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A Single Point of Truth

Prototyping multi-store retail leads to substantial returns for Aldi

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GOOD DESIGN AIMS to optimize. Be it comfort, convenience, performance, energy, economy or efficiency, the goal of quality architecture is to improve the human experience of place and space in meaningful ways. For Aldi, one of America’s fastest-growing retailers, functional optimization and consistency of experience permeate every aspect of the business from the products to the facilities. Stocking their shelves with 77.5 percent private-label products (leading private-label product share), many of which are produced by the same suppliers as the name-brand version, Aldi takes pride in offering top-quality merchandise at 20 to 40 percent less cost than comparable products at other grocery chains.

“Our business is built on maximizing cost savings that we pass along to our customers,” says Russ White, Regional Director of Real Estate for Aldi, who joined the company as a District Manager in 1998 and oversees 80 locations throughout the Midwest U.S. “Our model is different by design. At approximately 20,000 square feet, our stores are smaller than other supermarkets which keeps our operational and energy costs low while offering our customers a similar, easy-to-shop layout no matter where they are. Everything from the size of our stores to how we display our products and even our 25-cent cart deposit all saves shoppers money.”

In addition to leading facilities projects throughout the Midwest, White also manages the Aldi National Prototype. Developed in partnership with APD Engineering & Architecture, PLLC, the ALDI prototype serves as a digital design template for the continual evolution of more than 2200 Aldi stores across 38 states. White reveals that controlling facility improvements through the prototype affords Aldi immense efficiency in creating near-identical stores from market to market. Aldi also beneficially leverages buying power in procuring equipment and materials on a national scale. The greatest benefit, however, is in the ability to pre-think and test planned changes virtually within the prototype before implementation for the certainty of success.

“Though we do have regional professional teams drawing specific store projects, whenever we improve a store, the starting point is always the national prototype,” says White. The prototype includes a fully modeled 3-D base building along with written and illustrated design guidelines that combine to form a comprehensive playbook for building and maintaining an Aldi store anywhere in the country. “We started developing our prototype quite a few years ago based on merchandising space and customer and store-employee needs..”

Providing a combination of design guidance, strategic thinking, and technical understanding of field conditions, the team at APD works to consider facility betterments within the Aldi prototype framework. Through the incorporation of specialized resources in structural, civil, and MEP engineering, and code and compliance, trial-and-error decision-making was eliminated.

“Fundamentally, prototyping is about creating a design model that can be adapted in multiple geographic locations with minimal site-specific modifications. We do this by designing universally and allowing flexibility in dimension and capacities,” says Dan Sargent, President, APD.

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The biggest challenge of owning and maintaining 2200 stores across 38 states is working through differing jurisdictional considerations like drainage, egress and fenestration.  “We have a dedicated permitting coordinator who is basically on a first-name basis with most major municipalities in America,” says Sargent. “She spends her time exploring codes and troubleshooting compliance concerns before the project is submitted.”

Having been hands-on with the Aldi prototype day-to-day for more than a decade, Sargent points out that the prototype serves as a single point of truth, which is invaluable when it comes to keeping all stakeholders on the same page.

Sargent also explains that once a retailer invests in a prototype, gaining consistency and repeatability is far easier than doing hundreds of projects a year with one-off designs. Though maintaining the prototype is an ongoing effort, APD has developed a streamlined system for distributing the design’s current drawing set and guidelines to store operators, architects, and builders all over the U.S.

“At Aldi, our mission is to provide communities access to fresh, award-winning groceries at the lowest possible prices,” White concludes. “Working with APD on the Aldi store prototype has enabled the real estate team to have a genuine impact on meeting our mission. That’s a point of pride.”

PHOTO GALLERY (5 IMAGES)
📷 Courtesy of Aldi | APD

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