Longo’s urban game plan

Strategy asked Rob Koss, VP marketing at Longo’s, how the store's new urban design speaks to the downtown Toronto shopper.

Walking into the Longo’s at Maple Leaf Square in Toronto feels as though you’re entering a chic outdoor market rather than a grocery store on the concourse level of a huge city building. Working with design firm Watt International, the new store opened on Oct. 6, 2010, but had been in the works since the grocer first sat down with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment back in 2006 and started planning.
It’s the latest urban location for Longo’s, which has 23 stores in the GTA. The family-owned business, which started out as Longo’s Fruit Market in 1956, is known for its large suburban locations outside the city.
Longo’s consulted with retail guru Paco Underhill, and conducted research on how shoppers downtown differ from those in suburbia. They found that there was an average of 1.7 people per dwelling, and they shop more often but buy less each time. While they do buy some items in bulk (like toilet paper), they come in more often for fresh items. Strategy asked Rob Koss, VP marketing at Longo’s, about how the design speaks to the downtown Toronto shopper.

Mapping it out
“It wasn’t a green field building where we’re starting from scratch, the footprint was established,” says Koss, when asked about the challenges of designing the store, which is accessible by elevator or a centrally-located escalator.
Unlike a typical grocery store, this Longo’s is conspicuously lacking in aisles, with only a few short ones in the packaged goods section. Working with the insight that urban customers won’t need a full shop each time, the 48,000 sq. ft. store is organized into large sections with three “paths of shopping,” outlined on maps for customers – a full shop, a fresh shop and a meal shop – eliminating the tendency to wander aimlessly looking for the right products.

Focus on freshness
The focus of this urban store is clearly on fresh ingredients, which dictates many of the design elements. There is a huge cheese island in the centre where customers can sample over 300 varieties. There is also an on-site butcher shop, a wood-burning pizza oven, a carving station, a coffee station where beans are roasted in-house and a chocolatier complete with a chocolate fountain. Many of these elements were tested first in various suburban locations, and then brought together for Maple Leaf Square.

Creating comfort
One element that hadn’t been tested in other Longo’s locations was the Corks Beer and Wine Bar – an actual licensed bar where customers can sample local drinks. The idea, says Koss, came from Mike Longo, VP of fresh merchandising, in response to the trend towards local products, and giving customers the opportunity to test them out.
The bar is located next to another unique feature – the Loft Lounge, an area equipped with sofas, a fireplace, flat-screen TVs, free Wi-Fi and Starbucks coffee.
And while these elements clearly keep the customer in the store longer, the real focus is providing a comfortable environment, says Koss. “It’s having the right music on and the right images on our video screen to really enhance the experience,” he says. “You can buy groceries anywhere, so the more pleasurable we can make that, the better.” 

Into the future
With six stores now in the 416 area code, such as the smaller Market store on Bloor, Koss says that Longo’s continues to test and learn. While the Maple Leaf Square store is still new, Longo’s will look into the possibility of incorporating some of the new design elements into new stores, such as the one opening in Milton next fall.

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