Sunday, September 19, 2021

Pop(Shelf) Goes The Dollar General

Publix #124 / Dollar General Market + Popshelf #9859
239 Crockett Boulevard, Merritt Island, FL - Merritt Crossings

     Casually roaming around Merritt Island on my day off, I had to make a quick pit stop to drop off something at the post office, which is located right behind this plaza on Crockett Boulevard. After turning onto Crockett from Courtenay Parkway, I happened to glance over at the Dollar General Market and noticed it had new signage on the front. While new signage is one thing, what really caught my attention was that in addition to the DG Market sign, a sign for "Popshelf" had gone up as well. For those of you who aren't familiar, Popshelf is a new line of stores launched by Dollar General in October 2020 (which I'll explain in more detail in just a moment). Seeing Popshelf in person for the first time, I was quite intrigued, so after taking care of things at the post office, I had to pull in here to check the place out...

     While most of us are familiar with what Dollar General is (and how ubiquitous their stores are), Popshelf is still a bit rare, as the concept is just now nearing its first full year in business. Dollar General created Popshelf to be a more fun and upscale version of a dollar store, with a focus on home goods and having a strong appeal to middle-income suburban women. So in the words of Dollar General on what exactly Popshelf is: "This new store [Popshelf] aims to engage customers with a fun, affordable and stress-free shopping experience where they can find on-trend seasonal and home décor, health and beauty must-haves, home cleaning supplies, party goods, entertaining needs and much more— with approximately 95 percent of items priced at $5 or less!" I think Dollar General summarized what Popshelf is quite well in that statement, although in the words of AFB, I would describe Popshelf as being "Five Below's mother". Popshelf stores give off the same vibe as Five Below and follow a similar pricing model,  however Five Below focuses on appealing to kids and teenagers, while Popshelf is going after adults.

     Popshelf was developed as its own stand alone concept, so there are Popshelf stores out there that run solely on their own, and more stand-alone Popshelf stores are planned to open nationwide in the coming years. However, in August 2021, Dollar General announced that the company would start putting Popshelf "stores-within-a-store" inside select Dollar General Market locations. Dollar General Market is the company's largest store prototype, as these stores run full grocery departments in addition to carrying all the standard Dollar General merchandise. Considering their size, Dollar General was able to squeeze a Popshelf into about half the existing Dollar General Market space, infilling the remainder of the salesfloor with the full grocery department and items a normal Popshelf store wouldn't carry. That description might make this concept sound strange at first, but once we head inside, you'll see the concept actually works well.

     While the store's remodel was 100% complete at the time of my visit, there were still signs placed next to the entrance mentioning the remodel. While the remodel wasn't super intensive (as the salesfloor space remained the same size, and heavy construction was limited), Dollar General put a lot more effort into this remodel than I'd have thought. All the aisles on the salesfloor were rearranged, new decor was added, and some new flooring was installed around the perimeter of the Popshelf department. The remodel made this place look really nice, and I'd have to say this is the nicest Dollar General I've been to now.

     Stepping inside, we enter into the grocery department. The grocery department occupies the right side of the building, the same as it had prior to the remodel. As we'll see in a little bit, the entire center salesfloor behind me was converted into the new Popshelf store-within-a-store, the remaining Dollar General merchandise lining the far left side of the building beyond Popshelf.

     The produce department here actually looks quite classy with its new woodgrain decor and accents (wow, I never imagined I'd be using the word "classy" in a post about Dollar General!) We can see the produce department's prior decor here, from my original tour of this store posted to flickr a long time ago (but now resides in this MFR post). The prior produce decor looked pretty decent for something created by Dollar General (whose traditional stores don't have much decor to begin with), although the new decor definitely has a more upscale vibe than the prior look.

     From produce, here's a look toward the store's front end, which we'll see more of toward the end of this post.

     From produce, here's a look at the store's refrigerated and frozen food cases, which line the right side wall. The coolers also wrap around to the back wall, where the dairy department is located.

     New paint and signage came along with the remodel, continuing the gray and woodgrain theming we saw in the produce department. The new decor is much more sedate than its predecessor, but not so sparse that it looks super cheap. The fact the signs are 3-D and mounted onto the faux woodgrain background helps give the new look some substance.

     Beer and wine was moved into aisles 1 and 2 as part of the remodel, the new cooler to my left installed for the chilled beer and sodas.

     Dollar General Market's old grocery aisle setup had a much stronger warehouse/Save-A-Lot vibe, but with some rearranging and new signage, feel much classier now.

     At aisle 4 on the grocery side of the store, the grocery aisles switch from being parallel with the store's front wall to perpendicular. This is a big change from the old layout, where the grocery aisles ran parallel to the front wall all the way to the back of the store. Also from this vantage point, we get our first glimpse at Popshelf, which we'll be touring in more detail momentarily...

     As you'd expect from Dollar General, the "deli" department is nothing more than a fancy name for the store's pre-packaged meat selection. This photo looks into the store's back right corner, where dairy is also located.

     The main aisle seen here separates the grocery department from Popshelf, as seen looking toward the front of the store. That soda pallet actually blocks most of our view of the new Popshelf department, so therefore, what Popshelf looks like will have to wait until the next photo:

     And there you have it: Popshelf. In a testament to how successful Dollar General expects Popshelf to be, half of this store's salesfloor went to the new concept, with all the "normal" Dollar General merchandise pushed to the two far sides of the building. In order to give Popshelf so much floor space, Popshelf's core departments (housewares and other home items, toys, office & crafts, seasonal, and party supplies) essentially replaced the standard Dollar General versions of those same departments, allowing this store to offer Popshelf, yet still provide Dollar General's complete merchandise selection.

     As you probably noticed in the previous photo, the Popshelf section of the store has its own vibe, with a unique layout and lower-than-normal shelving. Popshelf also has its own decor on the back wall, and fancier displays than your typical Dollar General. The photo above shows some of the fancier merchandising done for Popshelf, showing off some of the newly-arrived fall decor to shoppers entering the store.

     Here's some more examples of the different tables and shelves used by Popshelf. To further Dollar General's quest to give Popshelf its own feel within this larger Dollar General store, a faux-wood flooring was installed around the perimeter of Popshelf's space, designating its bounds.

     The back wall showcases a small glimpse of Popshelf's decor, which uses a predominantly purple and white color scheme. Unfortunately, since only a small portion of the Popshelf space abuts a wall, the only three Popshelf departments got signage of their own: crafts, party, and home.

     While there were still traditional Dollar General Market baskets to use by the front doors, the Popshelf department got its own stacks of custom branded baskets, some of which can be seen here. I just wonder how much longer it will be before one of the store's normal DG Market baskets ends up getting discarded in this stack?

     From the front of the Popshelf department, here's a look toward the back of the building and the small section of Popshelf decor. Popshelf's area is filled with a lot of short aisles than run in all kinds of crazy directions, so it's a bit maze-like in here (which I believe was done to add to Popshelf's treasure hunt concept, as when wandering through the maze, you never know what you'll find).

     Here's another look across the Popshelf department, looking into the department's seasonal and home goods zones. Before Popshelf was installed, the center of the store just had long traditional aisles filling up this space, like this one. Removing all those tall shelves makes the store feel bigger, as you don't have all the shelves blocking your view across the store. 

     Toward the back of the Popshelf department are toys and party supplies, with crafts and office supplies along the back wall.

     Here's our overview of Popshelf's back wall, which prior to the remodel, was home to much-less-classy-looking warehouse steel shelves holding paper products (which I don't have a comparison photo of, as it appears my original tour of this store was a bit light on photos - I think I was more into hunting down Publix relics during that photo blitz than actually photographing a DG Market back then).

     What remained of Dollar General's paper department got condensed into the store's back left corner, situated upon normal shelves instead of the big warehouse counterparts from before. Also note the department signs on this side of the store (the "general merchandise" side, I guess you can call it), lacks the wood-grain back panels from the store's grocery side.

     Turning to the left, here's a look down the aisle that separates Popshelf from the general merchandise aisles. So essentially, whatever a typical Popshelf store wouldn't carry (such as clothes, hardware/automotive, and baby products, for example) is located to my right.

     From the left side wall, here's a look toward the front of the building.

     Thanks to Popshelf's low shelves, a photo across the store like this was made possible. Before the remodel, the results weren't as great.

     The general merchandise side of the store had an entire aisle dedicated to $1 Deals, in which I found this interesting product. I always find it intriguing going to various closeout/dollar stores and seeing well known brands putting their name on products completely unrelated to what they usually sell - for example, the Hostess Wax Paper seen here (which was in addition to the Hostess Plastic Wrap on the shelf above). I guess if you can't finish your Twinkie, this is the perfect stuff to wrap it in for later.

     Moving further toward the front of the store, Health and Beauty products occupy the front left corner, which was previously home to a large clothing department. Clothing was a department that got cut in size quite a bit here following the remodel, with that department now occupying a single standard aisle of mostly socks and underwear that we saw two photos back.

     Officially, the new beauty department falls under Popshelf, as this new setup uses Popshelf's color scheme, lower shelving, and branding. To add to Popshelf's more "upscale" image, some round pendant lights were added over the beauty section, making it stand out from the rest of the store. Two images down you can see the new pendant lights from a more drawn back perspective, and I think the more upscale look these lights give off will be more apparent then.

     Looking across the front of the store, we find ourselves taking a look at the front end. The front end couldn't escape the remodel either, and was reconfigured to add a bank of 4 self-checkout lanes at the far end by the doors, with four regular lanes stationed next to those.

     Here's one last look at the salesfloor, looking back toward the beauty department (which is easily identifiable from the sight of those new lights).

     While Dollar General has been using self-checkouts for a while, per this article, this was my first time ever seeing self-checkouts in person at Dollar General. The self-checkouts were laid out nicely here, but considering how cramped the front ends are at most standard Dollar General stores, I can only imagine how these things are getting shoved in elsewhere.

     So there you have it folks - our first look at a Popshelf store. While this particular Popshelf was integrated into an existing Dollar General Market, a standalone Popshelf location offers exactly what we just saw in its little department here. The only difference with the standalone Popshelf stores is those have a small grocery/cleaning supply section in addition to everything else, but otherwise hold at roughly the same size as a standard Dollar General. I think Popshelf is an interesting concept, and I think it will succeed. Five Below has become a national chain following a similar idea to Popshelf, and by tweaking the target demographic, Dollar General has created something entirely new. After seeing it in person, Popshelf also blends in well with the DG Market stores. By adding Popshelf's merchandise and vibe to a Dollar General Market, it creates something that looks almost like a less-refined version of a modern Target store (wow, now I'm comparing Dollar General to Target - what has this world come to?!) Dollar General is definitely upping the bar, and finding ways to appeal to more shoppers is always a big plus in the business world.

     Currently, Popshelf only has around 20 stand alone stores operating in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, and North Carolina, although Dollar General's ultimate goal is to open hundreds of Popshelf stores nationwide in the coming years. More Dollar General Market + Popshelf conversions (as they're officially called) are expected to happen as well, in addition to the growth of the stand alone operation. Dollar General expects to have 25 of these combo stores complete by the end of 2021, Merritt Island having been one of those chosen. As of the publication of this post, in addition to Merritt Island, the only other Popshelf open in any form in Florida appears to be another combo store in Lakeland, although I'm sure we'll be seeing more of Popshelf before long, as I'm sure Dollar General wants to "pop" up more of these stores soon!

     It's always intriguing to see a new retail chain appear, as it doesn't seem like you see too may new ones popping up anymore. Hopefully Dollar General continues to have success with Popshelf, as I think Popshelf fills a niche no one has ever tried to capture before. All that being said, I really don't have much more to add, so I hope everyone liked this little preview of Dollar General's new chain, and maybe experience one yourself down the road. 

So until the next post,


Sunday, August 8, 2021

Kmart - Vero Beach, FL - The Klosing Kontinues

Kmart #7294
1501 US Highway 1, Vero Beach, FL - Indian River Plaza

     As I slowly work my way through these photos I have of the closing of the Vero Beach Kmart, we've finally come to the halfway point. Today's post brings us the third of my five installments documenting the closing of this store, today's pictures coming from a visit in mid-October 2019, approximately a month into the store's closing sale. Even a month in, the store was still fully in-tact with a mostly complete selection of product, although there were some noticeable spots where product was beginning to empty.

     Unlike last time, when we visited just after the liquidation started, a month into the sale and the front windows were now plastered over with various store closing signs. Since the outside of the building lacked the traditional giant yellow banner, these signs in the window were the only message to the outside world that this store was soon to be no more.

     Stepping through the front doors, more of the usual store closing messages and signage appeared on this board inside the vestibule.

     Entering the main store itself, we are greeted by the jewelry counter, which featured some of the steepest discounts in the building at the time of my visit (70% off everything, with a coupon for an additional 10% off as well). At least with Sears and Kmart, they seem to want to get rid of the jewelry as fast as possible at these closing sales, so they always put huge markdowns on that merchandise from the start.

     Leaving the jewelry counter, we'll turn to the right to begin our usual loop around the store. Like I said before, things still look fairly normal as far as the amount of merchandise goes. If you were to remove the tacky closing signage (which actually multiplied since our last visit), this scene wouldn't look too different from a normal day here.

     From the front of the grocery department, here's a look across the width of the store.

     The grocery aisles looked quite perfectly stocked still. Either the employees still cared enough at this point to keep the place looking good, or this stuff just wasn't selling.

     At least for this side of the aisle, there's a reason it wasn't moving product as fast - alcoholic beverages weren't part of the store closing discounts, as usual in these closing sales.

     The seasonal department was still fully stocked with patio furniture sets at the time of my visit. Had the store closing not begun, these patio sets would have eventually been consolidated into the corner to make room for the Christmas tree village over here. Yes, in Florida, it's completely normal in the wintertime to see Christmas trees displayed next to patio furniture!

     More store closing signage hangs over the main aisle, this one cutting toward the back of the store alongside toys, sporting goods, and hardware.

     Near the toy department was this bin of plush Monty Mongooses (or would the plural be Monty Mongeese? I'm actually not sure on that one.) Monty Mongoose was the monster mascot used for Sears' Toy Department revival around 2018, back at the time when everyone decided to expand or add a toy department following the demise of Toys R Us. It doesn't appear like his plush version was ever very popular, as I've seen full bins like these for sale at a number of Sears and Kmart stores following his debut and demise shortly thereafter.

     While Kmart may not have had the chance to set up the Christmas tree displays yet, they did get in their shipment of Christmas trees. Since there wasn't anywhere else to put them, the Christmas tree pallets were wheeled out from the backroom and lined up in the middle of the aisle, with some overflow pallets placed in the furniture department too.

     Tools and a wall of toy shopping carts - a scene that would only be fitting for the start of a store closing sale.

     As usual with Kmart closings (and Kmart in normal everyday operations too), you never know what kind of outdated products will be found in the back, or haven't sold in many years. Just looking at how faded that Duracell charger is, I can assure you it's been hanging on that hook for a while! That charger is for the original version of the iPhone and the iPod Nano, a product I don't think most mainstream retailers have sold in years. But as you know, Kmart is America's #1 source for technology items from 15 years ago!

     Getting into the store's very back corner, we find our first totally empty aisle, one of very few at the time of my visit. As the closing went on, these departments in the back right corner would begin to consolidate into the front and middle part of the store, with this area being the first to get completely dismantled.

     Leaving the hardlines side of the store, we'll being our transition into clothing and the other softlines departments.

     Layaway, which was once located in the back of the electronics department, had transitioned into being in the back of the men's clothing department as the electronics selection shriveled away into nothing during this store's final years.

     Lots of extra clothing racks were pulled out into the middle of the main aisles to allow for additional product to be sold during the liquidation event.

     The front doors can be seen in the distance here, marking the approximate halfway point through the sales floor.

     Lots and lots of clothes for sale. Most clothing was at 50-60% off too, so Kmart really wanted to burn through the remaining clothing inventory with that steep of a discount this soon into the sale.

     Turning the corner, here's a look down the left side of the store. The infant's department is located to my right.

     Here's a look across the left side of the building again, this time as seen from the front left corner and former KCafe.

     This store's KCafe had been turned into an extension of the clothing department in recent years, and for the liquidation sale it remained just that.

     Back up front, the check lanes begin to come into view.

     The store's Kmart canopy is seen here, complete with the store's modern variant of the Bluelight underneath it - you can't get much more of a Kmart-y sight than this (well, you can, if only there was a roof leak above this! 😃). As I told you last time, this store was enforcing the whole "we can't sell you anything with a logo on it" rule as part of the fixture sale, as I learned when asking if I could buy a basket, however...

     …someone named Edward found a way to convince the manager to sell him the Kmart canopy! So Edward, if you're reading this, please share with me your ways!

     Hopefully Edward's backyard has been livened up with his new Kmart canopy, a nice centerpiece to any patio, right? Anyway, here's another look across the front lanes, with Kmart's service desk located just beyond the canopy.

     As I was leaving, I saw this interesting sight at one of the check lanes. Kmart must have gotten a shipment of Sears bags by accident, as that's what was being used at this lane for purchases. Since Sears and Kmart are the same company it's probably a common mistake to happen, but this was my first time seeing something like this in person.

     And while this store lacked the traditional closing banner on the exterior - don't worry - it did find itself a home here. Instead of hanging the banner on the front of the building, the banner found itself a home in front of the check lanes, right under the store's thank you sign. It's actually a quite fitting placement for the banner, actually, as all that now reads 'thank you for shopping your Kmart store closing'!

     Back outside, that concludes today's installment of Vero Beach Kmart closing photos. Just two more of these posts to go before I can finally wrap up this series - only going on two years after this place actually closed for good! It's slow progress, but I suppose it is still progress though.

More to come soon, so until the next post,


P.S. - Posting on AFB resumes next Sunday, so be sure to head over there for that!