Case Study: Store Design from the (Uneven) Ground Up

Whole Foods Community Co-op
Duluth, Minn.
Founded: 1970
Number of members: 3,800
Equity investment: $100 per member
Number of staff: 115
*Retail square feet:v 7,500

In the chronicles of co-op expansion features, perhaps no co-op worked longer (eight years) or harder (rejecting multiple locations) to locate just the right site than Whole Foods Community Co-op in Duluth, Minn. During those years, retail food store planner and designer PJ Hoffman assisted from the very beginning, helping general manager Sharon Murphy sort the good from the bad in proposed locations. There were many things to consider to make an expansion site a go for Whole Foods Co-op, and Murphy relied on Hoffman’s expertise to help her make good evaluations.

The co-op’s neighborhood in Duluth, aptly named “Hillside,” features an attractive customer base living on San Francisco-style hills that offer stunning views of Lake Superior. But just try bringing a semi truck loaded with food into the area. The co-op seemed to need the impossible: a bigger store and a way to bring deliveries to the co-op that didn’t block resident traffic or the co-op’s customer entrance.

“Right away we wanted the store designer’s opinion,” Murphy said about locations she considered in the expansion process. “To be able to define your shoppers’ traffic patterns in a given place is significant.” She needed that advice to know if a proposed site would be workable.

The challenges of Whole Foods’ expansion were numerous. Available properties were often odd shaped with a steep grade, and some posed too many challenges to their building criteria. The board and members wanted the co-op to do all it could to build “green.”

“We ended up with a two-level site and we had to build a huge retaining wall,” Murphy said. “Semi trucks going to our loading dock are on a steeper grade than a basic forklift could handle.” Hoffman’s design took every delivery scenario into consideration, down to delivery trucks’ turning radius and size, in order to make it all work.

Whole Foods Co-op is also a certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) building, the first in Duluth. The guidelines for construction include reuse, conservation, and use and recycling of building materials. “What LEED is trying to do is create total health for a building and work environment,” said Murphy, and the store designer was a critical part of that process. “PJ worked very closely with the architect and design team – it was amazing the amount of coordination that went into that.”

Not only were green building features important, but the layouts for store departments were equally coordinated and thought out. In 2005, Whole Foods Co-op got the delivery dock, the wider aisles, adjacent parking, more checkouts, seating area and an expanded deli.

The potential on-site butcher, bakery and juice bar fell by the wayside when they looked at labor, costs and space. For example, they decided that a juice bar was much more labor and space intensive than the payback they could get if they used the space for their grocery department instead. Hoffman’s design experience with how retail work spaces function for staff and customers helped Murphy make those decisions.

From the beginning, Murphy believed that the store planner had to be an integral part of their expansion plan. That role played a big part in a satisfactory outcome for the Hillside community when the co-op opened the doors to their new, level store.

FavoriteLoadingAdd to favorites
By |November 30th, 2006|Categories: Case Studies, Solutions|Tags: , |

Leave A Comment