It wasn't the throngs of people or the glowing comments from wowed employees and customers that struck Ken Keelor the most at last week's opening of the newest location for Calgary Co-op.
It was seeing dozens of tricycles parked under the massive 'Now open' sign on the side of the 50,000-sq.-ft. facility in Auburn Bay, a young, fast-growing neighbourhood in south-end Calgary.
"They belonged to kids from the area who had come with their parents to visit the new store," said Keelor, CEO of the 460,000-member coop—one of the largest retail operations of its kind in North America with annual food, gas, pharmacy and alcohol sales of $1.2 billion. "I've never seen tricycles at our other stores. For me, it was a very touching moment."
It was also a telling moment of truth for the 60-year-old co-op's new 10-year strategy to make its stores more fun and interesting with modern designs and expanded offerings.
The new store notably features bright colours, natural light and energy efficiencies, including covered refrigeration units, LED lighting and smart building automation.
It also does away with hanging signs, replacing them with what Keelor calls "big and bold commentary" on the walls about everything about departments, foods and products to coop principles.
"In past we were maybe too quiet about who we are and what we stand for," Keelor told Canadian Grocer in a phone interview this week from his Calgary office.
The new store also offers enhanced customer services and experiences including full service meat and seafood cases, an in-store juice program, a grab-and-go hot curry bar, and products from over 200 local growers and producers.
It also has a pharmacy with a new counter layout that aims to increase access to professional services and new software to streamline the prescription process.
According to Keelor, who was present at the pre-opening gala for employees and their families at the store on Thursday night, and the 2-day opening on Friday and Saturday, which featured a ribbon cutting, in-store samples, living statues, a singing baker, and an autograph-signing session with former Calgary Flames star Robyn Regehr, the new store aims to attract new generations of shoppers.
"Younger customers today see the world through different lenses," said Keelor. "Many don't know what a coop is or they think of it as their grandmother's store."
He said the new store was designed to mesh "the things we like in our stores" with the results of a customer analysis it carried out last year following the adoption of the new 10-year strategy.
That analysis found that Calgary Co-op's customers tended to shop at different locations and that pharmacy services were important to them.
They also expressed a strong desire for fresh, locally-grown quality foods at stores located close to where they live and that offer great customer service.
Keelor says the look and feel of the new location fits the bill.
"We made a cheerful, happy shop," Keelor said. "Seeing all the smiles on the thousands of people who came was really nice."