I’ve spent a lot of time sat in conferences and it’s fair to say that most of them have been illuminating. Conferences have also meant that I have also stolen a lot of pens, have sat for hours in some dreadful chairs and have eaten several kilogrammes of mint imperials. Occasionally at a conference, you get to see a presentation that is a genuine eye-opener – one that presents a meaningful call to action.
One of the more recent examples of these was when – as part of a broader talk – brand consultant Martin Lindstrom detailed his work with US regional grocer Lowes Foods. Lowes trades through around 100 stores in the Carolinas and Virginia, one of the more brutally competitive markets in US food retailing, and was seeking to reinvent its stores in order to continue to thrive in the face of an ongoing onslaught from Walmart, Food Lion and assorted discounters.
Lindstrom’s response was all about narrative, entertainment and theatre. As he told CNBC when discussing the Lowes project, what he was seeking to create was an “instore sensory experience, and a sense of community, that can’t be packaged and delivered by mail, or perhaps by drone in the future. We have five senses that we can appeal to. When you go to Amazon, you have a maximum of appealing to two senses.”
Having listened to Lindstrom explaining the thought process behind the reinvention of Lowes, a call to action was created and I immediately vowed to visit Lowes in Clemmons, NC. When I eventually managed to pop in this summer, the store was undergoing another renovation, with a fair amount of construction underway, but the overall experience was still a treat. Having lunched in the incomparably good Chick-Fil-A across the parking lot, I was regrettably unable to take advantage of the consumption opportunities within Lowes, which is a source of profound regret as features like the Chicken Kitchen and Sausage Works looked amazing.
The Chicken Kitchen has received a decent amount of coverage thanks to the animatronic chickens that loom above the department, plus the accompanying chicken dance (look on YouTube) that staff members perform when chicken is removed from the ovens. This is just one aspect of the store that creates a real sense of experience and storytelling that is painfully absent from many other supermarkets.
The retailer places great stock in community endeavours, and a timetable at the store’s entrance sets out a lavish array of events and cooking demos for shoppers to participate in. The entrance to the store also includes a ‘clip your own herbs’ feature – something I’ve not encountered before, but a highlight that sets the tone incredibly well for the rest of the shopping experience.
The fresh departments, including the aforementioned temples to poultry and sausages, are a total joy. Produce, with strong local credentials, is superb and even the milk fridge manages to be alluring. The design skills on display here are top-notch and there are pleasant surprises at virtually every turn. The Beer Den in particular is a cracking addition to the mix while the overall store design (plenty of glass and timber) makes for a striking environment.
Customer service was another impressive accomplishment: all the members of staff that I encountered were polite, friendly and beyond helpful. The shopping experience at Lowes is a blueprint for any supermarket operator wondering how to succeed: you might not have the widest range and you might not have the lowest prices, but putting a smile on the face of the shopper will keep them coming back for more.
Bryan Roberts, Global Insight Director