LAKEPORT, N.Y. — As consolidation in the convenience store industry continues to see smaller, regional players being picked up by bigger chains, single-store owners and small operators (those with 20 stores or less) are being stripped of their identity and the uniqueness that made them successful in the communities where they operate. Matt Paduano looked to changed that.
The long-time Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes executive, who spent the bulk of his 29-year career with the New York-based convenience store retailer, ventured out on his own after unfortunate circumstances and two acquisitions led him to explore new opportunities.
He opened the first Lakeport Market on March 3, 2018. Located halfway between Syracuse and Utica, N.Y., the 4,800-square-foot convenience store is nestled across from the south shore of the 22-mile Oneida Lake. Because it’s situated in a rural area, the market caters to a mix of blue- and white-collar workers in the community.
Paduano believes opportunities still exist for the convenience channel’s small operators to succeed in today’s merger-and-acquisition environment by filling a niche in those rural communities where acquisitions have been made.
“We called it Lakeport Market because we try to offer as many items as possible. Because we’re in a rural community, the closest grocery store is seven or eight miles away, and the closest Dollar General is four miles away,” Paduano told Convenience Store News. “We have an expanded frozen and expanded dairy section, a large walk-in beer cave, general merchandise to reach customers spending time at Oneida Lake, and more. We have a little bit for everybody.”
Keeping It Fresh
Drawing on his past experience with regional c-store chains, Paduano made foodservice a focal point for Lakeport Market. Approximately 25 percent of the store is dedicated to food operations — whether it’s prep, storage or machinery. The model, he notes, resembles that of Nice N Easy.
Lakeport Market’s foodservice menu goes beyond the typical convenience store fare. The program includes fresh pizza, subs and wraps, fried fish, chicken wings, quesadillas, melts, salads, fruit cups, and cookies.
Most fare on the menu is based on trial and error. Roughly 80 percent are items that have withstood from the store’s inception three years ago. Many of the most popular items were inspired by the Paduano children, including quesadillas and “chow plates” — a play off of a local establishment’s “garbage plate,” which features loaded fries and proteins, cascaded by melted cheese.
“When we develop new items, we look for ways to use ingredients that we already have in the store instead of having to create new costs,” Paduano notes.
The foodservice program has been successful because of Lakeport Market’s dedication to freshness and quality. Deli meats are sliced per order, chicken wings are purchased fresh and not frozen like other competitors do, bread and rolls are baked on the premises daily, and fresh vegetables are cut each day.
“These are labor-intensive tasks, but customers notice the difference,” Paduano said. “We don’t make their food behind a wall like a fast-food restaurant does. There’s interaction between us and our customers as they watch us bake bread, prepare their sandwiches and cut vegetables.”
About 27-28 percent of Lakeport Market’s overall sales come from foodservice, which is about the average that Nice N Easy had, Paduano noted, adding that his sales continue to trend up over previous years.
“Everyone carries Coke, everyone carries Budweiser, Frito-Lay, and so on,” the industry veteran said. “Retailers are promoting items customers already know they have or can expect to find, but this isn’t going to pull customers off the street and into your store.”
Aside from the sales and profit derived from the food business, Lakeport Market’s robust foodservice offering also benefits the convenience retailer in other ways.
“I always thought to be a good convenience store retailer, you have to have a balance between three profit centers: fuel, food and retail. It’s like a three-legged stool, where if you have three strong legs, the stool stands upright,” Paduano told CSNews. “Being in New York State with the business climate, it is tougher, but with the more products and services you can offer customers and generate traffic, the more reasons for customers to come and the more dollar spend per transaction.”
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Paduano made the decision to forge ahead with opening a second Lakeport Market location. He picked up the 32-year-old site, located in Chittenango, N.Y., last summer from Clifford Oil, Lakeport Market’s fuel supplier.
Paduano remodeled and modified the store to match his original design. The doors to the second Lakeport Market opened to the community on Aug. 1, 2020.
“Everyone asked me what we were going to name the second store. We decided to keep the name Lakeport Market to avoid confusion and paperwork. If Wawa can do it, so can we,” Paduano chuckled.