Innovating Grocery Design Since 1963

With nearly 60 years of experience designing grocery stores across the country, BRR’s history is intertwined with that of the overall grocery industry. Since our founding in 1963, we have worked with top grocers as they continue to develop and roll out new store formats. We sat down with three of our most experienced grocery architects as they discussed the key factors that have impacted grocery design over their careers.

Q: What’s the biggest grocery innovation you’ve been involved in?

A: John Schweiger
I think one of the biggest things I’ve worked on with several different stores is how the complexity of a grocery store has evolved. Grocery stores used to be a lot simpler. They would have a bakery, a deli and a meat department and over the years we’ve helped to divide that up into so many different programs within each area. Some stores provide prepared foods sections including Chinese food, Italian food and stir fry, and we have helped grocers develop each one of those different areas. Even within the bakery, some of them have their own donut shops, their own cookie stations and specialty breads, even cake decorating, which is one trend we’ve been helping Hy-Vee with. So, each one of those departments has kind of been split off and experimented with, and I would say one of the biggest that I’ve seen lately is how Hy-Vee is pushing the health aspect. They’re not just trying to put healthy options within each department. They pulled those products out and created a specific health food section, which is unique compared to some of our other clients.

Q: What do you think has been the most pivotal moment in grocery design?

A: Teresa Murphy
I think the biggest moment, hands down, has to be the click and collect grocery pick up or buy online and pick up in store programs, each client has their own name for it, but that’s changed everything. Some grocers across the country had already started to implement these programs into their stores but when the pandemic hit, the need was accelerated. BRR had been working with several clients to refine this service for a while so when COVID hit, we were able to jump in and help all of our grocery clients add this on to their stores extremely quickly and efficiently.

Q: How has the customer experience impacted store design?

A: John Schweiger
One thing I’ve noticed for sure over the years is how each store must cater to several different customer types. There are many different shoppers who will use the store and it needs to be convenient for all of them. There are the folks who want to go in and quickly grab what they want and get out. Then, there’s the people that like to go mosey around a bit, maybe sit down and have a coffee, maybe they grab some food before shopping. But what’s key for all grocers is the need to accommodate every type of shopper that will walk into the store. The customers’ continued demand for convenience has impacted grocery design and layout and I don’t think that will change.

Q: What trend has BRR had an impact on through the grocery industry?

A: Rich Majors
All of the above. We talked about the pivotal moments in grocery and from everyone’s stories it shows that BRR was right there with each one. From adding grocery to big-box retailers to working with grocers on developing more specialty shops within the store to the recent demand for grocery pickup, BRR has been there through it all. The other thing I’d like to mention is how BRR’s grocery experience has impacted so many people. Literally millions of people see our work every day and we can help families through lowered cost or a better shopping experience. Whether it’s buy online, pickup in store, or the in store experience, our designers and our grocery fulfillment impact so many people each day. I think that’s really amazing.

Q: What’s next for grocery design?

A: Rich Majors
There are three different areas that I see continuing to develop in the coming years. The first is how net zero will impact the industry. Many grocers are attempting to limit their carbon footprint, which is difficult to do in a grocery store because of all the refrigeration units, but we are seeing owners try to produce more energy onsite and be more sustainable. Next, is the idea of grocery pickup. This trend isn’t going anywhere after how popular it became during the pandemic and we believe grocers will continue to hone this program and bring even more convenience to the customer. Similar to this is grocery delivery service and the idea of 15-minute delivery. Can you imagine cooking at home and realizing you’re out of a certain spice so you order it online and 15 minutes later your doorbell is ringing with the delivery of that missing item? The continued competition for more convenience will influence the future of grocery forever.

About the authors:

Rich Majors, AIA. Over the course of 30 years, Rich has touched more than 100 million square feet of global retail space for BRR’s clients. As Co-Chairman of the Board, he focuses on enhancing the firm’s standards and streamlining design processes to create consistency across offices and programs. Rich’s dedication to continual improvement has been essential for enhancing our project delivery methods. Rich has been a principal at BRR since 2003 and served as the firm’s Chief Operating Officer from 2011 to 2021. Email him.

Teresa Murphy, AIA. Teresa has nearly 35 years of experience in the architectural design of retail, commercial, theater and medical projects. She has been instrumental in site adapting large-scale prototypical retail projects across the country ranging from 15,000 sq. ft. to 195,000+ sq. ft. to fit unique sites in a variety of jurisdictions. Email her.

John Schweiger, AIA, LEED AP. John has been with BRR since 1990 and is critical to maintaining a high level of quality in our projects. Throughout his career, he has provided leadership on all phases of design development and has been directly involved in the preparation and quality control of construction documents. Email him.