How do you build a smart store that is open 24/7?

In November of last year, OKay Direct opened in Ghent, our first store that is open 24/7. As usual, we completely put the progressive concept together ourselves!

Start-up

At the end of November 2020, the project really took off. Project Manager Daan Germeau: "We had been working for a while on a study into the possibilities of stores being open 24/7. At the same time, OKay was looking for a smaller store concept for urban areas. One plus one equals two and so the first self-service of Colruyt Group became one of OKay."

"We immediately took action. Our expansion team went on the search for a suitable location while a compact team started on the elaboration of a concept. After a one-week design sprint at the beginning of December, we ended up with two concepts. After OKay chose the concept that seemed best to them, our realisation team could start. Software engineers and innovation officers also started to develop the various components of the shop in sprints."

Smart choices

An important question was: what will we develop ourselves and what will we purchase? “We searched the market and made choices. That went very smoothly thanks to the good relations with our suppliers. For example, it turned out that we could use refrigerators that we are also installing in other branches. By developing many things in parallel, the project progressed smoothly. In March, the first orders already went out."

Not everything works the first time. "In a self-service store, it is extremely important that we know exactly which products someone is putting in their basket. We noticed that the partitions between the products in our design did not function 100% as expected. Thanks to a quick intervention, we had a new version designed and produced in a few days."

At the beginning of April, the renovations in Ghent started. "Our building team has completely stripped the building and ran into a number of surprises during the works. Luckily, we have sufficient knowledge and skill within the group to deal with such challenges."

Intense first weeks

At some point, of course, you have to open. "Quite exciting, as it's the first in its kind. When we open a Colruyt store, for example, we know more or less in advance how the customers will behave, but that was not the case now." The first weeks after opening the team was on standby 24/7. "That was an intense period. The store is open around the clock, which means things can also go wrong at any moment of the day."

"In the first days, we noticed customers did not always know that they had to close their cabinet door before they could open the next one. Or, they noticed that their door was still open. We quickly found a solution with voice feedback, tested it first with a simple Bluetooth speaker and were able to implement a permanent solution less than a week later."

Strong concept

In the meantime, several months have passed and everything is running smoothly. "From a technical viewpoint, it is a strong concept. With some fine-tuning, we can put the same store in a different location. Many of the basic components are things we already use in other store formats. Think of cooling units, the refrigeration system behind them, the sliding doors. On the hardware side, the biggest difference from an OKay Compact is the shelves and locks. This makes it easy for our regional technicians to provide maintenance for this store as well."