How does a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based grocery store founded in 1934 become a shopping destination for contemporary fashion today? If you ask Lynne Hempe, group vice president for softlines at Meijer, it begins with a design overhaul that somehow, through the merging of creative and strategic minds, makes it possible for both palazzo pants and produce to harmoniously share a space.
The privately-owned retailer is currently in the process of revamping its image to become more than a just grocery store. With the help of media strategist Chris Morrisroe and retail expert Mariana Keros, Hempe said the company aims to shift consumer perception of the brand with remodeled stores, more on-trend apparel, and a greater online presence. As Hempe explained, “The lifespan of a company is an evolution. And when we began talks about boosting its fashion presence, we had to look at how everything is connected to presentation to marketing.”
Last December the company began to test the new look at its Grand Rapids store. Tall walls were built to better define its apparel department, while stylized mannequins and signage offering fashion pointers, like how to wear a sweater dress for multiple occasions, were implemented on the sales floor to help customers, and to affirm the store’s image as a fashion authority. “When you are in the industry, it’s easy to assume that everyone knows what pants to pair with what shirt, so we spent some time on ways to provide solutions,” Hempe said.
The store has also been making an effort to identify trends in their early stages. For example, Hempe said Meijer was one of the first among its competitors to bank on palazzo style pants as a big trend for fall. “We’ve been working hard to pinpoint those trends and bring styles early to market. The most significant change is in our women’s apparel,” she noted.
Overall, Hempe said the test store has received positive reviews and most notably, has improved shoppers’ perception of the store. Prior to the remodel, Hempe said most shoppers didn’t even look at the store’s apparel selection. Now, thanks to word-of-mouth recommendations and a multiple-issue print campaign in Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, InStyle, Elle and Cosmopolitan–a first for the retailer–it expects to see foot traffic grow during the second half of the year.
Shoppers can also stay connected and up-to-date on new styles through Meijer’s newly established Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook feeds, and on its dedicated fashion site meijerstyle.com, which launched earlier this year. The company is also increasing the number of fashion-themed events it hosts, including fashion shows, makeovers and blogger events to stir up interest within its local communities and online.
Hempe said, “It will be several years before the company can say it has all [200 plus] stores refreshed with the new look.” However, she said that remodeling will be ongoing and all new locations will incorporate the new design. Meijer is already working to remodel its Detroit store.
While the concept of mixing groceries with apparel is not groundbreaking in retail, Meijer, being in growth mode, sees the potential to offer more customers more of what they need. “There are certain other retailers and competitors that do a nice job,” Hempe quipped. “However, when you look into smaller locations, there is a void and that’s where we see a lot more opportunity to improve, grow and provide consumers something new.”