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Based on the comments of customers coming in to shop, Johnny Basha’s latest pet project is a success. They know the VP of special projects for the Chandler, Arizona-based chain by sight and by name, and they don’t hesitate to share their thoughts with him, as witnessed during ’s visit earlier this year to Bashas’ new concept store, located in the Cobblestone Village shopping centre at the southwest corner of Warner and McClintock roads in the Phoenix suburb of Tempe.

“We wanted something that wasn’t a conventional store and would cater to the surrounding neighbourhood that’s been our faithful supporters,” says Basha, explaining that the market was three years in the making, based on local needs as well as features of other stores he’s visited around the country.
 
To revitalise the area and contribute to the area’s stability, the 26-year-old store was completely remodeled last summer in accordance with the grocer’s newest prototype design — a contemporary neighborhood store with a fresh appearance — as part of a sweeping upgrade of the entire shopping centre. “During the last 80 years, we’ve opened a lot of stores,” Basha says. “We’ve closed a few, too. But it’s rare for us to close a store and rebuild a completely new store in the same spot.”
 
All indications so far are that the five-month remodel has been worth the wait. “Families were counting down the days for this new store to open,” says Store Director Chris Thompson.
 
With covered parking (welcome during Arizona’s blistering summers); a café with flatscreen TVs and free Wi-Fi; a deli with New York-style pizzas, specialty sandwiches and made-to-order salads; an expanded bakery with Peet’s Coffee, iced tea and drinks; organic and bulk foods; and local, farm-fresh produce, the Bashas’ team is bent on providing a one-of-a-kind experience to the neighbourhood faithful. 
 
“Better-for-you meals are very important to the demographic we serve in this store, so we focused on health and wellness, as well as healthy, convenient meal solutions,” Basha explains. “Our goal for this store was to perfect the destination areas of organics, bulk foods, Natural Choice [section] and foodservice, in order to bring those learnings and expectations to other stores in our chain.”
 
Delivering Solutions
 
Perhaps nearest and dearest to Johnny Basha’s heart is the market’s meal solutions centre, strategically positioned at the front of the store to better serve its “health-conscious, time-conscious” customers.
 
The meal solutions center displays all of the ingredients needed for three complete meals, along with “easy 20-minute” recipes; items are on shelves color-coded to the recipe cards to make them easy to fi nd. “Everything we’re trying to do is easy, convenient and healthy,” Basha says, explaining that the next steps will be live cooking demonstrations, Q&As and sampling to better illustrate the concept. “We’ll provide a chef at prime-time hours to help fold folks into the programme.”
 
Basha says that suppliers were very supportive in providing recipes and ingredient information. “It’s a great programme for them to sell their product as well,” he says, acknowledging that more needs to be done to educate shoppers about the programme. “We need better communication for our meal solutions area to help customers understand the convenience. It is still early, and we are still evaluating.”
 
Across from the recipe area is a display of snack ideas labeled “Family Time,” which Basha describes as “a big convenience store.”
 
Basha also aimed to ramp up the takehome and eat-in offerings of the deli and prepared food department. “We wanted to get away from the conventional deli and create a fresh environment,” he says. To that end, Bashas’ hired chef Gregory Casale, a veteran of fi ve-star resorts and the Paradise Bakery sandwich shop chain, to develop a menu of signature salads and specialty sandwiches rivaling restaurant offerings. 
 
The result: six salads, including the bestselling Berry Pecan Chicken with blue cheese, and others with such ingredients as Asian noodles and barbecued chicken, along with eight sandwiches — three hot, fi ve cold — available in combos with soup, chips, fruit and a drink.
 
Basha is also supremely proud of the store’s pizza, which he had a hand in creating, from the recipe to the box design. “No grocery chain touches our pizza,” he beams, noting that the store gets “a lot of phone orders and pickup.” Folks can buy a slice or whole pie to eat on-site, order a pizza to go that bakes while they’re shopping, or purchase the dough and other ingredients to make one at home. “We also have a very modern seating area that was strategically placed to make the dining experience very comfortable for our customers,” Basha notes.
 
The deli still offers mainstays like fried chicken and mac ‘n cheese, along with healthier items like eggplant parmesan with whole wheat pasta, plus grab-and-go sushi. 
 
Creating Destinations 
 
“My desire was to create an open, spacious environment that a customer would be comfortable in,” Basha says. “We want this to become the neighbourhood gathering centre.”
 
Part of that meant banishing aisle stacks to allow the free fl ow of shoppers and their carts. “They argued with me about that,” Basha says of other managers who now share his joy that “there’s no clutter — hundreds of customers have told me how much they enjoy shopping in an open environment.”
 
The design team aimed to create destination areas in the store. For example, “our pharmacy, Natural Choice and bulk area create one of the best health-and-wellness departments in the state,” Basha declares. Extending from produce back toward the pharmacy area, the store’s wellness area is where shoppers can fi nd natural and organic grocery items; more than 200 bulk food items like nuts, grains, granola, fl ours and coffee; and more conventional items that might not be widely known for their health benefi ts.
 
The latter items are identifi ed with a shelftag program — created by Bashas’ dietitian Barbara Ruhs (a PG columnist) — that calls out the products for being “gluten free,” “sugar smart,” “calcium smart” or “heart smart,” among other benefi ts.
 
“I have four grandchildren, and I’m concerned about what they and all the children in the neighborhood eat,” Basha says. “We need to be more conscientious about what children are eating.”
 
Signage in the produce section calls attention to “Arizona grown” products. “Our local and organic produce area demonstrates our commitment to freshness and healthy meals for families,” Basha says. “We’re proud to support local farmers. We want to push local, organics and value — the best of all worlds to everyone.”
 
Emphasis on local products extends throughout the store, including wine and spirits. Arizona brands like Grand Canyon Brewing Co. are well received, as are the large 1-pint, 6-ounce “bomber” containers of beer; the store offers 10 percent off six bottles of wine purchases in a special tote bag. “Our liquor department is uniquely placed and merchandised with great racking to feature our eclectic selection of fi ne wines,” Basha notes.
 
 
Brand
 
 
In addition to a wide selection of national, regional and local brands, Bashas’ own “Hometown Grocer” label can be found on meat, produce, bakery and select grocery items, designed “to convey local and freshness,” Basha says.
 
Meat and poultry offerings “reach out to all but are conscious of people on a budget,” he explains; they range from value-priced items like family packs to free-range, grass-fed, allnatural and organic.
 
The service butcher shop features 12 feet of service seafood, 12 feet of prepared (valueadded) meat entrées, and the grocer’s own 1855 Brand choice beef, steaks, roasts and Tenderloins.
 
In the bakery department, all doughnuts and bagels are made from scratch. A madeto- order cake station takes special orders for special-occasion and sheet cakes. Adjoining the bakery is a Peet’s Coffee and Tea branded coffee bar, offering a full range of hot and cold Beverages.
 
Family Time
 
According to Basha, a key group of 15 people was behind the design and execution of the new store, along with the cooperation of hundreds of vendors.
 
“Johnny pushed his team to go beyond what you fi nd in a typical Bashas’ store,” remarks Kristy Jozwiak, the grocer’s director of communications and public affairs. That extends down to extra touches, like full-length mirrors in the women’s restroom.
 
“This is a learning process for our members, and hopefully we can spread this throughout our chain,” Basha says. “It’s about our members, it’s about food, it’s about family. … It’s about letting our customers know we’ve been part of this community for 81 years and we’re proud to be their hometown grocer.”
 
The most rewarding part of the store opening so far, Basha says, “is the positive feedback from our members [the company’s term for employees] who, through this store, are excited about the future of Bashas’. We chose some of the best members to run this store, and will continually work on developing the new hires. We also feature some of our members on larger-than-life signage throughout the store.”
 
It all goes back to Bashas’ continuing mission to make its stores living, breathing, contributing members of the individual communities they serve.
 
“We have so many families in the neighbourhood, this is family time at home in the kitchen,” Basha says. “Ronald Reagan said all great change in America begins at the dinner table. We as grocers have a responsibility to create that change.”