Street Corner C-store Chain Moving Beyond Malls
TOPEKA, Kan. — Street Corner has long been associated with mall locations. Now, the convenience store franchisor is adding another focus to its portfolio. In addition to further building up its mall presence, Street Corner is pursuing opportunities in urban areas with its new “urban superette” concept.
The chain’s first urban superette, Street Corner Fresh Market, began welcoming customers last August in the historic The Clemons Building in downtown Chattanooga, Tenn. A second urban superette, Street Corner Market at The Banks, threw open its doors in downtown Cincinnati on April 12. Within just six weeks of opening, the Cincinnati superette became the top store in sales throughout the entire Street Corner franchise organization.
The urban superette concept is the project Street Corner CEO Peter LaColla is most excited about. "We think there is going to be a tremendous amount of growth for the urban superette," he told Convenience Store News.
Street Corner defines the urban superette as the joining of grocery, convenience and quick-service food. The stores offer Wi-Fi and encourage customers to linger while they enjoy a snack or beverage.
The urban superette is designed to set up shop in downtown, densely packed areas. Fitting areas will have a significant residential population, significant office population, and likely some type of mass transit nearby. There will also be surrounding entertainment, such as bars, restaurants, and perhaps a park or museum.
"It will be in the type of neighborhood where people are starting to move back to; that hasn't had much of a residential component for years but the millennials are moving back," LaColla said, adding that fitting neighborhoods will also be food deserts.
"There might be sit-down restaurants; there might be a couple of quick-serves. But not grocery, not a quality convenience store, and not certainly all combined in one," he explained.
Compared to Street Corner’s mall locations, the urban superette is a more sophisticated operation.
The Street Corner Fresh Market in Chattanooga is the first of the company's stores to feature a full-service Boar’s Head deli, plus hot food offerings. In the Cincinnati urban superette, the foodservice component is similar to the types of sandwiches and paninis that customers would find in Europe — an area where LaColla has spent a lot of time.
Speaking about the Chattanooga location, LaColla said The Clemons Building is in an old factory that has been converted to apartments. As an added service to the building's residents, half of the Street Corner Fresh Market remains open at night to allow the residents access to the grocery department.
"They can access it at 10:30 p.m., if they wish, to get eggs, toilet paper. It has a self-checkout. They enter through a door in the back of the store with a thumb reader, collect whatever they want, and then check out on their own. That store is 24/7 for them," LaColla explained.
When asked why Street Corner has decided to turn to urban areas now, LaColla told CSNews that qualified franchisees have shown interest in opening stores in urban markets.
Mid-sized cities like Nashville, Memphis, Phoenix and Seattle are perfect places for Street Corner, he explained. "All are having a renaissance. All of these cities are doing very well with people moving back in,” he said. “As it turns out, we think these mid-sized cities might be the sweet spot for this type of use. The rents are still reasonable and the demand is high, as opposed to going to New York or Washington, D.C. They are good markets too, but the rents there are going to be many times more and they might not do many times more in sales. We think these B and C cities really might hit the sweet spot better than a Chicago or New York or Boston."
JUST THE BEGINNING
Street Corner does not have a set number of stores in mind for its urban superette concept.
Recently, the company announced the signing of its first territory representative to expand the chain in the San Diego metropolitan area.
Vikram Dhillon, the master franchisee for San Diego, plans to open a combination of urban superettes, standalone convenience stores with gas, and the traditional mall stores upon which Street Corner was built. The first area store will be an urban superette, slated to open next year.
Street Corner is looking to expand into the arena of traditional c-stores with gas, LaColla acknowledged. "We think there is a market there too, but for different reasons. The superette is because we are seeing a shifting demographic, a dynamic change going on there," he said. "That is not the same reason for the gas station. The gas station is because there are very few players in the gas station arena for franchise opportunities."
Topeka, Kan.-based Street Corner currently has more than 40 franchise stores in operation, with a future inventory of 100 potential mall locations and 30 potential urban superette locations, according to LaColla.
For more on Street Corner, look in the August issue of Convenience Store News.