In the depths of a historically cold Midwestern winter, one market has remained particularly hot for Chicago commercial general contractors—grocery store construction.
The Chicago grocery construction market has long been dominated by two titans of the industry-Jewel-Osco and Dominick’s. Yet in the last several months, this status quo has changed dramatically, as Dominick’s stores closed every one of its 72 locations in the Chicago area in December, pulling out of the market completely.
This changing of the guard has brought a tremendous amount of opportunity to new grocery providers, new store concepts, and, national general contractors with expertise in grocery store expansions.
Now, Chicago specialty grocers and other regional chains will have an opportunity to gain a larger piece of the market in Chicago. With 57 of the 72 closing Dominick’s up for grabs, this has already begun to happen. As the owner of one of Chicago’s best grocery construction contractors, I find the most exciting and surprising thing about the process is the sheer amount of grocers expanding in the market.
As I said before, this was typically a two-store town. Not anymore.
Specialty brands like Whole Foods and Mariano’s are making moves because of the recent closings, and Dominick’s main competitor, Jewel-Osco, has also snatched up several of the stores. Yet more than just these three providers are expanding. Specialty stores such as Trader Joe’s, Native Food’s, Mrs. Greens and Pete’s Fresh Market are expanding at rapid clips as the Dominick’s closings have left many suburbs and neighborhoods undersupplied. The moves have not just been in the high-end or mid-market either, budget grocers such as Aldi and Ultra Foods have become staples in many markets across Chicago.
At Englewood Construction, we completed grocery construction projects for many of these brands, most recently on five Trader Joe’s across Chicago and the suburbs.
When undertaking a big grocery construction project, there are a few things that the best general contractors will always look out for.
- Parking is a premium. Parking is important with almost any retail construction project, but with grocery, it is even more important. Most shoppers like to stock up for a week or more, prompting them to drive to the store. If parking is not a top priority for your development, you could have a problem. Recently, we completed a Trader Joe’s in Chicago on Diversey Parkway that required two levels of parking to be built on top of the store. The area demographics were amazing, but Trader Joe’s needed an innovative parking construction solution to fit the lot’s footprint.
- Shoppers, get your carts. Shopping cart placement may not seem like a big deal, but with grocery store construction it is huge. The majority of shoppers will be using a cart and where they are strategically placed in the store and (especially) in the parking lot can make a world of difference. The last thing your grocery store construction project needs is a logistical nightmare because proper cart storage space has not been accounted for.
- Start on the frozen foods early. It’s best to start on infrastructure for the refrigeration section early. The equipment is so large, when it arrives, it needs to be installed right a way so it is not taking up valuable space.
- Reuse existing infrastructure when possible. Obviously, a grocery store requires more infrastructure than a typical retail location, with the freezer section and a powerful HVAC system necessary. If you can reuse existing space, as is the case with Dominick’s, it is always best and the most cost efficient approach. However, the best commercial contractors will help grocers differentiate themselves from previous users and rebrand the space appropriately. Shoppers should feel like they are walking into a completely different store when they enter.
- Create an experience, not just a grocery store. The emergence of the specialty grocers has been based on creating a special experience for shoppers. Some of these stores have cafes, wine bars and even sushi bars. Shoppers want an experience today and perks like cooking demonstrations or free sample stations will bring them back. Making sure the floor space and layout is able to house all of these possibilities is an important step in the grocery store construction process.
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