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Urban retailers with creative land use in small 'big box' stores

With the growing trend of younger Americans moving to urban areas, the stores that cater to this burgeoning population are recognizing that they need to follow this trend in order to keep their sales.

What makes this difficult for "big box" stores, however, is that they are trying to offer the commodities these consumers want, but on a much smaller scale that meets the zoning requirements, historic architecture and land use plans of their desired urban location. Some of these well-known stores are Wal-Mart, Target and Office Depot.

Wal-Mart recently opened a 90,000-square-foot urban retail store. The company is also trying out other urban stores of much smaller size to see how consumers accept them. In the past, Wal-Mart had met considerable resistance over concerns that it was going to put local retailers out of business, but it has generally become more accepted over time. Wal-Mart has taken a unique approach by courting community groups and politicians with donations in the hope that it becomes known for what it can offer, rather than being met with resistance.

Target has developed its own philosophy for its smaller big box stores. It is offering different types of products to meet urban consumers' needs, such as balcony furniture, rather than patio furniture. It is also offering smaller sizes of products for the large number of consumers that use public transportation or walk to stores.

Office Depot has yet another approach. It has simplified its urban stores based on consumers' need for "speed shopping." Easier navigation signs, shorter accessible shelves, and mini-prototypes of office furniture are all part of its strategy to attract urban consumers.

So far, these big box stores seem to be achieving some big successes with urban consumers.

Source: The New York Times, "Retailers' Idea: Think Smaller in Urban Push," Stephanie Clifford, July 25, 2012

  • Our firm handles a wide variety of land use and zoning issues. If you would like to learn more about our practice, please visit our Annapolis land use page.

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