WILD OATS EARNS HIGH SALES AT LONG BEACH PROTOTYPE

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Wild Oats Markets here said last week that sales at the new prototype store it introduced April 2002 in Long Beach, Calif., continues to exceed expectations.The company said the 26,000-square-foot store has sales per square feet of $540, about $100 more than the chain's national average, even though it carries about 50% fewer stockkeeping units.Last month, Wild Oats opened

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- Wild Oats Markets here said last week that sales at the new prototype store it introduced April 2002 in Long Beach, Calif., continues to exceed expectations.

The company said the 26,000-square-foot store has sales per square feet of $540, about $100 more than the chain's national average, even though it carries about 50% fewer stockkeeping units.

Last month, Wild Oats opened two more stores following the new prototype in Portland, Ore., and Louisville, Ky. At the end of this month, the company will introduce a new prototype Henry's Marketplace store in Costa Mesa, Calif., a company spokeswoman told SN. The remaining seven to 10 stores Wild Oats plans to open this year will debut in August and later, she noted.

Monica Aggarwal, vice president, Merrill Lynch, New York, said she found the Long Beach prototype a welcome change from the company's earlier stores. "It is now much more like a regular supermarket and less like an exclusive club for alternative lifestyles that could not attract crossover customers," she noted.

Aggarwal added, "We believe that there is ample opportunity to reset, remodel or relocate stores to this format."

A reassuring design may be the key to the prototype's popularity.

Bruce Dybvad, president, Design Forum, Dayton, Ohio, worked with Wild Oats on developing the prototype's layout. "We decided we would start with a familiar configuration, like a traditional supermarket, with aisles of dry goods in the center, produce on the perimeter, etc."

The decor echoes the store's natural and organic theme. "All the shapes and colors are naturally based," Dybvad noted.

The new Wild Oats design also stresses intimacy. Wild Oats' spokeswoman said, "The smaller store gives a community market feel. The reduced number of SKUs makes it easier to shop."

She added that the Portland store also promises to be a top performer. "We thought, 'In the middle of the winter in Portland, we weren't going to have a strong opening, but it's just blown away our expectations."

Meanwhile, Wild Oats' is preparing to unveil its new Henry's prototype in Southern California on Feb. 28.

The spokeswoman described the 22,000-square-foot store as having "an open, farmers' market kind of feel, with lower-profile shelving throughout the store. When you walk in, you can see the entire store and all the people in it."

The produce department will occupy about one-quarter of the store, the spokeswoman said, adding that "the emphasis is on what Henry's is known for -- farm fresh, locally grown produce at really good prices."

The store will also have larger bakery and meat departments than older Henry's, she said. "We still have a strong vitamin/supplement department and a small grocery department where all the products are natural or organic."

In addition, the decor will try to put shoppers in a rural frame of mind, she noted. "The wood that we're using for all the signs, all of which have been hand-painted, is being recycled from an 1830s Kentucky tobacco plant."