Chad Ott and Brad Knab
The Earth-Shakin’ Leaders Blasting the Status Quo of Grocery Store Design and Development Master Planning
From the cow nameplates of Neiman’s Family Market in St. Clair, Michigan, to the architectural marvel of Milwaukee’s beloved family-owned Glorioso’s Italian Market, whose interior transports shoppers to the streets of an Italian villa lining the former historic Astor Theater, Chad Ott and Brad Knab are the innovative designers behind numerous head-turning grocery stores across the country. As the owners of StoreMasters, this artistic duo is blazing a path through the outdated and replacing tired shopping environments with selfie-worthy sensory wonderlands that keep customers coming back and store owners thriving—while making lifelong friends of their clients in the process.
“We want to create not just stores, but form long-lasting relationships. Before pen hits paper, we want to learn about our clients, understand their successes, failures, and goals to understand the vision for their stores to help them further succeed and be a vibrant part of their community,” Chad says.
While they own an award-winning firm, do not expect Chad and Brad to show up in navy blue suits and pinstriped ties toting a corporate binder of tired, generic “big box” layouts. Do not expect them to whip out business cards in that perfect shade of linen white boasting their decades of experience and degrees in architecture, art, and design. The brilliant minds behind the heart-palpitatin’ stores blowing up Instagram accounts everywhere are jeans-wearing Gen-Xers—and they mean business.
With over 20 years of specialized expertise in food retail planning, master planning, design, and construction, these passionate leaders and their team of talented, radically creative minds are bringing innovative designs to independent retailers across the nation on a mission to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. With projects ranging from $1,000 to $12 million, the StoreMasters team knows what it takes to make stores successful.
“You can’t just open the door and look like every other store. You must make an impactful change. It has to be your character,” Brad says. “Independent retailers don’t have design departments or interior designers on staff. We get to help them achieve their goals and brand their vision. It’s always different, it’s always exciting for us.”
With Brad, the “Promise Maker,” at the helm of the Milwaukee headquarters and Chad, the “Promise Keeper,” leading the Pittsburgh location, StoreMasters is a one-stop shop for retail design and construction focused on independent retailers. Providing services that include design, architecture, development, equipment procurement, interior and décor design, construction management, and everything in between, they relish the challenge of coming up with innovative ways to help their clients stand apart from the retail masses and succeed within firmly fixed budgets.
Whether helping with the expansion and improvements to a fleet of stores or executing the master planning and design of entire shopping centers, the driving force of their hard work and passion is their clients—always. “We have personal relationships with them long after the project is done,” Brad shares. Among them is the Presta Family, who owns Valli International Fresh Markets in the Chicago metro area, and Boyer’s Food Markets, which has stores throughout eastern Pennsylvania.
With a background in everything from traditional architecture and landscape architecture to site planning and working with local government, Brad offers the know-how and experience to overcome roadblocks and turn even the most ambitious plans into reality. Hailing from a career with smaller architectural firms, Chad oversees project management and the financial side of the business to bring their visions to life. “Those firms not only groomed me in design and construction, but also gave me that small-business mentality,” Chad explains.
Brad fondly recalls the grand opening of Neiman’s St. Clair store, a retail metamorphosis near and dear to his heart. Using reclaimed wood, windows, and fixtures from the family farm, including the nameplates that once adorned their beloved cows, the team transformed the drab gray-and-white store into an oasis of memories for their clients and a fun and vibrant experience for their shoppers. At the grand re-opening, some family members were filled with emotion as they were swept back to their childhood from details that came from the family farm. “This one touches my heart the most,” Brad says.
Chad joined StoreMasters (formally Mehmert Store Services) as a project design coordinator. Brad followed up a few years later as supermarket designer. In 2017, they partnered up with the previous owners. In 2019, they acquired the 30-year-old company and rebranded it from top to bottom, as StoreMasters. With an impressive portfolio of projects and clients that span the country and beyond, their passion and drive to turn grocery stores into thriving neighborhood destination places that are as spirited as ever.
“Walking through finished projects that started on paper and in my head never gets old,” Chad says. “That, accompanied by big smiles from the clients, is truly the best one could ask for.”