Woodruff’s Organization

First time shoppers at Woodruff’s Supermarket are often confused by the store’s organization.  While some things are similar to chain grocery stores, Woodruff’s, a family owned store, has some idiosyncrasies that can be a little disconcerting.

Like most grocery stores, Woodruff’s has an outer “track” that takes shoppers from produce and bakery items; to the meat and deli; around to the milk and other dairy section; and finally to the freezer section.  The center of the store contains aisles with other food and grocery items.  Each aisle has sign above it explaining the classifications of the items in the aisle.  There are, however, some places throughout the store that are set aside for things that don’t seem to fit in those classifications.  For instance, between the produce and meat/deli areas, a spot exists where specials are located (these are not necessarily sale items, but more like special purchases) along with dried fruit and nuts and canning supplies.  Strangely, microwave and regular popcorn are also located here rather than in the snack food aisle.  Likewise, although there is a section for baked goods, more baked goods are located near the cash registers and back by the meat counter.  This placement isn’t really strange but makes finding things a little harder unless you’re used to the whole mess.

After the freezer section, there is another unmarked area where drink mixes, sundae materials, and generic groceries are available.  These little vignettes are full of the bits and pieces that don’t fit into the explicit classifications put forth by the store signage.  Although the inhabitants of these “lost lands” may be classified by shoppers (sundae stuff, dried food…you’ll find rice cakes here, too), they are either too small in number or outside the progression of the shopping experience and don’t seem to warrant their own classification.  I suspect if there was a sign that said “preservation materials,” it’d create more questions than answers with shoppers saying, “Huh?”

I suspect that Woodruff’s organizational structure has evolved over the years due to several factors.  It’s an old store in a small community.  When new things were added in the past, people got used to where they were placed.  People also got used to having certain items available that aren’t necessarily available in newer chain stores (Amish noodles, local farm eggs and lettuce, Borax, etc.).  A few years ago, the store also moved into a little bigger space.  In fact, the new space is the only reason that the store even partially resembles a modern grocery store.  Even so, many of the older products had to be fit into a space that was defined by a newer store experience.  Although Woodruff’s has done a pretty good job of putting their merchandise in those predefined classifications, some things just didn’t fit.  It was easier to put rice cakes and popcorn by the produce because that’s where it had been before, rather than putting them over by the snack foods or health foods or whatever.

Woodruff’s looks like any mild-mannered grocery store, but beneath the surface there lurks a flea-market/farm stand aching to burst forth.  Unsuspecting shoppers have been searching in vain among the dried fruits and vegetables for the French Fried Onions only to learn that they’re located next to the canned green beans (top shelf).  Out-of-towners have been desperate for a lint roller, digging through the pet supplies and the laundry supplies, finding, only at the last minute, that lint rollers are located by the mops (apparently they’ve been classified as cleaning hardware).

Seriously though, I think Woodruff’s major reason for its insufficient classification systems (and I do think it’s insufficient…especially for novice Woodruff’s shoppers) is the fact that the store is small and has a small stock.  It would be silly, for instance, to have a candy making section when all the candy making supplies available are three types of almond bark.  For the major things, however, it seems like Woodruff’s would fit most people’s mental models of a grocery store.  It does have the outer loop and the inner aisles.  It does have a produce section and a canned food aisle.  There is a milk case and a cheese case.  There are candy and tabloids located at the cash registers which are at the front of the store.

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