I have a confession to make: I love grocery shopping. From picking out the perfect head of garlic to sorting through the items “reduced for quick sale,” I get a kick out of seeing how much quality food I can grab while keeping the bill as low as humanly possible.
But my love does not extend to all grocery stores. There are days when, due to time limits or traffic, I find myself gritting my teeth, twisting the cart handle as though it were the throttle on a motorcycle. In these instances, the layout of a store plays a major role in my choice of supermarket. And, despite its solid prices and outstanding selection, my blood pressure spikes when I have to visit the redoubtable Woodman’s Market.
Why I should stop whining and fall in love with Woodman’s
I should adore Woodman’s. With nineteen locations scattered across Wisconsin and Northern Illinois, it’s everything I want in a grocer: a massive produce area, strong international section, and (as its delightful advertising is quick to point out) employee ownership.
Other points in its favor include the fact that it’s open 24 hours, shoppers are invited to pick through entire pallets of onions, and its liquor section is the size of a Dollar General. And I don’t think I’ve been to another store that can rival Woodman’s frozen pizza selection. If you’re on the hunt for an alternative to Walmart or the growing monopoly and surveillance state that is Kroger, then seriously, stop reading here and go to Woodman’s.
Not that the business is perfect. The courts have recently banged out settlements against Woodman’s due to a pair of class action suits (one for time shaving and another for selling gas on the cheap). And to be frank, I didn’t have a chance to discuss what the day-to-day experience of being “employee owned” means with any of the workers themselves. But back when I was in food and grocery service, Woodman’s was considered a decent place to be.
So, why don’t I love it? What could possibly make me take to the internet to complain about one of the best food purveyors in my state?
The layout is confusing
As with most retailers of this size, finding what you’re after can be a bit of a chore. And Woodman’s doesn’t make things easy. Take a look at the map above, depicting one of its grocery stores.
Notice anything strange? The upper and lower aisles are offset. And above the main grocery lanes, there’s a long, wall-high display of chips and other snacks that cuts you off from the meat and dairy sections. In most grocery stores, you can find a natural progression: start your shopping in produce and finish by grabbing some ice cream. Not so with Woodman’s.
Because of the staggered and perpendicular aisles, you’re going to be stuck retracing your steps no matter what. Perhaps this is done for ease of stocking (as the parade of pallet-jacks I witnessed would indicate). Each store is laid out a bit differently; sometimes the aisles line up with each other, sometimes they don’t. Regardless, the locations I’ve visited have all been a challenge to navigate. Maybe this is something that comes with practice and I haven’t quite cracked the code. And speaking of navigation…
The shopping carts are like flatbed trucks
Can someone explain these shopping carts to me? They’re wide, shallow, and generally difficult to pilot. I believe they’re designed to mate up with Woodman’s checkout lanes, notching against the register.
For what it’s worth, these photos were taken early on a Sunday morning, when most sensible folks were still asleep. But when you get more than a handful of patrons in the aisles, the traffic pileups are real.
The flooring is—well, what is it, exactly?
Carts, crowding, and strange layouts, boo-hoo. When weighed against the price and selection at Woodman’s, these are minor complaints. But the thing that sets my teeth on edge, quite literally, is this:
They might look inviting, but these brick-tiled floors are my nemesis; they do not belong at a grocery store. The audible clatter and feedback when the cart wheels stutter across their surface is enough to rattle your bones. Thankfully, they’re limited to certain portions of the store (produce, freight aisles, etc.). But trust me, you’ll notice their presence.
Is there a reason for this hardwood-patterned faux brick design? It persists through every Woodman’s I’ve visited, so it’s a thoroughly intentional feature. I’ve heard it said that the brick tile allows employees to hear where customers are located. Not sure I buy that explanation, but it makes as much sense as anything.
These are all rather petty complaints, to be sure, and I hope you’ve picked up on their (somewhat) tongue-in-cheek nature. Seriously, from a price and selection standpoint, I have nothing but good things to say about Woodman’s. And while the actual shopping experience gets under my skin, if you’re a veteran of Sam’s Club, Costco, or other big box stores, you’ll probably make it out of here unscathed. Probably.