These photos, taken in 1966, show the Kroger location at Dover Center and Oviatt Road in Bay Village, Ohio, an affluent suburb of Cleveland. The store had just reopened after a brief closure for remodeling. First is a color shot of the store’s façade, followed by alternating black-and-white and color photos that provide a “before and after” look at the various departments.
The story of Kroger Bay Village involves one of the earlier attempts by a major supermarket chain at molding the “look and feel” of an entire store to fit the preferences of a specific demographic, as opposed to mere promotional displays. The remodeling came about as a result of a joint effort between Kroger, Progressive Grocer magazine, and the Reuben H. Donnelley Corporation, a company best known as a major publisher of Bell System telephone directories. Progressive Grocer was in the midst of its landmark “Consumer Dynamics” study, the main purpose of which was to help supermarkets identify and respond to demographic characteristics of their shoppers. Ultimately a series of categories, based on age, marital status, income levels and ethnicity was arrived at. To make (an extremely) long story short, it was concluded that supermarket chains would be wise to maintain a complete selection across all demographics, yet to tailor each individual location with the predominant local demographic in mind. To borrow an example from another study, while all Kroger stores might maintain a minimum inventory of a particular exotic vegetable on an upper shelf, higher income area stores would carry it in quantity, displaying it more prominently.
Participating in the study, Kroger decided to offer their Cleveland division as a guinea pig, with the intent of deploying the Consumer Dynamics Study recommendations in select stores identified as serving a predominant demographic group. An exhaustive study based on census data and the Donnelley firm’s market research was carried out, and the Cleveland area was segmented into the above-mentioned categories. A high income area store, the Bay Village Kroger, was chosen first.
Ironically, the Bay Village store was not even two years old, having opened in August 1964 (the décor package was essentially the same as the previously featured Dallas NorthPark Kroger). The study research revealed that while Kroger enjoyed a good reputation in the area, residents assumed (correctly) that the local store was typical in every way, with nothing to distinguish it from the average relatively new Kroger. The upshot of this (not stated in the PG article), as nice as the store may have been, was that Kroger was potentially vulnerable in the event an upscale competitor moved into the area.
It was decided that the Bay Village Kroger undergo remodeling, to provide a more upscale, individual look, while maintaining the store’s basic identity as a Kroger. Greenery on the sidewalks, special lighting, carpeting in select areas, an expansion of the dairy, meat and bakery areas and the pièce de résistance – a new International Foods department, were implemented. “Carryout boys” were added, outfitted in sharp light blue blazers with brass buttons and bowties. Additionally, the store was given a distinct identity – it was referred to henceforth in all advertising as “Kroger of Bay Village”.
It worked. Sales were up in all departments, with a 35% overall increase in the first four weeks versus the previous year’s figures. Employees were fired up about the changes – “After being with Kroger for 15 years, I’ve never seen a remodeling that made such an impact on customers. Even the employees seem more cheerful”. Customers approved as well – “Items seem better arranged. Related things are now in the same sections. The International Foods are wonderful, but I doubt I can trust my husband. He’ll leave his whole paycheck there.” (Um, okay...)
Long term, it’s conceivable that this store influenced Kroger on its journey from generally conservative store design to the much more stylish Superstores of the early 70’s. Sadly, Kroger folded its tent in the Northeast Ohio area in 1984, a move still lamented by many.
Top to bottom, the photos show (1) the store exterior, (2, 3) the entrance/checkout area, sporting a new beamed ceiling with recessed lighting and blue/green carpeting (wonder how that stood up to Cleveland area winters?), and the toiletries area in the background with new elegant little lights, (4,5) the bakery area, with frozen bakery items now added (remember, they just taste expensive), (6,7) meats, expanded to add more cold cuts and a very heavy beamed canopy, suspended by chains (King Arthur would have felt at home in this department), and (8,9) produce (more new elegant little lights). Then, of course, is the true Cinderella story - where the nondescript pumpkin of a picnic goods section was transformed into a gleaming coach – the International Foods area (10,11), with a great, outrageous wall treatment, more blue/green carpeting and a chandelier that I find myself seriously digging. Gosh, I could spend my whole paycheck there!
Below are a few additional views – close-ups of the toiletries department, canned goods and baby items areas. Lastly is the “new items” area, a new feature introduced in the remodeling (with a mannequin, no less!). Featured that week were products from Minneapolis-based arch competitors Pillsbury and Betty Crocker, trademarks now long since owned by the same company, General Mills.