Like other retail industry advocates, I am alarmed by the growing glut of retail real estate in America’s landscape.  Everywhere I turn I see the empty locations of former Circuit Citys, KMarts, Mervyns, Steve and Barrys and thousands of other locations for lease.  Property companies sit on these locations hoping that a WalMart or Costco will move in.  (To read the latest on Costco’s new mall stores with Westfield announced on August 18th click here.) I scour both consumer trends and retail operators looking for clues about what will be successful in the decade ahead.  So, here are three concepts – FREE OF CHARGE – for smart businesses to bring to market.  Any one of these will work in a former big box location.

    The Locavore Grocery Store

    Picking up on the trend to bring local farmer’s products to market, a cunning local storefront could be created that brings the Farmer’s Market inside.  Part Whole Foods, part farmer’s market, part county fair,the local grocery can showcase year-round items like honey, meats, cheese, pasta, cereals and HBA using a fairly standard grocery operating model: store-managed labor pool, regularly scheduled deliveries, store fixtures and promotions.  There would be an additional seasonal section of locally grown produce that is manned in the traditional farmer’s market manner with farm producers selling their own wares.  Depending on the market, this could go deep into flowers and landscape items, crafts and apparel or wine and fine foods.  This concept will work because it builds on the growing trend of wanting local, organic food products as well as the increased awareness of healthy local produce being key to an aging population’s diet.  This goes beyond what HEB is doing and creates that key community grocer that a neighborhood is built around.  Here in Minneapolis, we have Local D’Lish – which is a toe in the water for this concept.  But I am talking about a much bigger Bodega.  SuperValu?  This is for you….

    The Senior Playground

    With the aging of America’s population there will be a growing demand for a place for seniors to create a community.  A location that can combine a Minute Clinic, Panera Bread, Fitness Anytime and regular daily events along with relevant retail (cards, seasonal items, HBA) could become a magnet and easily replicable (franchising anyone?) across the country.  Think of a location where there is no membership, but people using the location pay through use fees (computer classes, yoga, needlecraft, maybe even a woodshop) and the coffee and meals served onsite.  With the right kind of staff, this could become a cornerstone business in most of America’s communities.  CVS or Walgreens – run with this.

    The Green Store

    Imagine Best Buy for solar, wind and alternative energy — BUT with delivery and installation service ALWAYS included.  The stores are actually showrooms where consumers can see examples of green roofs, xeriscaping, solar panels, geothermal water heating, etc and then order whatever configuration they would like for their homes.  Offer items like compost bins and rain barrels as promotional traffic drivers then show off new e-bikes and Smart Cars.  Create a Green Squad (like the BBY Geek Squad) from local service provider partners.  Build in service contracts, energy audits and long term self sufficiency plans for loyal customers.  Create special tax incentive programs that let customers take advantage of federal and state programs.  This will work because there is a groundswell of people willing to make green investments yet to date the green community has forced consumers to do it themselves.  Customers do not want to calculate electric capacity loads and battery sizing.  They want to come in, order the system and have it set up at their homes.  Its the same principle as Home Theater installation – for the green generation.  Best Buy or Home Depot: This is a natural for you.  Sears, if you are serious about reinventing yourself, here’s a concept you could win with.

    I am sure there are lots of other great ideas out there in my readers heads.  Let me hear yours and I will give a Staples Gift Card to the best idea as voted on by my readers.