|Today's post highlights DeSoto County, MS, retail.
After our brief excursion to Florida for our Fred's post in March, courtesy of our good friend and guest author Albertsons Florida Blog, this month we find ourselves squarely back in Mid-South territory, preparing to explore a modern Fred's location.
Given that Fred's traces its roots back to Coldwater and had a very long, storied history in this area of North Mississippi, most of the Fred's stores in the region were housed in older buildings. There were comparatively few modern new-build Fred's stores around here, and in fact I only visited a single one before the Fred's chain collapsed, which is the store that we will be touring today. (Since that time, however, I have been to two additional modern Fred's stores that have been repurposed for other retailers... go figure.)
That said, before we get to today's featured store, as always some history on how the modern Fred's format came to be would be welcome background information. So, to accomplish that, we need to roll the clock all the way back to 2009.
Not very far from Fred's headquarters along New Getwell Road in Memphis, the company in 2009 debuted a brand-new prototype store at 7657 US Highway 70 in Bartlett, TN. Opened in October, the store boasted numerous improvements based on the results of extensive customer research. "People come to us for things they've run out of during the week," a Fred's executive is quoted as saying at the time. "Now we've given them the tools to make that a bit easier."
"Those tools," according to the Commercial Appeal, "include wider aisles, lower shelves, in-store signs that are easier to see, and related products that are closer to each other. But the biggest changes are to the store's pharmacy, food section, and clothing department.
"The pharmacy, typically assigned to the back of Fred's stores, has been brought to the front in the prototype store. The pharmacy counter has been lowered and the glass wall around it has been removed." In a separate article, that same Fred's exec said the company had "discovered that 50 percent of shoppers didn't even know we had pharmacies in some of the stores. We had to change that."
The food selection was nearly doubled, and apparel items were placed, folded, on tables: "We stole a page from the [warehouse membership] clubs, and right away people think, 'the clothes have got to be a great deal.'" Floors were switched from tile to polished concrete, and the old dual access setup with one entry door and one exit door to either side of the registers was consolidated with a single automatic door in the center of the building.
But perhaps most relevant of all of these changes is the new identity that Fred's adopted. Alongside the new store in Bartlett came an entirely new in-store décor package, logo, and name for the discount store chain. Designed by Toronto-based Watt International, the sign on the outside of the building introduced the prototype as "Fred's Smallmart."
|I don't have a photo of the Bartlett Fred's Smallmart while it was in operation, but here's one of it post-closure. Later on in life, in 2018, it was actually (if briefly) turned into yet another prototype store: Fred's Closeout Bonanza, which you can read more about within this post. Courtesy LoopNet
It is at this point that I need to thank my fellow flickr contact styertowne for alerting me to the topic of Fred's Smallmart. Despite all the hubbub surrounding the debut of the prototype format, it's probably clear from the public's collective lack of knowledge about Smallmart that the name, at least, if not the overall concept, did not make it past the prototype stages. More on that in a moment, but suffice to say, the Smallmart name did not catch on.
However, that's not to say it was a bad name. To the contrary, consider this: styertowne is a resident of the northeast. Consequently, news about Fred's was very likely low to nonexistent in quantity up that way. There were also very few articles published about Smallmart to begin with; I had to dig quite a bit to find them. Yet despite all of that, not only did styertowne see an article about Smallmart back when it was introduced, he thought the name so intriguing that it still stuck with him over a decade later. That's a surefire sign of great branding!
Memphis marketing consultant John Malmo, in a 2010 piece, expressed a similar opinion:
I'm fascinated at the recent metamorphosis of local retailer Fred's. Changed their logo, colors, and exteriors. I don't know if that is dumb or smart. What bothers me is that there is still no way to know what is Fred's business. The sign only says "Fred's." Shoe store? Deli? Barbershop?Then I read that Fred's calls its newest store "Fred's Smallmart." I don't know if Smallmart is on the sign or not. But I do know that "Fred's Smallmart" is too much. And Fred's is yesterday. Whereas, Smallmart is absolute genius. A brilliant identity for Fred's retail concept.Fred's ought to get Smallmart up next to all the Fred's signs right away, if not sooner. Then, next year, lose the "Fred's." Smallmart is an absolute killer identity for Fred's sound retail concept. Smallmart needs not to be a description of Fred's brand; it needs to BE the brand. You not only know what is a Smallmart; you know, too, why to go there. Brilliant.
Very valid points, and at least in dropping the Smallmart name Fred's would go on to adopt another moniker to clue customers in as to what their business entails. Again, more on the decision to swap the names coming up, but for now, let's continue with our story of the Bartlett Fred's prototype:
Whereas the Bartlett building was 18,000 square feet, the Memphis Business Journal reported that Fred's was gearing up to open another prototype Smallmart, this one at only 12,000 square feet, in Tupelo, MS, one month later, in November 2009. Then, the chain -- which was planning to open an additional 25-30 locations within the next year -- would decide which format to open those new stores under, based on the performance of the two different prototypes. In other words, while the Bartlett location was more or less a traditionally-sized Fred's store, the Tupelo building would truly live up to the Smallmart name.
The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, thanks to dedicated business reporter Dennis Seid, has additional details on the expansion of the Fred's Smallmart prototype to that area. Not only would a new Smallmart be constructed -- by then, the fourth for the company -- but Fred's also said it was committed to remodeling all of its other existing Tupelo and Saltillo locations to the new format as well. "For Fred's to use Tupelo as a test site of sorts says a lot about the company's confidence in this market," Seid wrote. "Its stores have apparently done well enough that it thinks it can gauge consumer tastes here."
The difference in size compared to the Bartlett prototype meant that the Tupelo Smallmart would lose the apparel and furniture departments typically found at Fred's stores. It would, however, "sell helium balloons, a new item for the company," and "have an expanded food section, an expanded household cleaning section, and a drive-thru for the pharmacy" -- which was again to be moved to the front of the store -- as well as "the usual assortment [of] health and beauty aids, housewares, toys, office supplies," and the like.
But the square footage and merchandise selection weren't the only differences between Tupelo and Bartlett. The Bartlett store, as you saw in the image shown earlier, more or less bore the same architectural design as new-build Fred's stores had for many years before: the low-profile, rectangular roofline rising above the long, wide, bulky awning. We haven't toured any stores of that style on the blog (again, the locations around here were generally even older than that!), but an example image of one can be seen at this link. That would all change with the Tupelo store.
|Tupelo, MS, Fred's Smallmart. Courtesy msmudcat2001 on flickr
|Images taken February 3, 2010. Courtesy msmudcat2001 on flickr
As you can see above (in some of the only images ever known to exist of a Fred's Smallmart), the Tupelo store brought with it an entirely new architectural design for Fred's, featuring a taller, boxier building; a sleek, flat awning with exposed trusses; prominent blue and green colors, called to attention even more by the comparatively neutral gray to either side; and finally, a new centralized façade shape, designed not only to adhere to, but to showcase, the chain's new, all-lowercase logo. The clipping below, in black and white, captures the ribbon cutting at the Tupelo Fred's Smallmart, located at 1317 E Main St.
|Courtesy Northeast Mississippi Business Journal, December 2009 edition.
By March of 2010, Fred's seems to have definitively settled on a new format to expand to all of their new-build stores chainwide, marrying the larger square footage of the Bartlett prototype with the blue, green, and gray exterior design of the Tupelo location. They added a few windows to the architecture, too, to break up the boxiness, as can be seen when you compare the prototype exterior photo with the finalized design render below.
Also worth noting in that rendering is the adoption of a new name on the logo: no longer Fred's Smallmart, the chain decided to pivot to Fred's Super Dollar. Explains Dennis Seid:
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that Fred's was launching its "smallmart" concept system-wide, with Tupelo being the first market to turn all of its stores to the new format.Well, actually, that name was changed mid-stream. The company opted to go with "Fred's Super Dollar" instead, according to Dave Mueller, senior vice president of marketing and strategic initiatives for the Memphis-based retailer."Customers saw us as a mini you-know-who," he said, referring to the world's largest retailer. "So we settled on the 'Super Dollar' name. In fact, we used to be called Fred's Super Dollar." [And indeed they did -- see the image below!]
|Fred's store in Cordele, GA, modeling the old Super Dollar logo before it was brought back into style. Courtesy Cordele Dispatch
As an aside -- along with the name change, Fred's also dug back into its history to revive its human mascot, "Fred," played this time around by character actor Bob Penny. "Mueller said that bringing back a familiar face was an ode to the past as well, together with resurrecting the 'Super Dollar' name. In other words," wrote Seid, "the company went back to the future."
|Fred standee, circa early revived Super Dollar era. The company would go on to drop the Fred character from their advertisements once more, a few years down the road. Courtesy flickr
|The Fred character can also be seen in this Black Friday 2011 ad, wearing his more traditional fishing bucket hat garb. Note also that the old Fred's logo was still being used in this ad, for some reason. Courtesy flickr
|"Fred" actor Bob Penny, who has also been in Forrest Gump, Mississippi Burning, and My Cousin Vinny, among others. Courtesy Wall of Celebrities
Plans indicated that "the new Fred's Super Dollar format will be rolled out in about a third of the company's nearly 700 stores. This year , 20-25 new stores will be built with the new format, another 15-20 stores will be extensively remodeled, and another 200 will get minor refreshments that will change signs and rework the interior." Pretty much all of the stores that we've seen so far on the blog fell into that latter category, either in 2010 or any years of the decade that followed; the headquarters store on Getwell Road in Memphis was one of the first in line, and received a more extensive remodel, too, replicating the entire new-style blue and green façade (as we have seen). Delta Blues artist Super Chikan performed his song "Fred's Dollar Store" at the ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrating the reopening of the Getwell store on March 26, 2010.
The first generation of these new, modern Fred's stores brought along with them a new décor package, one which we've seen at many of the locations we've toured, hailing "Super Discount" products to tie in with the "Super Dollar" name, and also featuring not only quotes from "Fred" on the endcaps but happy phrases on the walls as well because, as Mueller put it, "we want to see our customers smile."
|Generation 1 modern Fred's store, with the gray exterior walls. The store pictured is located in Foley, AL. Courtesy Highland Group
|Fred's "Super Discount" interior décor; note the "Save. Smile. Smart!" phrase on the wall to the left. Courtesy Drug Store News
But that quote is a little hokey, as Seid opined, and the buildings were a little too boxy as well. The response, to be sure, wasn't always great: residents of Pascagoula, MS, in 2011 used words like "gray elephant" and "monster" to describe the new-style Fred's being built there, according to GulfLive. "In particular, they had an issue with the Memphis chain's desire to place a sign near the roadway. ... Spencer Bailey, whose family has had a home on Belair [near the new Fred's lot] for years, said that 'only people who are dead and/or blind' wouldn't be able to tell the building was a Fred's without the additional freestanding sign," bringing up the argument that, "Sure, the sign might be pleasing to the eye when it's built, but if and when the business goes away, it eventually tears up. We're not expecting Fred's to go out of business, but you never know. No one would have thought Kmart would have closed down." (Add Fred's to the list of retailers that Kmart has somehow outlived, by the way.)
|Pascagoula, MS, Fred's, seen under construction in 2011. Courtesy GulfLive
|Pascagoula Fred's post-closure. Bailey was right: that sign is tearing up now that Fred's has gone away. Quite the eyesore; thankfully, the building has since been retenanted by DG Market. You can see its interior prior to the DG Market conversion in this video. Courtesy LoopNet
Fred's heard Pascagoula residents, and ultimately refrained from adding an additional roadside sign at that location. What's more, they also must have heard many more complaints about their design, for in 2012 or so, they introduced a new, updated architectural format: out were the ugly gray walls; in was a new, pleasing brick façade, with more, bigger windows added for visual interest.
I'm not sure where exactly this new prototype debuted, but it managed to get at least a few locations in the Memphis market, including one on Lamar Avenue in December 2013, and two stores in Southaven, MS, including the one we'll be touring today, located at 710 Church Road West (opened April 20, 2012). Along with the refreshed exterior came another new interior design, the same one we saw at the Getwell Road store (linked earlier), emphasizing how "Fred's is known not only for convenience and product variety -- including items such as cleaning and pet supplies, grocery items, and home décor accessories, among others -- but also for low prices."
|Generation 2 modern Fred's store, with the brick exterior walls. The store pictured is located at 1290 Lamar in Memphis. Courtesy The Daily Memphian
|Fred's "Low Prices!" interior décor, the company's final décor package. Courtesy Memphis Business Journal
A good summary of the changes Fred's undertook beginning in 2009 and progressing through 2013 or so can be found here. In short, the company drastically reimagined itself, adjusting its salesfloor layout, perfecting merchandise selections, becoming "the first in the discount store segment to introduce a loyalty card," debuting fresh, modern interior and exterior designs, and implementing a brand-new name, logo, and visual identity as Fred's Super Dollar. Fred's would go on to keep the same brick exterior design and "low prices" interior décor all the way until the end of its existence as a company. And all of this started with the little prototype that could, Fred's Smallmart.
Turning our attention now to the store tour portion of this post. As mentioned earlier, our Fred's of focus today is (was) located at 710 Church Road West in Southaven, MS, which opened on April 20, 2012. This location actually had a twin store elsewhere in Southaven, which opened fifteen months later in July 2013; both were targeted for closure in the fourth major 2019 closing round for the chain (fifth, if you count the franchise stores). Since the two stores were virtually identical, I chose to visit only one of them, with the Church Road location winning out because it was generally less busy than the other one.
While those first two images were taken during normal operations way back in December 2015, with the above photo we're jumping forward to August 19, 2019, the date of my liquidation visit. A pretty nice overview of the exterior is given in this photo, where you can see this Fred's was definitely a second-generation modern store design, with the classy brick façade. Note also that the Fred's logo consisted of individual letters affixed to the storefront here, as opposed to a more simple rectangular sign like most other stores got (including the Lamar Avenue store shown earlier).
Pulling into the parking lot, we see that the monument sign out by the road has been taped over, so as to hide the no-longer-in-operation "Pharmacy" tagline. It looks a little awkward here, though, because the ampersand beside it was left visible, effectively leaving the sign to read "Fred's & Super Dollar." Thankfully, the storefront itself fared a little better in that regard -- not that it ever said "Pharmacy" above the entrance anyhow. (That sign would instead have been located off to the right of the façade; we'll see that area later in this post.)
As we head inside, we see that my visit took place as the store was entering its final eight days of operation; the photos in this tour will reflect that fact, too, what with little merchandise remaining and much of the salesfloor being closed off to public access. Even so close to the end, however, the liquidation signs hanging from the ceiling indicate that some items still did not exceed a 20 percent discount -- certainly atypical for this sort of event.
If you looked closely at the exterior images of this store, you should have noticed the presence of floor-to-ceiling windows, much larger than the two small, high-up banks of windows found on the first-gen modern Fred's builds. However, now that we're inside, we can see that the net effect to the interior was unchanged: the extra panels were simply for exterior decoration; inside the store, those windows were blacked out and covered over by shelving, so as to allow for better utilization of the selling space. Only because of the liquidation had those shelves been removed, exposing the hidden windows behind them.
As was common for the modern Fred's prototypes, the pharmacy counter was located in the front right corner of this store, immediately inside the entrance. And like a handful of other locations I visited, the former pharmacy counter at this store had been converted into a sales space for mattresses and appliances, following the pharmacy's closure several months before the store itself was to follow. I previously discussed that move back in the Getwell Road post (linked earlier); it definitely felt odd to see a Fred's store selling those things.
At this point in this store's liquidation, though, those items had already sold, and the pharmacy space was once again closed off -- as were all of the former health and beauty aisles out in front of it, which we're peering over from this point of view. Note the taped-over remains of the "Pharmacy" sign on the blue wall.
Here's a better shot of the (for lack of a better word) junk that was blocking off the former pharmacy area from access. This Fred's felt mighty cluttered in places, at least compared to several of the other Fred's stores I visited during their liquidation sales.
Some glances across to the rest of the salesfloor stretching off toward the left side wall of the building, with an emphasis on the half-double-wide center aisle, which looks to have been designed as the focal point of the interior. There would once have been two rows of aisles in this store, one along the back wall and this other one closer to the front; but the back aisles had all been closed off and dismantled before my visit, with the remaining merchandise consolidated into these front aisles.
I almost bought that Grumpy Cat Christmas T-shirt you can see on that hanging apparel rack in the top image above, but ultimately decided against it :P
A brief look down what once was the greeting cards aisle, which would have been the rightmost aisle of this center bunch, followed by a glance from the focal aisles I mentioned back over toward the pharmacy wall. The pathway beside those greeting card shelves would have been the main access point to the back of the store, but again, that was all roped off at this point in the sale.
It's also pretty surprising to see the greeting cards department entirely empty -- I can guarantee you that the vendor had come and picked those up; no way the department actually sold out in full! Greeting cards always seem to be tough sells, even during liquidations...
Heading down one of those aisles, we find a very varied merchandise selection -- with office supplies on one side, and pet supplies on the other -- followed by a couple of views out toward either side of the rear wall of the building, where you can see what I was talking about concerning it being cleaned out and roped off. I wish I could have explored that area further, but it is what it is, I guess.
The 75 percent off sign in that bottom corner of the last pic above always stands out to me whenever I look at that photo. Whoever wrote the merchandise categories on the signs (e.g. "APPAREL") definitely spent a lot of time perfecting their handwriting for the task!
Another look toward the back wall, this time from the neighboring aisle, joined by a reverse view up toward the front wall and the checkouts. As I've mentioned, all of the other Fred's stores I visited were not modern-build locations, but I felt I would be remiss if I didn't also visit one of those. You can see in these images how different the new-build stores felt, with their open ceilings and concrete floors. Older stores that were retrofitted to this newer layout and interior design tried to emulate the feel, but could only go so far in achieving that... including the Getwell Road store, which even as the flagship Fred's location still kept its drop ceiling and tile floor.
Some more glances down the front actionway here, the first back over toward the pharmacy, and the second facing the opposite direction, where we will arrive eventually at the food coolers. The signage in this store is the "LOW PRICES!" variety, which, like the exterior, indicates a second-generation modern store build.
Note also the pole sticking up out of the shelving in the bottom picture, telling customers to "enter here for checkout." Queue-style checkout lanes were another feature implemented only in modern Fred's new-builds and remodels, as older stores had individual checklanes instead.
Not far from those coolers we spotted along the left-side wall (which we will see again momentarily), the leftmost of the remaining aisles in the store had been set aside for what was left of the food department -- whether this aisle always housed food, or was simply commandeered for that purpose during the liquidation, I'm not sure. All cold and frozen groceries had been sold out, leaving only these dry goods behind.
The middle image focuses on some Fred's-brand cereal comparisons, while the top image shows a boatload of unsold Fred's-brand soda, more of which can also be seen one paragraph back. The back of the aisle, in comparison, looked more empty, as can be seen in the final pic above.
As I mentioned, the cold food items must have sold completely out at this store, as the refrigerator and freezer cases you see here beneath the "FOOD" department sign had been decommissioned and, like the entire left-hand side of the store, blocked from access. Something interesting here is that I don't think the food department always occupied this portion of the salesfloor from the beginning; rather, the faux-wood flooring suggests to me that this was originally the apparel department, and only switched over to food when the coolers were installed, as those would have necessitated a location against a perimeter wall. If anyone else has further information on this, please feel free to share it with me in the comments.
The other two pictures above show the rest of the left-hand wall, devoid of merchandise and shelving. It looks like the pet and household departments would both have occupied space in the back left corner of the store.
Entering the checkout queue, the top photo here takes one last glance out to the left-side wall: note the large selection of beer, cooking utensils, and hair care, items which naturally go perfectly with one another :P The bottom pic, meanwhile, focuses on an interesting item I saw in the checkouts: heard of 5-Hour Energy? Well now, try new 6-Hour Sleep!
Only one register was open, and for all intents and purposes the employee working it appeared to be the only employee in the entire store, although it's possible there could have been more in the back. But this close to closure, it's also just as possible that the store was down to a skeleton crew. Either way, I couldn't get very many photos of the front end, but at least I was able to get this close-up of one of the register counters, featuring a message from the chain's mascot, "Fred," asking customers to complete an online survey in order to tell the company whether their visit was "a beautiful 'swan' or an ugly duckling" -- presumably in keeping with his fisherman persona. To the left of that, take note of the payment method sticker featuring the old Fred's logo, which had been several years outdated by the time this store opened!
Besides the cell phones and fidget spinners you see, tobacco was another item available for sale behind the checkouts; the manager's office was located in that space, too. The second picture shows a more drawn-out view of the entire front actionway, with the registers on the left and the salesfloor aisles on the right.
One last interior shot before we head back outside. I like the design of the cart storage area here; it's nice, neat, and tucked away, efficiently maximizing space. However, it would seem that the area was designed without the security sensors in mind... that row of carts on the left looks all but impossible to pull a cart out from, due to the awkward angle created by the security sensor! Oops...
I should also note that all the carts here were for sale as part of the fixture liquidation (you can see the stickers on their handles), and unlike all of the other Fred's I visited, the entire fleet not only matched but was fairly new and in good condition, which was pleasant to see. Fred's was assuredly not a chain for consistent shopping cart quality, in my experience.
Some more exterior views of the store, featuring shots of both the central and right-hand portions of the façade, as well as a panorama-style shot that my Google Photos app fashioned for me out of those two. Notice that one of those window panes to the left of the entrance was boarded up -- yikes -- and that there's a secondary, standalone Fred's logo just awkwardly sitting off to the right; that's where the exterior pharmacy sign would have been, before the word "Pharmacy" was removed leaving just the "Fred's" portion behind.
One more glance at the monument sign out by the road -- even its base is brick, just like the store itself! -- followed by what I think turned out to be a very nice wide shot of the store, as viewed from the street. Note the "STORE CLOSING" banner on the far left, near the ground.
Like I said, there is one other Southaven store that was identical to this one, which we won't be seeing as a Fred's but will be seeing in the future nonetheless... stay tuned for that!
Besides the panorama I showed you earlier, Google Photos also did something it's never done before or since, and put together this gif, comprised of a series of photos I took while driving past the storefront. It's an interesting concept for sure, but I for one get a little dizzy if I look at it too long, haha! I wish there was a way to pause the sucker... in lieu of that, though, feel free to just scroll past it, lol :P
Our final photo of the Church Road Fred's here showcases how the property it sits on matches the beauty of the building itself. This lot always felt like a bit of an odd location for a store to me, as the Fred's building is very much secluded, off by itself in a fairly heavily wooded lot (for a retail store); development along Church Road hasn't quite extended to this portion of the roadway yet, although logic would dictate it will eventually meet up here, extending from Tanger Outlets to the east and Highway 51 to the west. In the meantime, though, a consequence of the location and lot meant that -- while very nicely landscaped and detailed (check out that fancy streetlight!) -- this Fred's felt alone and never busy; honestly, I'm surprised that it lasted until the penultimate closure round, as opposed to closing earlier in 2019. Its twin store was always at least twice as busy as this one. That, coupled with its location, probably speaks to why that one has been backfilled already, whereas thus far this Church Road Fred's still has not found a buyer, remaining on the market just shy of two years past its closure (a leasing photo can be seen below).
|Former Church Road Fred's, vacant and for lease. Notice that the boarded-up window has been fixed! Courtesy LoopNet
Last but not least, as always, here are two quick shots of my receipt and the liquidation flyer I picked up. At least, I'm fairly certain that flyer came from this store; I picked up so many of them that it's definitely possible I got some of them mixed up, haha! The receipt for sure came from this store, though -- those are conveniently labeled :P
That will wrap up this month's Fred's post, my first back on the job since last December, believe it or not. My thanks once again to Albertsons Florida Blog for holding down the fort in my absence, and I hope y'all will stick around for yet another Fred's post this September, where we'll rewind the clock just slightly, to a store that closed in the second liquidation round announced in 2019. After that, we'll have one more from the same round as this Church Road store; and then it's off to the very final round, when all the Fred's stores shut down for good as the company entered bankruptcy and decided to dissolve its business. Plus, there's lots more in the way of other, non-Fred's retail content set to come to the blog this year as well; so, I hope you're looking forward to that, and until then, thanks for reading and have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are!