• Jennifer Marks

Quality Over Quantity

Among the many responses to the economic crisis — which has now been around so long it's starting to feel like an old shoe — many retailers sensibly decided to rein in their capital expenditures and drastically reduce store opening plans this year. In some cases, those reduced opening extend into next year.

The strategy made sense for an industry that has long been over-stored and over-malled.

A few retailers are starting to test new concepts, not just new stores but smarter stores.

GNC, provider of nutritional supplements to the health-obsessed and dietary products to the weight-oppressed, last week opened a prototype in Pittsburgh built around the concept that the company can serve as a health and wellness resource for the whole family.

GNC nearly tripled its offerings to include natural health and healing products, probiotics (dietary supplements containing live microorganisms) and proteins, as well as cleansing, health and beauty products. Products for GNC's core sports and fitness buffs have also been expanded, but the section that addresses their interests has moved to the back of the store. Lifestyle products positioned to appeal to moms hold down the first two sections of the store.

Toys 'R' Us, the cavernous tantrum-inducer, this month will open 80 holiday express pop-up stores in malls and 260 in Babies 'R' Us stores. The shops will feature the hottest toys and perennial winners such as dolls, action figures and educational toys. At 4,000 square feet the shops aren't miniscule, but they do address TRU's core weakness at holiday: too much stuff in too much space.

This year has also seen the opening of Walmart's prototype Hispanic warehouse club and Target's fresh prototype discount store with expanded fresh food offerings.

The broader prototyping trend these days seems to run toward green construction and architecture, which is praiseworthy. But it's even more exciting to see retailers like GNC, TRU, Walmart and Target rethinking what they offer and how they offer it to make themselves more relevant to shoppers today.

My worry is that when we come out on the other side of the recession, Wall Street will go back to rewarding retailers for the number of stores they open each year and retailers will feel compelled to crank up the opening pace again.

Let's advocate for smarter stores instead.

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