In the U.S., hypermarkets are often looked down upon by shoppers who associate their huge inventories and low prices with an unpleasant shopping experience. In Mexico, on the other hand, which has few luxury supermarkets and a culturally ingrained expectation of value, hypermarkets are well accepted by every sector of the population. This strong position, not surprisingly, has led to Walmart owning roughly half the Mexican market for this type of store.
When the Mexican-owned Chedraui chain was looking to grab a bigger share of that enchilada, it wanted a design that would combine the message of value and abundance with a shopping environment that wasn’t the typical visual assault of endless signage, harsh light and overcrowding. For this, the architectural firm Little (Charlotte, N.C.) was given carte blanche – aside from the Chedraui logo and the color orange on the exterior – and the ambitious charge of creating the “Eiffel Tower” of the region.
Although it may not suggest Paris, the store that opened in Guadalajara in December 2008 is still pretty striking, with a façade of tubular aluminum enameled panels that stands in sharp contrast to the familiar-looking Sam’s Club and Costco across the street. But the 90,000-square-foot interior is just as notable – and different. “In my 13 years at Little,” says studio principal Daniel Montaño, “we’ve never gone as deep as this in terms of the number of signs we changed. We touched every single one, and we eliminated more than we created and re-created.”
“Before, every sign had a logo,” adds Little art director Santiago Crespo. “But we don’t believe in that approach. Once you’ve entered the store, you know where you are, and the brand should be presented in a different light.” Many of the environmental graphics echo the rounded shape and the top-and-bottom division of the store’s logo.
While most competitors have illustrations and photography around the entire perimeter of the store, the Chedraui in Guadalajara is bright white and minimalist. “Our philosophy has always been to allow the color of the packaging to be the accent in the environment,” Montaño explains.
A soft, simple color scheme in the signage indicates different product lines (gray for food, green for hard goods and blue for soft goods) and the few photos are large and without people. The store lighting is a combination of natural light and overhead fluorescents with just a few spots. Also, long runs of gondolas have been broken up by tabletop displays, creating a more spacious and approachable setting.
The store design was an unexpected adaptation of the one Little created in 2007 when it won the job of designing what would have been Chedraui’s flagship store in Mexico City’s Santa Fe marketplace. While the Santa Fe site has been secured, Chedraui decided to test its prototype in a similar demographic area in Guadalajara.
“We had four months [May through August 2008] to adapt the Santa Fe design to the Guadalajara store,” Montaño says. Among other things, Chedraui asked Little to tone down the exterior so that it wouldn’t outshine what eventually would be in Santa Fe. “It was a very intense four months,” he says.
Chedraui and Little will use this concept for future stores, and many of its elements will be rolled out to existing ones. “One of our biggest successes was that our design for Santa Fe proved to be a viable prototype,” says Little design director Todd Rowland, “because we were able to easily adapt it for another location. What was built is Guadalajara is pretty much a manifestation of our concept sketches.” And now, waiting for their original design to come to life in Mexico City, they can feel a lot more confident.
Grupo Chedraui, S.A de C.V , Mexico City, Mexico
Little, Charlotte, N.C.
Construlita, Queretaro, Mexico
Master Printing Group, Mexico City, Mexico
Confer, S.A. de C.V., Mexico City, Mexico
Exterior Aluminum Panels
Alpolic, Chesapeake, Va.