Store Tour: Penzeys Spices Does Great Retail

Penzeys Spices Retail StoreI live in a great urban retail district in Portland, Oregon called the Pearl.  This week I was surprised to notice a new retail shop open in my neighborhood.  Penzeys Spices is a 50 year old company that operates 48 stores and they do it quite well.

Their value proposition is that they provide high quality spices to the home cook, at affordable prices.  The design of their retail stores is very consistent with that promise.

When you first enter the store you a greeted by an open floor plan with a good lines of sight, clear category signage for easy way-finding, and not too much visual clutter.  The fixtures emulate wooden crates, and distressed wood and brick are used liberally in the design.  The store is well lit, blending  several large sky-lights with halogen fixtures.

Penzeys Spices Store Interior

Every spice in the store includes a large sampler jar which you are encouraged to smell.  The sample jars are labeled with rich product information.  The “for sale” packaging has simpler labels with clear pricing.   Informational signs are scattered amongst the shelves, educating shoppers about the various spices.

Penzeys Spices Retail Shelf

Recipes are placed on each display that prominently feature the adjacent spices.  The recipes include large photo’s of the finished product, and tear cards to enable you to take the recipe home.  Penzeys clearly understands that they are selling the experience of having a fresh baked coconut pie in your home, not a just a jar of vanilla.    Penzeys Spices Free Recipie A gift area includes a variety of gift packs with pre-selected assortments of spices and accessories (such as pepper-mills) in custom wooden gift crates.

Penzeys Spices Gift Pack

Props are used to add visual interest to the environment (fishing boats, nets, burlap sacks, etc…)

Penzeys Spices Salt Display

Penzeys Spices Retail Props

Because the store caters to home cooks, who may be shopping with young children, the isle spacing is stroller friendly, and there is a themed coloring area for kids.

Penzeys Spices Childrens Play Area

The store is the company’s second location in Portland.  They seemed to have hired a friendly and enthusiastic staff, and sent a retail operations team member from headquarters to help launch the store.

Penzeys in-house team designed the store (I don’t know if a firm was involved with the original concept).  They have there own fixture shop at their Wisconsin headquarters to fabricate the fixtures.

The company started as a mail-order business and expanded into retail, so it’s not surprising that they cater to multi-channel consumers offering catalogs, e-commerce, and retail stores with a consistent shopping experience.

Spice & Tea Exchange

I had never been in a dedicated spice retailer before, but this certainly felt like a well executed concept.  It did make me curious if there was much competition in the category so I popped onto Google Maps and learned that there was a competitor called the Spice & Tea Exchange less than a mile away, so I paid them a visit as well.

Spice & Tea Exchange is a franchise operation, so it’s possible that the locally owned store in Portland is not representative of the overall concept, but unfortunately their Portland store did not fare well in comparison to Penzeys.

Spice and Tea Exchange Retail StoreSpice and Tea Exchange Sidewalk Tent

The store has been open for five months, but the primary signage was still a vinyl banner covering the previous occupants sign.  There was a sidewalk tent in-front with a handmade promotion taped to it. 

Spice and Tea Exchange Retail Interior

The store had a simplistic layout with product along the walls and no real use of the interior space.  The fixtures, materials, and way-finding signage are all fine.  Unfortunately they need of a new copy-writer, as most of the signage is to tell you want not to do!

Please don’t reach in the jars.

…the most expensive spice in the world

…this is not a hands-on museum.

All the negative signage made me feel like they would prefer shoppers not visit the store at all. 

Spice and Tea Exchange negative sign Spice and Tea Exchange negative sign

At the end of the day, I have no idea which store has better quality spices or how they compare on price, but I can tell you which store I’d rather shop… Penzeys won my business through their superior customer experience.  Penzeys understands who their customer is and perfectly executed an experience tailored to that customer.  I love great retail!


  1. Nice compare/contrast Jason–a good lunchtime read. We have a Penzey’s here in Columbus–it’s in a weird old circular retail building that was built as a local men’s store–I really didn’t know much about the company.

    I like your observations–I hate it when you go into store and see negative signs/attitudes. It makes you wonder if they ever actually shop their own stores.

    What’s with the old-world nautical theme at Penzey’s? Is it some reference to “spice routes” or something like that? From a retail branding perspective, that’s a bit of a head scratcher.


  2. I’m not sure the pictures I posted give an entirely fair perspective of the overall environment. I needed a wider shot.

    When I first walk in the store, it reads “Country Store” to me, more than “Nautical”. The boat elements do read a bit as “old world spice trader”, but my first impression was that the nautical stuff was aggregated in the Salt section of the store and that it was more of a “Sea Salt” kind of theme.

    The Children’s coloring/play area is also nautically themed, so maybe the store designers were trying to get “Spice Trader” more than I realized.

  3. Very nice article and thanks for the useful information

  4. Okay..I liked enjoyed the store,and was not offended at all by the signage..’do not play w/the etc.’..imo kid’s should be taught that the world is not play school/home…hello manner’s. The store I visited was great,well represented. I will be back for more. Thanks for being here.

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