Big-Box Shrinkage: Retailers Embrace Sales on a Smaller Scale

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While the big-box retail model is far from dead, stores such as Walmart, Best Buy, and Cabela’s are realizing that the enormous, one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for all shoppers—nor all locations. To grow, many retailers are shrinking, sometimes with smaller stores, sometimes by introducing smaller, more intimate and approachable locations within larger stores.

Here are a few of the retailers that are evolving by going small:

Ace Hardware
Plans are in the works for nearly 400 scaled-down versions of the home improvement retailer’s stores to pop up in urban and rural locations alike. The “Ace Express” format will consist of 5,000 square feet or less of retail space, most likely housed within a larger store, such as a paint supply shop or a supermarket.

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Best Buy
In a world of “showrooming,” where brick-and-mortar retailers are competing not only with each other but online merchants around the world, the big-box retail model is proving to be too costly for the likes of Best Buy. To compete, the retailer has been closing dozens of large stores while expanding the number of smaller Best Buy Mobile locations, which are focused on goods that don’t take up a lot of space: cell phones.

Cabela’s
For the outdoors outfitter that operates stores as large as 250,000 square feet, anything under 50,000 square feet may seem tiny. Two such smaller “Cabela’s Outpost Store” locations will open in the near future: a 40,000-square-foot store in Yakima, Wash., and a 43,000-square-foot retail location in Saginaw, Mich.. Other Outpost locations are reportedly in the works too, though no specifics have been announced.

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JCPenney
While many of the changes involved in the dramatic makeover of JCPenney, the store-within-a-store concept—in which small, branded boutique-like hubs will take over space in the larger department store—haven’t become reality yet. But plans are in the works for these small, intimate-feeling spots: By next spring, some 700 Joe Fresh fast fashion stores will be open within JCPenney locations. A prototype for a mini Levi’s store within JCPenney was also unveiled to the media recently. Brands such as Sephora, Liz Claiborne, Izod, and others will also be represented with their own ministores within JCPenney locations.

Office Depot
The office-supply giant has redesigned its designs so that it can operate a store with one-fifth the space it usually requires, and with roughly half the number of items for sale—4,500, rather than 9,000. That allows Office Depot to run stores in pricey urban locations such as Hoboken, New Jersey, according to the New York Times.

Target
Like JCPenney, Target has plans for the store-within-a-store concept, only Target’s partner is arguably the sexiest in retail: Apple Store. There are reportedly more than two dozen such Apple Stores-within-Targets in the works. Another store-within-a-store partner of Target is the health food restaurant Pret A Manger, offering preservative-free food, vegan salads, and the like at the new CityTarget location in downtown Chicago. Speaking of which, the CityTarget model, in which stores operate in urban locations with roughly two-thirds of the retail space of a standard Target, is brand new this year to cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

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Walmart
The world’s largest retailer seems to have jumped onto the same idea as its everything-a-shopper-needs competitor, Target, as both businesses have launched pushes into urban locales. The Los Angeles Times described how smaller Walmart and Target stores alike are popping up in southern California. One “Walmart Neighborhood Market” store, which focuses on groceries and has about one-sixth the retail space of a Walmart Supercenter, opened in July in Huntington Beach, and another 20 such comparatively tiny Walmart markets are planned to open in California next year.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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