Grocery Outlet independent operators leverage merchandising to success in greater Seattle

Posted May 17th, 2017

Merchandising is a strong tool in learning how to set up a grocery store – one where Grocery Outlet allows full creative freedom

If there’s one thing Jeff and Erin McNeil know well, it is how to set up a grocery store. The independent operators of Grocery Outlet’s Renton and Skyway, WA, locations are so good at merchandising that they draw customers from far and wide, as the two stores have become destinations in their own right.

Portrait of Erin and Jeff McNeil
Erin and Jeff McNeil, independent operators of Grocery Outlet’s Skyway, WA, and Renton, WA, stores, are experts at merchandising.

Grocery Outlet gives independent operators like Jeff and Erin full autonomy to make merchandising and operating decisions for their stores. Experienced grocery store managers under corporate micromanagement find the Grocery Outlet approach to be a refreshing change. It’s one of the main reasons why the McNeils came on board.

Grocery Outlet encourages operators’ creative expression

The McNeils became independent operators of the Renton, WA, store in 2010 and of the Skyway location, just about four miles away, in 2013. Before Grocery Outlet, Erin was a buyer for Central Market and Jeff had his own grocery consulting business. The two knew they wanted to start a grocery store business and found something they liked in the autonomy offered by Grocery Outlet’s operating model. They also appreciated not having had to put up a huge outlay of cash up front.

Bowling alley-themed decorations sit over refrigerated shelves of meat and cheese.
The McNeils deliberately chose a bowling theme for the Renton, WA, location because it used to be bowling lanes before it became a Grocery Outlet.

Realizing that attracting customers from far away could really drive sales, the McNeils made a conscious decision to open a grocery store that could also be a destination. They bought fixtures and created a “theme” for each store. The Renton location was previously a bowling alley, which inspired that location’s theme.

The Skyway location is all “retro” with Route 66 paraphernalia and nostalgia-inducing elements such as jukeboxes, pinball machines and life-size dolls of Betty Boop, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis.

A vintage pinball machine, jukebox and Betty Boop statue decorate a wine display.
The McNeils have merchandised the Skyway, WA, Grocery Outlet location with a “retro” theme and customers call it the “museum” store. Here Betty Boop greets wine aficionados.

Customers come from near and far to the “museum” store, Jeff says. The investment in memorabilia and conscious merchandising has paid off rich dividends for the McNeils. “The word-of-mouth has been tremendous; we had to attract customers from far away, so this has really drawn them in,” the McNeils say.

Grocery Outlet encourages operators’ creative expression

When you learn how to set up a grocery store, you have to “merchandise with intent,” the McNeils say. This means an emphasis on design and cleanliness and making sure the products are grouped together well to make shopping an enjoyable experience.

Grocery Outlet’s rotating catalog of deeply discounted products also keeps these customers coming back. The Natural, Organic, Specialty, Healthy (NOSH) products and wines are special draws. “Wine, cheese and NOSH items are great ways to attract the gourmet-savvy customers, so we have an extensive wine department in the stores,” Jeff says.

Since the McNeils work hard at making each store stand out through inventory and merchandising, they are not cowed by the intense competition in the area. “We can’t control our competition but we can invest in our stores and make them attract customers,” Jeff says, “Our goal is not just to be a great Grocery Outlet, it is to be a great store. Period.”

From all indications, the McNeils have two great stores that are standouts in a competitive market. They value Grocery Outlet’s autonomy over merchandising decisions and the variety of inventory, which they have leveraged successfully over the years.

Learn more about Grocery Outlet

If you’re an industry professional considering how to set up a grocery store, we urge you to consider Grocery Outlet, especially given our sustained and enduring momentum. You can download our free information report for more details about our business or learn more by visiting our research pages.