STEPHENS CITY – Shopping got easier Thursday when Martin’s unveiled its new Martin’s Direct Center.

Tracy Shoemaker, manager at the Stephens City store, said customers are tired of spending time shopping rather than with their families. In order to meet customer demand — and compete with other grocery stores — Martin’s Direct is offering a way to save time and still get high-quality groceries.

“It gives people more time to do other things they want rather than spend that time in a grocery store shopping,” Shoemaker said. “And we’re happy to give it.”

This most recent expansion has been good for employees as well as customers. Shoemaker said Martin’s hired eight new people and promoted three others.

Shopping from home is easy, Shoemaker said. After creating an account online, Martin’s customers pick out the products they want and select when they want to pick them up. Orders need to be placed at least four hours before pickup but can be scheduled out as far as two weeks.

When orders come in, employees put in the legwork that shoppers used to do.

Each employee has a wrist device — about the size of a large cell phone — that has a list of items customers have ordered,and a scanner to check off the list. The scanner helps the employees keep their items and bags straight as they are often shopping for more than one order at a time.

Dan Watson, relief manager and a regional Martin’s Direct trainer, said employees have been training with the new devices for weeks to ensure the launch goes as smoothly  as possible.

When the coffee shop in Martin’s closed, there was a whole section of the store that wasn’t being used. That corner has been revamped and remodeled to become the Martin’s Direct Room that is stocked with refrigerators, shelves, carts and computers to keep every order organized.

Once orders are ready to go, they are stored in the Martin’s Direct Room where managers check each order to be sure no items are missing.

“Management comes through three times a day,” Watson said. “So we are double and triple and quadruple checking. It might pass their judgment but I might come in and say ‘hey, I see a bruise on there,’ and I’m pulling. You are gonna get the best of the best.”

Shoemaker said Martin’s Direct service will create a happier shopping experience for everyone. Employees have their eye out for “blue ribbon” products from produce to deli meats. If there is an item that is out of stock, Shoemaker said, Martin’s will upgrade the product but charge the requested rate.

Service starts and stops without ever having to go into the store, Shoemaker said. To pick up groceries, customers drive up to the front of the Martin’s Direct area of the store and park in reserved spaces before calling in their order. Within five minutes, a Martin’s employee will bring the groceries to the car and loads them. Customers pay online when they order, so picking up is fast, Shoemaker said.

“Our staff is trying to take it to next level service,” Shoemaker said. “We know that some of our competitors do this, but we feel like at Martin’s we just do it a little bit better. And it’s expected from our customers we do it better.”

Shoemaker said Martin’s stores in Winchester will be opening Direct centers as well, but no dates have been set.

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