Landmark: The new benchmark for supermarkets
- Tanya T. Lara () - July 18, 2008 - 12:00am

When Kenneth Keng was five years old, he would go with his father Teddy Keng, who founded The Landmark in 1988, to the construction site and, wearing his little hard hat, he would play up and down the moving ramp escalator they were building for Landmark Supermarket in Makati.

The Landmark at the time was breaking new ground — literally and figuratively. It was a new player in a then small industry and had very ambitious plans for its department store and supermarket. It also had a rock-solid philosophy about customer service and offering competitive prices. 

Twenty successful years later, The Landmark is celebrating many milestones. Last year it opened its second branch, at TriNoma Mall in Quezon City — a 10,000-square-meter space that boasts thousands of brands in categories such as personal care, dairy products, snacks, fresh produce, meats, canned goods, and household items, among many others.   

After his team had done research in new supermarket trends, Teddy Keng told his designers, Hugh A. Boyd Associates of New Jersey, that he wanted “the best supermarket in the world.” Early this year, that goal seemed to have been met as far as design is concerned. The supermarket received two prestigious design awards: the Store of the Year in the supermarket/grocery category by the A.R.E. Design Awards and first place in the supermarket category of the ISP/VM+SD International Store Awards. The first is the Association of Retail Environments, composed of retail and related companies, and the second is from the Institute of Store Planners, and the Visual Merchandising + Store Design (VMSD) magazine, a publication for retail designers and store display professionals.

Landmark assistant to the executive vice president Kenneth Keng says that the supermarket is focused on its mission of providing the best customer service and a hassle-free shopping environment.

“Landmark is organized between the supermarket and the department store,” Kenneth says. “We wanted to focus on each, so the customers don’t get confused. When you go to the supermarket, you go there for food. You don’t want to see a bicycle next to your cabbage. The department store takes care of small appliances and white goods since we have a long-standing tie with Ansons. My grandfather founded Ansons 40 years ago, while my dad founded Landmark with his partner Enrique Cheng.”  

Landmark Department Store at TriNoma has a spacious floor area of 15,000 square meters and it provides shoppers access at every level to the mall and the supermarket.

The success of The Landmark in Makati has made the group a valuable partner for mall operator Ayala Malls. When asked about the company’s strategy for growth, Kenneth answers, “For now we’ll be with Ayala in anchoring their stores. They’re very happy with our performance and they’re asking us to come in in some of their developments out of town. We plan to expand in the next couple of years. We’re doing the renovation for Makati now because ever since we finished the TriNoma branch, everyone’s been clamoring for an update of the Makati branch.”

Indeed, you can see the difference the moment you walk into the supermarket. “It’s a world apart from anything else that we have here. We wanted that from the very start. Dad especially wanted to make sure we didn’t cut any costs, that we would spend it all on the customers. We looked at the competition here and we figured we can do a lot better and I think we did.”

Kenneth says the company is particularly proud of the training its staff undergoes before they are assigned to the floor. He knows firsthand what’s it like to be a supermarket employee. “When I was growing up, my summer vacations were spent working in the supermarket with my sister. I was a bagger at one point and a cashier at another point. There’s an exam that all our direct hires and ‘promodizers’ undertake. They’re given a layout of the store and they’re expected to memorize it. It’s not easy; even I took a week to have it down in my head. There’s a blank layout and here are the racks and numbers, and you’re supposed to know what’s in there for the entire space. If you don’t perfect that, you can’t work in the supermarket. Our employees have no kodigo, they have to memorize the layout.”

This is where great, common-sense design comes in. Known as the firm to go to for urban planning and public markets in the United States, Hugh A. Boyd Associates created for Landmark TriNoma an efficient space that’s also very pleasing to the eye.

When shoppers enter the supermarket, they are greeted by the produce section with its curving displays. Apples, oranges, bananas, tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce, string beans, prepared salads, etc. — all are displayed in an appetizing manner. The same with the wet section for fish, poultry, meats and seafood. There is no smell, and you can’t see the mess when you request your fish to be cleaned because they do it on the other side of the display area, behind a glass wall. 

“Categorized between food and non-food,” says Kenneth, “the trick is to get the adjacencies correct. You have to make sure that you don’t put your shampoo next to baby products. Some of it is common sense, some of it takes a bit of a study.”

Are people stockpiling in these times of food crisis? Should we stockpile? “We’ve noticed that no matter what, our market still eats rice. Even with the food crisis in the news and everything, rice is still a staple.”

“Customers always come first,” says Kenneth. “It sounds trite and it’s easy to say. In terms of concreteness, it’s as simple as making things convenient for them. Like here you have a multi-level parking, which was a challenge for us. Generally, the easy answer is you throw in a few more elevators, hire a few more bag boys and have the customers drag up their stuff by themselves. We’re the first supermarket in this area to have dedicated bag boys who will bring the items up by themselves, but what about when the customers want to be with their groceries from the cashier to their car, how do you do that? There’s the elevator but it’s not enough. We set aside quite a big floor area just to make sure we have moving ramps to every parking level. That was not easy or cheap, but we built them anyway. So now you have the bag boy and from the time the customer buys his items our bag boy will carry them for him.

“In terms of efficiencies, the design is very green. It’s not just a green issue, it’s also a cost question. That’s another reason we’re upgrading our Makati branch. We found that our energy savings here are so huge. In cooling systems alone, in the last five years you’re looking at a 75-percent jump in efficiency. It’s nice to do it for the planet, but also we do it for our overhead.”

A low overhead for Landmark means low prices for customers, too. In these times of belt-tightening, finding value for your money takes precedence over everything.

Kenneth boasts that Landmark Supermarket has “the best prices in the country and you combine that with the best-looking store, we’re very happy with how it’s turned out.”

He adds that they listen to feedback from customers and instantly do price checks. “The general rule for retail is that when people see you have the value, they will come to you. We have some of the smartest and most price-savvy customers around. People always know when you’re being straight with them. The minute you change something, even a small thing, in your supermarket, the feedback is very immediate.”

Landmark has ongoing promos of grocery products every week. “We have scheduled promos with our suppliers, so any day of the week a shopper comes in to do their weekly or bimonthly groceries, they can get bargains from the different categories. When we launched the supermarket last year, Unilever gave away prices every hour. Every week there’s a raffle. We have bundling of products, we have offers at 50 percent off or buy-one-take-one promos.”

Landmark Supermarket does not manufacture its own brand, which means it does not compete with its suppliers and thus can offer all brands to its customers. It’s very frustrating for us shoppers who prefer particular brands and not find them on the supermarket shelves because they’ve been bumped off to make way for a supermarket’s own brand.

“We find that if you treat your suppliers well, they’ll work with you even in terms of pricing, which I think is the main justification for generic brand lines. The suppliers are very happy to have an outlet to work with them. Everyone from the big companies to the small companies, we’re lucky our back-of-the-house personnel are very experienced.”

What are the challenges and the fulfillment in running a supermarket? Kenneth pauses and says, “We’re touching people’s lives in a very intimate way — we’re literally feeding their babies. If you make even a small mistake  — and you hear reports of some supermarkets selling expired goods or their refrigeration systems fail and suddenly the milk is spoiled — it’s a big thing. It’s not a torn shirt that you can exchange or give back. When you’re dealing with food products, it’s much more personal. That’s always the challenge — every day you make sure that everything is fresh.”

* * *

Landmark Supermarket at TriNoma Mall is open from Sunday to Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.

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