August 2018 //

Creating a Sense of Community Through Grocery Store Design

By Celena Lim

Growing up in Southern California, I never felt a sense of community at my local grocery store. Every Sunday, my parents drove to the nearest supermarket with the sole purpose of getting the items needed as swiftly as possible.

A trip to the grocery store can be a mundane task people dread and would rather avoid. For some, the grocery experience is chaotic and can be difficult to navigate efficiently.

However, picture this: you walk into a grocery store – it’s bright, the products are easily visible, and you’re greeted with a warm welcome. You walk through the aisles with labels detailing where the product is sourced and where the food is actually delivered from. You feel a sense of community as you meander through the store and realize what a difference it makes to have assistance when needed and access to knowledgeable staff. Upon leaving, you realize you’ve had a pleasant experience. This experience is a PCC Community Markets (PCC) experience; – the community is the owner and its team strives to provide “the best of the best” for those shopping there.

Growing up in Southern California, I never felt a sense of community at my local grocery store. Every Sunday, my parents drove to the nearest supermarket with the sole purpose of getting the items needed as swiftly as possible. There was nothing special about the store; the inefficient wayfinding and poor lighting made it difficult to locate necessities. The thought of a grocery store acting as more of a central place customers thoroughly enjoyed being part of seemed inconceivable. This imagery immediately changed when I moved to Seattle and was informed the grocery market and co-ops were a huge asset to the city. It took some time for me to fully comprehend this notion, but when I witnessed the community engagement around the neighborhood markets, it all made sense.

PCC stood out from the rest; quality and honesty shape the brand’s culture from the products in stock to the integrity of the company’s promise to maintain transparency with its customers. One of the biggest questions often asked is, “How does PCC stay relevant against its competitors?” The insight I received from Jess Vahedian, senior design manager at PCC, was extremely enlightening. Jess’ impression of PCC started from a customer standpoint, as she states:

When I first moved to Seattle, the Green Lake location was my first store. There is something to be said about how people talk about the locations. You’ll often hear people refer to a location as “my store,” and as a co-op there really is something to that. PCC really is a company that has been built by and for the community it is in and serves.”

Furthermore, since they are community owned, PCC is only accountable to members and the communities they serve, not Wall Street or private investors.

The collaboration between MG2 and PCC opened many doors for growth and further development for both the firm and me personally. As MG2 continues to expand the Food and Beverage (F&B) expertise within the firm, introducing grocery work provided its own set of challenges. My initial role starting at MG2 focused on the firm’s White Castle account, and during that process, I realized my career interests aligned with becoming more of a F&B expert and honing those skills. Being part of the PCC account and working closely with the client has truly been equal parts informative and inspirational.

Burien, WA is the first PCC store MG2 worked on and given a challenging project schedule, all hands were on deck to make this vision a reality. Notably, this location is the first full store re-design for PCC and many aspects of the project were a learning curve for future locations.

Here are the top three things I learned to keep in mind when designing a grocery experience:

  1. Lighting. It seems prevalent that lighting defines the user-experience in any given space, which is exceptionally true at a grocery store. The way products are showcased and how customers navigate reflects on the illuminance level; and that goes for all hours of the day when staff members are preparing for the store to open, up until the cleaning process before the store closes. Burien introduced new lighting features to enhance the user experience at each department, which encouraged further development to create a more uniform lighting level throughout the store for both customers and staff.
  2. Layout Design and Wayfinding. Easy accessibility and flow are key to avoid hectic foot traffic, especially during busy hours. The various departments encompass the store and act as a perimeter for customers to conveniently locate certain areas they seek interest. One rule of thumb for PCC is to never overstock and place items above the shelving or refrigeration. All the items you see on the shelf draws the customer’s peripheral vision to what is present at eye level and having neutral materiality allows for the products to be the highlight.
  3. Sustainability. The integration of sustainable finishes into the PCC stores originated in the late 90s and created a sustainability triple bottom line mantra of balancing economy, social and environmental impact. Understanding the client’s point of view in terms of achieving certain certification levels influences all facets of the grocery design process – from sourcing materials to the quantity of reused equipment and furniture. This layer of information affects every team from architectural to MEP coordination and can alter the project schedule. PCC Burien is targeted to be the first location to receive LEED V4 certification.

Since the opening of Burien, the response from the community has been positive and reading comments from the customers helps us understand more about what the community seeks at their PCC location. With permission, there were a couple reviews from Burien locals worth sharing:

Jencen R. wrote, I am absolutely thrilled to live near the newest PCC location! I fell in love with PCC markets for their ready to eat salads, vegetables and proteins…Aside from their prepared food counter, they do an incredible job of supporting local businesses. They’ve got milk and produce from local farms. I actually discover a new vegetable every time I come in, and I’m a total foodie! Last time it was a broccolini-kale hybrid and the time before was purple kohlrabi. Lots of exciting ingredients!”

Gary W. wrote, I have to say that PCC is working to provide a closer, positive customer experience instead of pushing brand names and maximizing throughput in and out of the store. They worked with WABI (Walk/Bike Burien) to provide a bike friendly store with bike racks by the door where you can easily bike to PCC and secure your bike while shopping…Fantastic that PCC worked with Burien city planning and other organizations to be a great community member and role model for other businesses in Burien.”

When you read comments like these, you understand that the customer’s loyalty speaks for itself. If you have yet to step foot into a PCC, I encourage you to do so. You will realize that each location is considered a communal gathering space and that truly drives from the local community.

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