Shopko brings new attitude
By MJ Clark
December 7, 2012 --
LANDER — The parking lot is the same on the outside, and the clerks are the same on the inside. That's about the end of the similarities between what used to be a Pamida store on Main Street, and what has just reopened as a Shopko Hometown.
Shopko Hometown stores are targeted for communities of 3,000 to 8,000 people, and carry about 70 percent of the merchandise offered by the larger-town Shopko Stores.
On Main Streets across Wyoming a similar transition has taken place, as former Pamidas have been gutted, scrubbed, painted, re-lit and restocked with a better grade of merchandise, then reopened as Shopko Hometowns.
W. Paul Jones, president and CEO of Shopko explained that the "radical" transformation of the stores (both owned by Shopko) has cost about a half million in capital per store, but is worth the investment.
"When we took Pamida over," he said, "they were barely making a profit. They had great people, but Pamida had no merchandise strategy, they were not well maintained and the stock was poorly replenished."
Former Pamida customer John Boulette, waiting outside for the Lander store's grand opening, said "Pamida got kind of crowded, and their floor plan was not good."
So, Jones explained, he kept the people and re-did everything else. Today, he said that the new Shopko Hometown stores have seen an average 40 percent lift in profits with a 20 percent comparable increase in sales performance.
The increase in sales performance means that, not only do the Shopko salespeople have a cleaner, brighter, better-stocked work environment. They also have better job security because a profitable store is more likely to endure.
Customers benefit because the new stores, Jones said, are now "World class, as good as any retailer in the marketplace."
The boost in sales is due in part because the quality of the merchandise is better, with brands like Nike, Adidas, New Balance and Gloria Vanderbilt stocking the shelves instead of low-priced knockoffs.
"We have more of the fun, discretionary categories that [Pamida] just didn't do any business in," he said.
What Shopko has done, Jones said, is to reinvent the general merchandise store for small communities by "providing not only the needed categories, but the wanted categories, without [customers] having to drive 30-45 minutes to the nearest larger town."
Customers in small communities are totally neglected by big business, Jones said. "[Stores like Walmart] tell consumers that they have to travel to them to shop. We believe that customers want quality and great-value merchandise in their own community," he added.
Boulette told the Business Report that he almost never went to the Walmart 30 miles away in Riverton, and "as long as they have good deals of the week or month here, I'll shop here."
Boulette had a Shopko ad in each hand: one a direct-mail piece, the other distributed through a local newspaper. "I like their ads," he said.
During the store transitions, the pharmacies remained open. This is due in part to Shopko's recognition of the need for uninterrupted prescription service. But it is also linked to the company's heritage.
Shopko got its start in 1962 when Chicago pharmacist James Rubin moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin and opened the first store. Back then, Rubin envisioned a store where people could do more for their health than pick up prescriptions, so he became one of the first pharmacies to also offer eye care. While the Lander store won't be competing with the town's two optical stores anytime soon, they, like all Shopko pharmacists are certified to provide flu shots.
Store Manager Dave Lively, who moved from Des Moines to run the store, addressed the crowd before the ribbon came down. "I really want to thank the staff," he joked, "because without them I would have died getting everything ready."
Then, he presented a check for $2,500 to Lander Valley High School, posed for a few pictures, had a few local dignitaries speak briefly, and cut the ribbon. One of the last Wyoming Shopko stores to open was ready for business.
Wyoming Business Report Editor MJ Clark found herself among the first 50 shoppers at the Lander Shopko.