE

When they arrive at the shopping center, the first thing shoppers see is a soaring pyramid-shaped glass and steel atrium entrance. It's the store's signature design element. Busch's stylized pineapple logo - a symbol of welcome - covers the floor below the atrium. Inside, there are elevated and exposed ceilings, theatrical product lighting, end caps framed by furniture-quality millwork, backlit acrylic paneling, a curving 90-foot-long translucent ceiling element that brings together the produce and dairy sections, and an expanded wine and beverage center.

The floral area is the first department customers enter. Next is the produce department, where hundreds of varieties of fruits and vegetables are merchandised out of refrigerated cases and wooden crates. As shoppers crest the first corner, they step into the specialty cheese section, filled with hundreds of SKUs, including 17 wheels of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano. The deli offers an assortment of homemade salads, imported meats and cheeses behind a service counter, and a hot and cold food bar. Fried chicken, prepared according to a recipe the company acquired from Richmond, Va.-based Ukrop's Super Markets, is sold out of a hot case.

The company is particularly proud of the meat department. The service counter stretches across 12 linear feet. There's also 60 linear feet of self-serve meats. Busch's only sells certified USDA Choice Chairman's Reserve beef, a premium line that the retailer was touting on its website this month. The department carries an assortment of pre-seasoned, raw, ready-to-cook items, as well as a complete line of natural beef, pork and chicken, including a new offering of Amish chicken.

"Everything is cut at store level," Courser said.

Whole fish and filets, along with a variety of prepared items, are sold out of the seafood department. The retailer makes the most of seasonal merchandising. Kabobs are offered in the seafood department now during the summer, but when fall arrives, "we'll change to something that's more seasonally significant," he said.

In the bakery, the retailer added another line of artisan breads, which are doing so well the retailer intends to roll them out at the other stores. Busch's makes its own deli salads, prepared entrees, hot dog and hamburger buns, and sweet baked items at the company's central bakery and commissary.

'A HOSPITALITY BUSINESS'

Shoppers can nibble while they shop courtesy of the hospitality station in the front of the store. The station offers complimentary doughnut holes, cookies and coffee. The service fits into the retailer's emphasis on making customers feel at home.

"We don't call [shoppers] customers," Courser said. "We call them guests. We're a hospitality business but we just do it through groceries."

The supermarket chain got started in 1975 when Joe Busch and Charlie Mattis acquired two stores from Vescio's foods in Clinton and Saline, Mich., and named the chain J&C Family Foods. When Joe Busch retired in 1986, sons Doug, John and Tim took over and acquired or built the other stores, which range in size from 18,000 to 51,000 square feet.

In Rochester Hills, Busch's is the new kid on the block. Whole Foods, Farmer Jack and Kroger, as well as a handful of well-regarded specialty food stores, are established players in the market.

"We're receiving very positive comments from our customers and the store is performing to our expectations, which are quite high," said John Busch, president of Busch's, in a statement.

The new store's neighbor is none other than Trader Joe's, another anchor tenant in the shopping center.

"We co-exist very well," Courser said. "[Competition] makes everybody better. For being a brand new player in the market, we're pleased with where we are now."