The average grocery store in the U.S. measures under 50,000 square feet. Home Depots average about 100,000 square feet, and the typical Costco or Walmart Supercenter—generally considered the biggest of all big box retailers—runs 100,000 to 150,000 square feet. But a new breed of home improvement store in the Midwest blows them all away.
Menards, a Wisconsin-based home improvement chain founded in 1958, has been introducing a new store model throughout the Midwest that measures well over 200,000 square feet. In 2011, the company opened a revamped, dramatically expanded two-floor, 235,000-square-foot store in Eden Prairie, Minn., that “makes a Costco or Wal-Mart Supercenter look modest by comparison,” according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. In addition to a huge selection of home improvement DIY supplies, the store also stocks groceries, stuffed animals, clothing, jewelry, and drugstore staples.
Another mega-Menards opened in Golden Valley, Minn., last year with, for instance, 41 different full kitchens on display for customers. With 5-pound vats of Cheetos and 17 shades of black spray paint among the options in aisles, the 250,000-square-foot store is “everything both mesmerizing and horrifying about our consumer culture,” in the words of an MSP Magazine editor who toured the place after it opened.
Two more 200,000-plus-square-foot Menards will be opening this spring in the St. Louis area, each complete with “a full-service lumberyard and warehouse that shoppers can drive into,” reports the Post-Dispatch.
While it wasn’t particularly surprising when Menards launched its first supersized store in the pre-recession, bigger-is-always-better mid-00s, it’s definitely against trend to be opening new megastores—and larger ones at that—lately. For years, observers have been postulating that the big-box store model is dying, thanks to factors including the struggling economy, the growth of online shopping, and rising real estate costs. Instead of pushing for bigger and bigger locations, chains such as Best Buy, Cabela’s, Office Depot, and Walmart have been more likely to be introducing smaller “express” stores with less merchandise—and less costly overhead.
What makes Menards think it should continue going big while others shrink? The company is privately owned, and its executives rarely talk to the media. Menards spokesman Jeff Abbott seems to only be willing to answer reporter questions via e-mail, and when he does, he seems to utilize a “cut and paste” approach to stay on message. Here’s a section from one of his e-mails sent to the Star-Tribune in early 2012:
“The company’s success can be seen in … the way guests are always treated like family in a hometown hardware store atmosphere.”
And here’s part of Abbott’s e-mail statement to the Post-Dispatch, published in early March 2013:
“What also separates Menards from the competition is our friendly guest service and the way guests are treated like family in a hometown hardware store atmosphere.”
Menards leans heavily on its “Midwestern values” image, and indeed, the company is almost entirely focused in the region. Click on its store locator, and you’ll see that its 274 locations are clustered densely in the northern center of the continental U.S., centered roughly around Chicago—with zero stores along the heavily populated coasts.
While the brand is growing, in terms of store size and number of stores alike, it’s got a long way to catch up with Home Depot (2,200 locations) and Lowe’s (1,750 stores). One reason that Menards may find it difficult to expand to the South and the coasts is that the two larger home-improvement chains are already so well established there. The cost and availability of land in coastal states also makes it more difficult for Menards’ megastore model to be feasible.
Given the economy and sustained high unemployment, Menards has even found it necessary to scale back its ambitious expansion plans. The chain originally planned on opening six new locations in the St. Louis area, but so far has only proceeded with two stores. “We have postponed plans to build additional stores due to concerns that economic conditions will worsen,” Abbott, the Menards spokesman wrote via e-mail. “But if the economy improves, we hope to be able to reconsider.”