AURORA CHANGING RETAIL: Way, way beyond groceries

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AURORA | Would you like a recliner to go with that gallon of milk? Maybe a futon or a new watch?

That type of seemingly mismatched question is exactly what King Soopers Marketplace, Smoky Hill Road’s newest one-stop-shop powerhouse, is proposing to every customer that walks through its doors. The first Kroger-brand store of its kind in Aurora, KSM serves up far more than just groceries — they recently advertised $299 six-burner grills on the sidewalk in front of the store — and on a far larger footprint than one of the dozens of other grocery-only King Soopers in the region.

Alternative footprints and hyper-attention paid to community and demographic needs has been the crux of new grocer development over the past decade, and is exactly what acted as the impetus for constructing the city’s newest retail “supercenter” according to Kelli McGannon, King Soopers spokeswoman for the Mountain West.

“I’d call it the changing face of retail, because not that long ago you saw people, including us, building cookie cutter stores, but it’s no longer a-one-size-fits-all approach,” she said. “It’s more of a strategy of where to build new stores to best fit customer needs. We know they have a choice of where they shop, and we have to work hard to earn that business.”

According to the Food Marketing Institute, a retail “supercenter” is defined as, “a hybrid of a large traditional supermarket and a mass merchandiser” and typically averages about 170,000 square feet. And while Aurora’s new KSM doesn’t quite match the FMI’s average, its 125,000 square feet is more than double a solely-grocery King Soopers store, according to McGannon.

The KSM on Smoky Hill is one of six Kroger-brand supercenters in Colorado, all of which have sprung up in the past three years. And according to McGannon development is currently underway on two additional grocery-only King Soopers, including one in Downtown Denver, and another KSM.

Evidenced by a bustling opening of the Smoky Hill KSM on Jan. 14, customers have generally responded positively to the new everything-under-the-sun retail meccas.

“This will probably become one of my stopping points,” said Aurora resident Bob Scott.

But despite King Soopers’ construction of new mega-facilities, many grocers, including ones owned and operated by industry heavyweights such as Kroger, Target and Walmart, are being forced into smaller, preexisting footprints, particularly in urban cores.

“Everybody, King Soopers, Whole Foods, Sprouts, even Trader Joes is moving toward smaller footprints,” said Tim Gonerka, retail specialist for the city. “Mostly your grocery deserts are in urban areas, so you have to be able to work in those smaller spots. Restaurants, too, are having to rethink the paradigm, because they can’t just build in their perfect size -— it doesn’t work that way the closer you get to a city.”

Gonerka pointed to the concept of an impending Walmart Neighborhood Market, which offers a much smaller, faster shopping experience than its larger brand counterpart, as an example of this growing trend. Walmart is slated to open a Neighborhood Market in what was once Rancho Liborio on the corner of Havana Street and Colfax Avenue in Aurora on Jan. 28.

When land and demand are as present as they are in rapidly expanding east Aurora, however, both McGannon and Gonerka said that “supercenters” are both a boon for the local economy and allow large conglomerates such as Kroger an opportunity to broaden their niche offerings and enhance their overall customer experience.

“We’re able to offer more for our customers in one stop: grocery, apparel, quick meal solutions with expanded delis, more natural and organic choices, and fuel (gasoline) for the week,” McGannon said.

Gonerka added that specialty items help to add to the customer experience and that KSM’s early jump on the city’s eastern market provides it the unique ability to ebb and flow with demand.

“The fact that they’re starting from scratch in a neighborhood that should be able to support a larger store allows them to build the store they need instead of having to fit into something preexisting – it’s a good jump for them,” he said.

The KSM on Smoky Hill brought over 200 new jobs and has already been an economic asset, according to McGannon. Nationally, over 37,000 supermarkets employed nearly 3.5 million people and generated over $620 billion in sales in 2013, according to the FMI.