Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Reviewing Shopko's New Format

My hometown Lincoln, Neb., Shopko underwent its extreme makeover several months ago, but until I read Marianne Wilson's and Connie Gentry's coverage of the discounter's new store concept in the May 2008 issue of Chain Store Age (due out May 1st), I hadn't yet made it a point to see the new look for myself.

Although the first of the new concepts debuted in Suamico, Wis., near the chain's home base of Green Bay, Lincoln was an early recipient of Shopko's upgraded appearance. With my 17-year-old daughter in tow, I drove the two miles to the store on Tuesday to compare the CEO's description of the makeover (see "Shopko's Strategy for Growth," page 22, and "Shopko's New Format Shows Feminine Touch," page 156, in the May issue) to what was unveiled in Lincoln.

My first impression, of course, was the new Shopko logo, a feminized and dramatic departure from the former red and blue iteration. I had, of course, seen the new bronze logo on the storefront, but hadn't ventured beyond to see the interior follow-through. I was surprised at the size of the optical department and the pharmacy, both up front and each an upscaled version of what you'd expect to see. The apparel departments filled the interior core of the store, framed by a series of functional, yet aesthetically pleasing, endcap fixtures holding a varied assortment of accessories. The book department was dramatically expanded, so much so that my daughter was moved to make a book purchase. I gravitated toward the expanded patio shop, pleasantly surprised at the merchandising plan and depth of product.

My daughter and I were most taken with the lifestyle graphics that lined every wall of the store. A mixture of product shots and people, the graphics were colorful, upscale, and accented by attractive crown molding ledges.

My biggest disappointment was the fitting-room arrangement. Instead of the prototype's promised four zoned fitting areas, the only one we found was in the women's department, which would force juniors and men and children to travel quite a distance to try on an apparel item. Definitely not ideal.

All in all, I was impressed with the changes in Shopko. As I paid for my daughter's book purchase and we exited the store, I asked her if she would return. "Probably not," she said. "It's definitely better than Wal-Mart, but I still prefer Target." That jives with how CEO Michael MacDonald describes his store, and his customer base. "Shopko merchandise offerings are more traditional [than Target's], whether it's fashion that you wear or for your home. It's going to be current, but not very, very forward ...," he told senior editor Connie Gentry. In other words, there are plenty of stalwart Nebraskans who are drawn toward Shopko's conservative discount merchandise. But my daughter and I likely aren't among them.

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