Town & Country Mill Creek Renovation: Where Convenience Meets Exploration
Seattle-based grocery chain offers up inspiration — and finds some of its own.
Like our daily routes in life — efficiently mapped out according to the location of jobs, schools, and activities — trips to the grocery store often follow a predictable pattern. First stop: the produce section for salad greens; right turn to the frozen food aisle for a quick dinner item; loop around to the bakery section for a loaf of bread or dinner rolls; then a bee line to the check-out stand. Habits have value because they save us time. But what if a stop at the grocery store could be both fast and inspirational?
Town & Country Markets (T&C), a Seattle-area grocery chain, recently redesigned their store in Mill Creek, Washington, with just that goal in mind. “We asked ourselves how we want to design our store for the future,” said Jim Huffman, Senior Director of Market Development for T&C. “How do we integrate the idea, ‘feeding your joy of discovery,’ with an experience of full service? And how do we create an efficient store during changing times?”
With a rebranding effort happening across T&C locations, this was a perfect opportunity to rethink how the Mill Creek store could be reimagined to meld convenience and exploration.
Brand Expression and Integration
At the outset, store management embarked on a rebranding effort to incorporate Mill Creek’s Central Market into the Town & Country brand. In conjunction with the initiative, T&C and design partner Cushing Terrell surveyed customers to determine what they wanted most in a grocery store. Convenience, community, and inspiration ranked high.
“People want to discover new things,” said Susan Allen, T&C Director. “But that still has to work with people’s lives. It’s an interesting time, with so many things changing. But the simple need to eat well and be well remains.”
“People want to discover new things. But that still has to work with people’s lives. It’s an interesting time, with so many things changing. But the simple need to eat well and be well remains.”
—Susan Allen, T&C Director
Some customers come into the store to browse, but many arrive with a set list of items in hand with the goal of checking them off as quickly as possible. Working with Cushing Terrell designers, T&C opened up lines of sight so customers entering the store could quickly see where they wanted to go — with the bonus of revealing departments that may not have been on their usual route.
“There aren’t a bunch of alcoves anymore,” Huffman emphasized. “You have sight lines across the whole area. That design element was a big part of the success.”
“There aren’t a bunch of alcoves anymore. You have sight lines across the whole area. That design element was a big part of the (project’s) success.”
—Jim Huffman, T&C Senior Director of Market Development
Department layouts were reconfigured and revitalized with new décor and lighting. Sections were adjusted so customers could get what they want more quickly.
“Cushing Terrell was critical to helping us identify floral, bulk foods, and health and beauty as areas to highlight,” Huffman said. “We really wanted to call out those departments because they are not your typical departments.”
Besides a more open floor plan, the store added self-service sections, increasing convenience for the customer. “The market was demanding it,” Huffman said.
The bakery service center experienced a significant change. Baked goods are now displayed on an island, with self-serve options facing outward. A new beverage station ties into the bakery area. “The sales growth in that department has really skyrocketed,” he added.
One of Huffman’s favorite changes is walking into the store and seeing the floral area, which previously had been outside.
“Cushing Terrell was integral to the change,” he said. “They gave us recommendations of counter tops and materials. It sets a tone for the market when people walk in. There’s more warmth.”
Another space was reimagined as both a seated eating area and for gatherings — an option for in-store programming. The design team also added a demonstration area, facilitating interaction between employees and customers.
“All our design is centered around ‘food as the focus’ and the interaction of that,” said Cushing Terrell design lead Alice Wang. “It’s not about being perfectly refined. It was more about telling the story of the store, keeping the vibe, and connecting the community.”
The Joy of Discovery
Pairing efficiency with an invitation to explore may seem like disparate goals, but they had to co-exist in the new store format. “Besides quick access to the products people need,” Huffman said, “let’s give them ideas for how to use those.”
Enter the Flavor Aisle. T&C product directors started with a concept of product grouping and introduced the idea at the Mill Creek store. Take sauces, broths — things that call out flavors. Then put them all in the same aisle. The integration of product types not only makes finding them easier, but it opens the buyer to flavor discoveries.
“Our mindset was, what can we do to share these products?” Huffman said. “We can introduce people to flavors they haven’t encountered before. We can get them into a new pattern of shopping.” And as new patterns develop, discoveries become the norm. “We are introducing the customer to a different way to shop for groceries,” he added.
The pandemic altered traditional shopping methods, which were already being transformed by the digital sphere. Retailers had to adjust quickly — or risk being left behind. “We’ve had to get out of our comfort zone,” Allen said. “We’ve had to ask: What does service look like for us moving into the future?” Working with the Cushing Terrell design team, T&C addressed those challenges head on.
“There was a lot of confidence in the players — with our team, Cushing Terrell, and (Abbott) the contractor,” Huffman noted. “We said, ‘We’ll find a way’ — within budget, within the timeline — and we did.”
“There was a lot of confidence in the players — with our team, Cushing Terrell, and (Abbott) the contractor. We said, ‘We’ll find a way’ — within budget, within the timeline — and we did.”
—Jim Huffman, T&C Senior Director of Market Development
Allen echoed the sentiment that the right team is imperative. “Cushing Terrell has been that steady partner, whether that’s being open to our ideas or thoughts, or helping us develop our vision to bring that to life,” she said. “They are a listening, thinking partner. They’re always open to how we can together create the best of what we are going to create. We have worked together so long, there is an implicit trust. There’s candor. It’s been a great partnership. They make us better. They help us be patient with the process. They say, ‘let’s go back to the drawing board. There’s always a willingness to create something brand new.”
Forward to the Future
Allen places trust in, and draws inspiration from, the people around her: customers who offer ideas, employees who act as ambassadors, and design team members who bring collaborative ideas to life.
“We are coming out of a challenging time,” she said. “There are projects beyond just getting products on the shelf. But I believe in our people. They can figure out how to make this work. When you see our progress, it’s got meaning and purpose.”
That purpose will extend beyond the coming months and years. It will chart a course for T&C for the next generation.
“We are creating a future for the company,” she said. “We have a strong foundation of core values and a long, 65-year history. With that, you can navigate change. We have an opportunity to create a future and still be who we are.”