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Whole Foods’ Reno location based on ample amenities

Pat Patera

Grocery retailers jostled last week to make room for the mammoth Whole Foods Market that opened at a former ShopKo location on South Virginia Street.

The 52,000-square-foot supermarket on steroids includes a from-scratch bakery, fish market, butcher shop and a cheese selection its public relations team calls the largest in town. Plus a cooking school. And a coffee bar. Add to that a range of restaurant options salad bar, grill and pizzeria with outdoor bistro and indoor family-style seating.

Whole Foods Market operates about 270 stores in 37 states, but the Reno store was designed to suit the locale, says David Larkin, regional president. To appeal to outdoor types, stone was salvaged from a Lake

Tahoe building and built into a lodge-like structure inside the entry.

During the opening epoch, some employees have been issued red aprons and assigned to the search-and-rescue squad. Their mission: help customers navigate the store. Other employees are dedicated to decor, demos of unusual foods, and recycling efforts.

Despite the economic downturn that has some people pinching pennies, Whole Foods Market justifies providing such amenities.

“There’s not a retailer in the country who’s not thinking about the economy,” says Larkin.

But when times are tough, he says, “People want to treat themselves well, buy a nice steak and a bottle of

wine.”

To counter a perception that it’s an expensive place to shop, Whole Foods is promoting its private label foods, sold under the brand “365.” Those items, about 2,000 in all, are priced competitively with other supermarkets, he says, and comprise 10 to 15 percent of total product.

The company’s annual report notes Whole Foods continues to produce higher sales and higher sales per square foot than its publicly held competitors.

Sales at individual Whole Foods locations run $632,000 a week, the company has said, and sales per square foot total $923.

One reason Whole Foods posts better profits than mainstream grocers, says Larkin, relates to items made from scratch, which bring higher margins.

The higher sales, Larkin says, also reflect what he calls “empowered team members.” He points to a corporate culture that allows decisions to be made at regional and even store levels.

And while soaring energy prices dismay many companies, Whole Foods points to a litany of energy-saving steps already in place in its Reno store. The building’s lighting gets an assist from skylights. “That day lighting provides immediate payback,” says Larkin. “As does reclaiming heat from refrigeration to heat the building.”

Freezer cases are lit with energy-saving LEDs. Even the building’s insulation is green, as it’s made from recycled denim.

“It makes no business sense not to do these things. Energy savings get better and better as energy costs rise,” Larkin says.

Starting wages at the Reno store are $11.50 an hour, with a pay scale comparable to the northern California market, says Larkin. Twenty cents of the company’s sales dollar goes to wages and benefits.

“We had no trouble filling jobs,” he adds.

Whole Foods has been snidely called “Whole Paycheck” by critics who complain of its pricing. But the tag is a misnomer, says Larkin. He explains: That line morphed from the original statement from a happy customer who said they liked the store so much they could shop every day and spend their whole paycheck

there.

The company headquartered in Austin, Texas, started in 1979 and grew from an original natural foods store.

“It was all just hippies trying to find their way,” Larkin says.


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