by Terrie Ellerbee/editor-Midwest
Hy-Vee has crafted a store that appeals to a range of shoppers—from busy moms to bodybuilders to diabetics and diehard Doritos fans—and it does it in just 15,700 s.f. The first-ever Hy-Vee HealthMarket opened in West Des Moines, Iowa, on July 31.
Packaged cheese, Cheerios, lunchmeat, Coke and Mountain Dew are available, as are salads, healthy meals and refrigerated probiotics. There also are products people might previously only have purchased online, like protein shakes and bars. The magazines for sale are health-related and for men and women. There are vitamins, wine made with organic grapes, snacks, coffee, OTC medications, hair color, dairy products and frozen food items. Private label products are sold under the Hy-Vee and Full Circle brands.
“We want it to be a neighborhood store for the folks who live around here. They can come here and pick up those things that they’ve always bought, but at the same time we also want it to be a destination, so we do have that healthier piece,” said Matt Pertzborn, director of the Hy-Vee HealthMarket in West Des Moines.
While doing the weekly grocery shop, a Hy-Vee HealthMarket customer could peruse essential oils and homeopathic remedies. What is most surprising about the store is how much there is to see, sample and discover.
It also may just be the best-smelling grocery store on the planet. Just to the right of the entrance is Basin, with offerings like bath bombs and salts, solid perfumes and soap-like shampoo bars. Colorful, seasonal and fragrant soaps are lined up, and most every shopper who enters the store picks up at least one bar and inhales.
The centerpiece of Basin is the “bubbler,” a clear cylindrical tube with, yes, bubbles inside. There are three sinks in the area where shoppers can use Basin hand scrubs to wash their hands and then be treated to skin-softening heated paraffin wax.
The sights, smells and tactile sensations are intoxicating and, of course, deliberate.
Pertzborn said, “It sets the tone for individuals that it is a really upscale, fresh, nice store.”
With such a humble footprint, it is easy to see from the entrance all the way to the back, where the hearing center and pharmacy are located. In the aisles in between, there are products like herbal supplements and actor Mark Wahlberg’s Performance Inspired nutrition products. A video of Wahlberg working out plays on a screen in that aisle. The products are exclusive to Hy-Vee, thanks to a strong relationship between the actor and the grocer.
The hearing center includes an audio booth where shoppers can get a free hearing test. Hy-Vee has partnered with Lucid Technologies to create its own brand of hearing aids under the Capsure label. They are available for purchase in the hearing center.
See photos from the store here:
The right mix
Pertzborn said great care was taken in deciding what the assortment would be. Some sections are larger in the smaller store, like the vitamin set. Kombucha commands eight feet at Hy-Vee HealthMarket but just three or four feet in the employee-owned chain’s bigger stores.
“To try to dial into what we thought would work and what we thought would be best for the store, we’ve probably touched every single planogram and every single set at least twice,” Pertzborn said. “In some of our 90,000-s.f. stores, a section might be double what we have. We really shrunk it down and figured out what would be the right size. Our peanut butter and jelly set is three feet vs. other stores where it’s in 12 feet.”
Adding to the upscale, healthy image is an Orangetheory Fitness center that is adjacent to the market and separated by an interior door. Pertzborn said it is easy to tell when classes let out. Orangetheory members head straight for the market’s hydration station, where kombucha and cold brew coffee are on tap. A Bevi machine also allows for experimentation with still and sparkling waters and natural fruit flavors.
Pertzborn said Hy-Vee gets the kombucha from another Iowa company, Agri-Cultured, in nearby Waukee. Agri-Cultured created a blackberry lemonade kombucha exclusively for Hy-Vee.
“We have five of their flavors on tap. The first week the store was open, we sold more than 65 gallons of kombucha. We still sell more than 30 gallons a week,” he said. “They’re just amazed by how much kombucha we sell.”
Growlers are available at the hydration station or shoppers may bring their own and pay $10 for a half-gallon refill.
The cold brew coffee on tap is infused with nitrogen that pushes it through the tapping system. Once poured into a cup, nitro cold brew coffee looks like a dark stout beer.
Near the hydration station, there are bulk containers filled with pecans and walnuts and other varieties of nuts. Shoppers also can grind their own nut butters. Other bulk products are available, including granola, dried fruit, oats and more. Stacks of pre-packaged bulk items are ready for purchase as well.
A staff with the right stuff
Hy-Vee Chairman, President and CEO Randy Edeker told The Shelby Report that he handpicked Pertzborn to helm the HealthMarket.
“He was a perfect fit for that store, to try something new,” Edeker said. “He’s very energetic, very passionate. He always has a positive attitude. He’s just done a fabulous job.”
When it came time to fill out the staff, Pertzborn said the concept was so new to people within Hy-Vee that many didn’t know what to expect when the positions were posted.
“From a pharmacy and a dietitian standpoint—those who are a little bit more specialized in their education and in their skillset—when those openings came up, there were a lot of folks interested in the position,” he said. “Outside of that, we’ve got folks that have come from co-ops and who have that health background who heard that Hy-Vee was doing this and applied.”
The staff is small at just 32 people, and Pertzborn, who has been with Hy-Vee for 17 years, believes there is less employee turnover at the HealthMarket than in larger stores because there is so much interaction.
“You’re doing a little bit more training. You’ve got more communication. You’re really getting to know one another,” he said. “I get to talk to everybody. I get to find out where they’re going this weekend and what their family is like.”
The best training for the store’s employees comes from the people who shop there. The staff learn from shoppers what they want and need and how they are using the products they purchase.
“If we don’t talk to them, we don’t learn from them. We’re not necessarily the experts. They are. They know what they want,” Pertzborn said. “They know the brands, so we’re listening to them. It’s amazing how much research our customers do. They are so well educated.”
Hy-Vee plans to open more HealthMarket stores, including two next year—one in Kansas City and another in Madison, Wisconsin.