STORE DESIGN IS CALLED KEY TO COMPETITIVENESS

SAN ANTONIO -- Retailers must redesign stores for better product display, shopper accessibility and expanded services to combat the growing threat from nontraditional merchants, said George Chirtea, vice president of merchandising at Supervalu, Minneapolis.Speaking at the National-American Wholesale Grocers' Association's Retail Development and Engineering Conference here this month, Chirtea urged

SAN ANTONIO -- Retailers must redesign stores for better product display, shopper accessibility and expanded services to combat the growing threat from nontraditional merchants, said George Chirtea, vice president of merchandising at Supervalu, Minneapolis.

Speaking at the National-American Wholesale Grocers' Association's Retail Development and Engineering Conference here this month, Chirtea urged retail engineers to work with merchandising executives to design stores that accommodate banks, restaurants and photo development centers.

"The merchandising department has to talk to designers more often," he said. "Often you design a store and the merchandisers visit it on opening day. That's wrong."

Among the store areas in need of improvement, he said, are:

Expanded services: Convenience-type services need to be incorporated into store design, including banks and restaurants. "Is there a bank in walking distance? If not, put one in your store. People love them," Chirtea said.

Automated teller machines are becoming essential to any large-scale supermarket, he noted. "Can the customer get cash? People don't want to use ATMs outside. They want it inside where it is safe," he said. Post office boxes and photo development centers offer another important shopper convenience.

Wider aisles: A generous allotment of space would allow for more elaborate product displays and demonstrations. "We need to design stores with plenty of display space and get back to selling groceries," he said.

Better accessibility: Store entrances, aisles and checkouts should be designed with the disabled

shopper in mind. Chirtea said designers should try to move through the store in a wheelchair to fully appreciate the hindrances of a typical supermarket.

Store cleanliness: Design should allow for easy maintenance. "We need to design cleanliness into our packages so that stores will stay new five years from now," he said.

Chirtea noted that food-service retailers like fast food restaurants are chipping away at market share through new services while "category robbers" like convenience stores gain a stronghold on traditional supermarket merchandise.

"We've lost focus on who we're competing with and are paying too much attention to clubs and superstores," he said. "The clubs have hit a wall [in sales]. They'll always have a niche, but it's a niche. They haven't driven the supermarket off the map."

Food-service retailers are another story, he said. Rising sales of take-out fast food restaurants underscore supermarkets' need to create an environment that makes shopper convenience a top priority, he said.