Sustainable Parking Design

BY Marianne Wilson

Parking lots have typically not been associated with green and energy-efficient design and building practices. But according to some experts, that’s beginning to change. 

“Extensive changes are being made to reduce the carbon footprint of surface parking lots,” said Matt Jobin, AIA, project manager, Rich and Associates, Southfield, Mich., the oldest firm in North America dedicated solely to parking design and planning. 

Such changes are long overdue. Surface lots can be particularly damaging to the environment since paved surfaces contribute to urban heat island effect (UHI), which can lead to increases in summertime carbon footprint of surface parking lots, peak energy demand, air conditioning costs, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. But with some planning, according to Jobin, this effect can be minimized. 

“To help combat UHI effect, designers and planners are utilizing cool paving materials in their surface lots,” he explained. “These materials are lighter in color and permeable, allowing for air movement and evaporation.”

Alternative paving methods are also replacing traditional asphalt or concrete. These pavers remove the pollutants and sediments that accumulate in stormwater runoff, as well as control the amount of runoff released into local water supplies. 

One example given by Jobin features porous pavement and a stone reservoir underneath the surface lot.

“Stormwater passes through the porous pavement into the reservoir,” he explained, “which helps filter the water of automobile oil, grease and sediment that frequently accumulates in parking lots.” 

If soil conditions are right, no sewer pipes are necessary, as the filtered stormwater is absorbed back into the natural aquifers in the earth. 

“In the locations where pipes are necessary, the porous pavement and stone reservoir ensure stormwater is released at a much slower rate than in a typical drainage infrastructure system, guaranteeing a municipality’s sewer system is not overwhelmed,” Jobin said. 

Other examples of effective alternatives to traditional asphalt or concrete include interlocking concrete blocks, gravel, paving stones, wood mulch and brick.

Trees and other canopies that offer shade can further lessen UHI. The placement of nearby buildings can provide a similar effect at critical sun times.

A rain garden is another landscape solution that can be used to reduce a surface lot’s negative effects on the environment. Positioned inside an “island” at the end of a parking row, rain gardens feature specially engineered planting soils and selected plants. 

“The soil and vegetation helps lower nitrogen and phosphorus levels in stormwater before it’s collected in a stone reservoir below the surface,” Jobin said. “The stormwater is then absorbed into the ground or discharged into a municipal sewer system.”

A bio-ware is another popular landscape element. Featuring dense vegetation, bio-swales are open channels or depressions that modestly slope to a destination. Stormwater captured in the bio-swale moves down grade, is slowly treated (the vegetation helps remove pollutants), and then released to into the ground or storm sewer. 

“However, unlike rain gardens, bio-swales require a large amount of surface space to properly work,” Jobin advised. 

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Loyalty Updated

BY Deena Amato-mccoy

Tired of relying on deep, blanket mass-marketing promotions to attract shoppers, specialty retailer Crabtree & Evelyn is delving into its customer database and using a new customer relationship management strategy to deliver service based on its shoppers’ needs. 

“The recession forced all consumers, even those with money, to seek out deals, and it is no surprise that the retail world became more promotionally driven,” said Tom Woodside, VP marketing and e-commerce, Crabtree & Evelyn, Woodstock, Conn. “We gave away discounts for the last few years. But now it is time to deliver more targeted promotions so we are not giving away margin.”

Previously, the skin-care and home accessories chain had a rudimentary loyalty program that produced a vast amount of data. But lacking methodology, the program didn’t help the company when it came to who and where to target its efforts. The program, called Platinum, rewarded shoppers the first week of the month, regardless of when or how often they visited the store. 

Crabtree & Evelyn’s new loyalty initiative is a tiered approach designed to recognize its best customers and deliver value, according to Woodside. 

“We combine promotions and discounts, but with more of an element of surprise, with more indulgence-based, in-store experiences, such as five-minute massages,” he said.

The key to the program’s success was to use a CRM solution that helps the chain understand shoppers’ purchase behavior, and use data to make decisions that help the chain appropriately service shoppers. Crabtree & Evelyn added a CRM solution from Burlington, Mass.-based 89 Degrees. 

The chain consolidated its marketing databases to get a total view of its customers, a move that gave the chain insight into which channels consumers are shopping in, and the offers to which they respond. Using this information, the chain can segment customer clusters and deliver the proper experiences. >

The CRM solution was rolled out in the fall, and the chain quickly used it to understand shopping patterns and deliver holiday campaigns in November and December. 

“We generated three times the capital we invested in the solution, as well as increased incremental volume,” Woodside said. 

The retailer began transitioning its email database to the solution in January, and by spring the solution supported another campaign. It is currently integrating the solution to the new loyalty program. 

“We are adding a new point-of-sale system that will allow us to trigger promotions based on customer behavior,” Woodside explained. “The new technology will be available by the fourth quarter, and by providing their loyalty card or telephone number, the shopper will instantly be recognized.”


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Product Mix Gives Edge to Learning Express


When Sharon DiMinico started Learning Express in 1987, she never envisioned it would grow into the largest franchisor of specialty toy stores in the United States. But her emphasis on providing toys that encouraged creativity and learning, coupled with an expert sales staff and a hands-on atmosphere where kids could test out the products and their skills, proved a winning strategy. 
From one store to its current 150 locations, Learning Express has stayed true to DiMinico’s original concept. The company has thrived by differentiating itself from the big-box national chains that dominate the category and compete mainly on price. It has carved out its own niche, setting itself apart with unique toys not found at larger retailers and with services such as a birthday gift registry for kids, free gift-wrapping, free personalization and family events. Strong community roots, fostered by fundraising and other charitable programs, enhance its appeal with local shoppers. 
DiMinico remains at the helm of Learning Express. She spoke with Chain Store Age about the company and its plans for the future. 

What was your retail experience prior to founding Learning Express?

Prior to Learning Express, I owned a ceramic tile, marble and granite installation business that was located in an upscale shopping center. It was a 5,000-sq.-ft. showroom, and it also featured a kitchen shop and bath shop.

How did you come up with the Learning Express concept?

I had two young children and became frustrated with the lack of quality toys and games available in my neighborhood. I thought there was a need in the market that had not been met, so I set out to create the kind of store I wished for as a mother.

When and where did the first store open?

In 1987, I chaired the board of directors at the Groton Community School in Massachusetts. I opened the first Learning Express store to raise revenue for the school without raising tuition. But the first company store openedin Needham, Mass., in 1988. The first franchised Learning Express store opened in 1990 in Andover, Mass.

How is Learning Express different from other toy stores? What is the customer experience like? 

We greet our customers by name at Learning Express and pride ourselves on our product knowledge, which enables us to help customers choose the perfect toy by age, interest or occasion.

Our stores are clean, bright and organized by age for young children and then by interests: Arts & Crafts, Science, Construction, etc. The typical store is buzzing with activity — product demos, play dates and special events — and offers helpful customer services like free gift wrapping, free personalization and our Birthday Box program.

Why did you decide to franchise?
I believe successful retailers are the ones that respond to their local market. Franchising was the perfect way to blend a proven business model with the insight that individual owners can offer.

Are there any corporate-owned stores?
We currently do not have any corporately owned stores, but we have plans to open a flagship location in the near future. It will serve as the training site for all our new owners, and will allow us to test drive new products and marketing programs.

Is there a typical Learning Express franchisee? 

Absolutely not! Our franchisees come to us from all walks of life — everyone from twin sisters in their thirties, one of whom was a commercial pilot, to retired grandfathers. But they all share one very important motivating characteristic: the entrepreneurial spirit.

What about real estate — what type of locations work best for Learning Express? 

Most of our locations are destination stores in freestanding buildings in town centers, or inline at upscale, grocery-anchored shopping centers. This type of real estate works well with the friendly, personal shopping environment we offer.

How does Learning Express position itself and compete against the national discount chains that compete very aggressively on toys, particularly during the holidays?

We have exclusive products that we develop every year with some of our top vendors, and these products are available only at Learning Express. These products, along with our competitive promotions, never fail to drive traffic. Beyond that, it’s our expert advice and our services that set us apart from the big-box stores. Also, there is a growing awareness about the importance and the advantages of shopping locally.

Learning Express opened up pop-up shops during the past two holiday seasons. How did they do, and is that something that will continue? 

In the past two years, our “pop-up” stores have been a hot commodity for landlords seeking to represent the toy category in the fourth quarter, as many retail spaces — particularly in malls — remained partly empty due to the economic downturn.

All of the Learning Express holiday stores are owned and operated by existing franchisees who are approached by a local landlord. These temporary stores are incredibly lucrative, and we are certainly interested in continuing the program, but it is entirely dependent on the economic conditions.

How many stores do you expect to open in 2011?

We opened 14 new locations in 2010, bringing our total store count to 150 — an important milestone in the history of the franchise. We plan to open an additional 15 to 20 stores in the coming year.

In 2010, how did Learning Express stand in average sales per square foot?

They range from $285 to $971 per square foot.

Learning Express prides itself on offering a memorable shopping experience. What other retailers do you think do a good job in this regard?

Nordstrom and The Container Store.

As CEO, what’s your favorite part of the job?

It’s still all about the product for me. I am very active in selecting which products we advertise and which products we order for our new stores.


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