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Retail Reimagined at Verizon

BY Marianne Wilson

Verizon Wireless has embarked on an ambitious initiative to transform the customer experience across its portfolio of 1,700 company-owned stores. The new strategy emphasizes lifestyle over product and promotes in-store engagement and interactivity.

“We are transforming the focus of our stores from selling devices to enabling customers to discover all that wireless technology can do for their mobile lifestyles,” said Domenico D’Ambrosio, executive director, national retail operations, Verizon Wireless.

Verizon’s retail transformation was unveiled with the opening of its “destination” store format, at Mall of America, Bloomington, Minn. Designed by Chute Gerdeman, which also collaborated with Verizon on the merchandise assortment, staff training and real estate planning, the 9,715-sq.-ft. store presents products in context and offers shoppers a hands-on digital experience that is intended to help them understand the potential impact of wireless technology on their lives.

The space has a friendly, inviting vibe, with warm woods and residential accents. The store is organized into a series of interactive lifestyle zones, each dedicated to a specific interest and featuring related wireless gadgets and apps and staffed by specialists in the field. (Some of the zones include Get Fit, for fitness buffs; Amplify It, for music fans; and Have Fun, for gamers. There are also zones dedicated to home monitoring and business.) Phones and devices are displayed along a striking curved wall in the back of the store.

Interactive displays are integrated into all the zones, providing hands-on opportunities for customers to experience and learn about the technology in action. An expansive interactive screen toward the rear of the store draws customers into the space.

Training and education are core to the destination format, which includes a centrally located dedicated workshop area staffed by specialists who share tips and lead classes in front of a large touchscreen display. These live “wireless workshops” are hosted daily, with class schedules and FAQs posted on the screen when class isn’t in session.

The format eschews traditional sales and service counters in favor of floating POS stations in the individual zones and “staging tables” throughout the space where customers can interact with associates. Associates are also equipped with tablets for mobile POS transactions.

Verizon plans to roll out additional destination stores in select locations. The concept is the foundation for a broader initiative that includes the redesign of the wireless giant’s 1,700-plus company-owned stores nationwide to its “smart” store format. The format has the same focus on training and education as the destination store, along with many of the same lifestyle-focused elements, but on a smaller scale.

“The core concept of the Smart store is the same as the Mall of America store,” said Lynn Rosenbaum, VP retail environments, Chute Gerdeman, Columbus, Ohio. “We’ve created a toolbox of experiences and designed modularity and flexibility into the concept to allow a scalable and fluid implementation.”

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In the Spotlight: Walgreens Net Zero Energy Store

BY Marianne Wilson

Walgreens provided an up-close look at its new location in Evanston, Ill. — distinguished as the nation’s first net zero energy store — during a super-session at this year’s SPECS conference. Initial engineering estimates — which can vary due to the weather, store operations, systems performance and other factors — indicate that the store will use 200,000 kilowatt hours per year of electricity while generating 220,000 kilowatt hours per year.

“Our goal is for the store to generate more energy than it uses,” said Jamie Meyers, manager of sustainability, Walgreens, Deerfield, Ill.

Speaking at the session, “An Industry First: Walgreens’ Net Zero Energy Store,” Meyers told attendees that the drug store chain had previously used or experimented with many of the technologies deployed in the net zero energy store. But Evanston marked the first time the chain had put them all under one roof.

“We want to learn as much as we can from this store, and share what we learn,” Meyers said. “We’re going to analyze everything.”

The store, which opened in November, is a replacement for an old Walgreens that was built on the same site. When the Walgreens team decided to go ahead with the net zero energy project, the Evanston locale proved ideal as the town is very progressive when it comes to green building, Meyers explained.

“The original store was scheduled to be knocked down, which meant we had less than 14 months to design, knock down [the old store] and build the new store,” he added.

One of the first things Meyers and his team did was bring in a solar developer. (Solar is the primary renewable energy source for the store.) “We covered the building with solar panels in order to maximize solar production,” he said. “We even put a canopy over the pharmacy drive-though.”

To help maximize daylighting, the roof plane of the building was broken up into four planes, with each plane facing directly south. Windows were placed in between the planes. And to provide as much roof space as possible for the solar panels (there are nearly 850 in all), all the major equipment is housed in a mechanical mezzanine that is open to public view.

Other elements that contribute to the building’s energy efficiency include the use of directional LED lighting, a geothermal system burrowed 550 ft. into the ground and a high-efficiency curtain wall system. The store also utilizes carbon dioxide refrigerant for refrigeration equipment as well as heating and cooling. The system uses a geothermal carbon dioxide heat pump to capture heat generated by the store’s refrigeration systems, with the hot air used for heating.

“We are recovering 100% of our refrigeration load,” Meyers said.

A large energy monitor is prominently located upfront, next to the cash register.

“It shows how we are doing with regard to energy production and consumption,” Meyers said.

Meyers noted that the store opened just before what would turn out to be the Chicago area’s third coldest winter on record since 1884. While the extreme cold forced the store to run at maximum capacity, it has performed well considering the harsh conditions.

In the few months since the store opened, Meyers said the biggest surprise has been the number of people, ranging from other retailers to customers to local school groups, that want to tour it.

“It’s generating a lot of interest,” Meyers said.

More than an actual store prototype, the Evanston store will serve as a testing ground, allowing Walgreens to determine what technology it can take and apply to new and existing locations. For example, it has already started rolling out LEDs to all new stores, inside and out, across the United States.

“We want to use the Evanston store as a model for what we do going forward,” Meyers said. “The real payback will be when we take the technology and apply it back to our footprint.”

It will take a full year of operation to get an accurate read on the store’s net zero energy status, but Meyers is optimistic based on its early performance.

“We are trending toward net zero for the year,” he said. “But we still have a lot of work to do. We are learning every day.”

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SPECS: Focus on the Future

BY CSA STAFF

All eyes were on Texas as Chain Store Age’s SPECS conference celebrated its 50th annual show with an opening keynote by President George W. Bush. The 43rd president of the United States, who participated in a discussion moderated by Walgreens president and CEO Gregory Wasson, was given a standing ovation by attendees.

The appearance by President George W. Bush was a highlight of the show, which was held at the Gaylord Texan Hotel, Grapevine, Texas. Attendance at the event, which is targeted to retail and restaurant professionals, architects and other specifiers involved in store design, planning, construction and facilities management, was up 25% over last year.

The show combined dynamic keynote presentations with quality workshop sessions and a lively exhibit floor showcasing the latest in store planning/design, construction and facilities products and services.

The educational program was designed to identify key trends and provide insights and innovative solutions to help attendees give their companies a competitive advantage now and in the years to come. In an acknowledgement of technology’s increasingly important role in store development and facilities, the program included a series of tech boot camps, which offered attendees hands-on knowledge of new and cutting-edge on-the-job technologies and solutions and social media tools.

SPECS offered plenty of business networking opportunities, on and off the exhibit floor. There were planned meetings during the annual SPECS Exhibitor/Retailer Face-to-Face Information Exchange, which provided the ideal forum for retailers to discuss business needs with suppliers in a direct, time-efficient manner. And there were informal meetings during workshop sessions, breaks, meals and evening receptions. Indeed, business partnering, long the hallmark SPECS, was the centerpiece of the 50th show.

The 51st annual SPECS conference will be March 15-18, 2015, at the Sands Expo at Venetian/Palazzo, Las Vegas. Look for updates on specsshow.com.

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