Prototyping multi-store retail leads to substantial store returns

Good design aims to optimize. Be it comfort, convenience, performance, energy, economy or efficiency, the goal of quality architecture is to improve the human experience of place and space in meaningful ways.

For ALDI, one of America’s fastest-growing retailers, functional optimization and consistency of experience permeate every aspect of the business from the products to the facilities. Stocking their shelves with 77.5% private-label products (leading private-label product share), many of which are produced by the same suppliers as the name-brand version, ALDI takes pride in offering top-quality merchandise at 20% to 40% less cost than comparable products at other grocery chains.

As a Regional Director of Real Estate, Russ White directly oversees 80 ALDI stores throughout the Midwest and is passionate about delivering fresh groceries and essential household goods to communities across the US. “Our business is built on maximizing cost savings that we pass along to our customers,” says White, who joined ALDI as a District Manager in 1998 before accepting the Director of Real Estate role in 2006.

White says its model is different by design. "At approximately 20,000 square feet, our stores are smaller than other supermarkets which keeps our operational and energy costs low while offering our customers a similar, easy-to-shop layout no matter where they are. Everything from the size of our stores to how we display our products, and even our 25-cent cart deposit, all saves shoppers money.”

Since APD maintains records of store evolution over time, it dissuades decision-makers from repeating past mistakes, while readily illuminating lessons learned when gains are made.

In addition to leading facilities projects throughout the Midwest, White also manages the ALDI National Prototype. Developed in partnership with APD Engineering & Architecture PLLC, the ALDI prototype serves as a digital design template for the continual evolution of more than 2,200 ALDI stores across 38 states.

White says that controlling facility improvements through the prototype affords ALDI immense efficiency in creating near-identical stores from market to market. ALDI also beneficially leverages buying power in procuring equipment and materials on a national scale. The greatest benefit, however, is in the ability to pre-think and test planned changes virtually within the prototype before implementation for the certainty of success.

“Though we do have regional professional teams drawing specific store projects, whenever we improve a store, the starting point is always the national prototype,” he says. The prototype includes a fully modeled 3D base building along with written and illustrated design guidelines that combine to form a comprehensive playbook for building and maintaining an ALDI store anywhere in the country.

ALDI started developing its prototype quite a few years ago based on merchandising space and customer and store-employee needs. It also remains continually conscious through evaluating operational and design efficiencies. With its partners at APD, ALDI is continually updating the prototype in response to evolutions in everything from MEP systems to self-check-out.

Leading the way

Providing a combination of design guidance, strategic thinking and technical understanding of field conditions, the team at APD works continuously to consider facility betterments within the ALDI prototype framework. APD’s ability to incorporate specialized resources in structural, civil, and MEP engineering, and code and compliance, eliminates trial-and-error decision-making in favor of functional certainty in solution building.

Like his client and contemporary, Dan Sargent takes great pride in the continual improvement of processes and performance. As the President of APD, he oversees a team of dedicated design professionals working in a cross-section of capacities focused on prototype design for large-scale, multi-unit retailers, quick-service restaurants, and self-storage centers.

Before being named President in 2022, Sargent spent 15 years working directly with White and the ALDI team as the primary point of contact on prototype development and management. “Fundamentally, prototyping is about creating a design model that can be adapted in multiple geographic locations with minimal site specific modifications. We do this by designing universally and allowing flexibility in dimension and capacities.”

The biggest challenge of owning and maintaining 2,200 stores across 38 states is working through differing jurisdictional considerations like drainage, egress, and fenestration.

One thing that differentiates the prototyping process from the work of other architecture practices is that APD has built projects in thousands of US communities. APD’s expertise is a familiarity with a myriad of state building codes and adaptation of various client’s prototypes in locations across America.

"Everything from the size of our stores to how we display our products, and even our 25-cent cart deposit, all saves shoppers money.” — Russ White, Regional Director of Real Estate, ALDI

“We have a dedicated permitting coordinator who is basically on a first name basis with most major municipalities in America,” Sargent says. “She spends her time exploring codes and troubleshooting compliance concerns before the project is submitted.”

Having been hands-on with the ALDI prototype day-to-day for more than a decade, Sargent says the prototype serves as a single point of truth, which is invaluable when it comes to keeping all stakeholders on the same page. “Versioning is another benefit of prototyping. ALDI has an awareness of which prototypes have been built where. This affords the corporate office the opportunity to decide what stores get which updates based on the version of the store in question and the update’s applicability to that iteration.”

Since APD maintains records of store evolution over time, it dissuades decision-makers from repeating past mistakes, while readily illuminating lessons learned when gains are made.

Sargent says that once a retailer invests in a prototype, gaining consistency and repeatability is far easier than doing hundreds of projects a year with one-off designs. Though maintaining the prototype is an ongoing effort, APD has developed a streamlined system for distributing the design’s current drawing set and guidelines to store operators, architects, and builders all over the US.

“APD developed a software called 'Sharenology,' which contains all of the prototype’s design drawings, material specifications, equipment requirements, and other baseline documentation required to design and permit our client’s stores,” Sargent says. “All of this combines to provide multi-store corporate owners with an easily accessible set of design guidelines that synchronizes design and construction decisions for a vast number of facilities in a multitude of independent jurisdictions. A prototype is an investment that pays off in consistency and efficiency across volume.”

White says APD is an extension of the ALDI team and their continued collaboration on the prototype is key to the ALDI real estate portfolio. “At ALDI, our mission is to provide communities access to fresh, award-winning groceries at the lowest possible prices. Working with APD on the ALDI store prototype has enabled the real estate team to have a genuine impact on meeting our mission. That’s a point of pride.”

Sean O'Keefe is an architecture and construction writer who crafts stories and promotional copy based on people, ideas, and more than 20 years of experience in the built environment. You can reach him at


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