Micromarkets have flourished in a number of onsite environments, but particularly in business facilities and healthcare institutions where access can easily be controlled and limited and round-the-clock retail dining service is needed.
Where micromarkets have not caught on in any major way is in higher education. However, there is at least one exception: Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, which boasts four onsite micromarkets, one of them inside a 2,000-bed residential complex. The other three are in employee break rooms where they operate similar to micromarkets in B&I environments.
The unit inside Heritage Halls, called Heritage Creamery Express, packs some 300 SKUs into a miniscule 15-by-15-foot space that punches way above its size in terms of generating business. The store turns an average of 200 transactions a day and produces a check average four times that of traditional banks of vending machines, says Chris Moravec, general manager of convenience retail at BYU.
“We pitched the idea because we felt it would better meet the needs of the students,” she observes. “Traditionally, vending machines don’t do well in apartment buildings because the students eat out of their fridges.”
Originally, the university wanted four traditional vending machines in the space but Moravec convinced it to try the micromarket approach. It required some adjustment to the utilities and entryway but has more than paid off as the space took off almost immediately: “It far and away exceeded our wildest imaginations,” she says, and traffic hasn’t slacked in the two-plus years since it first opened in October 2015.
Student surveys over those two years indicated that over 90 percent of Heritage Hall resident students know about the micromarket and about 90 percent of them have patronized it at least once.
The Heritage Express product mix is composed primarily of typical college c-store items ranging from packaged snacks and beverages to basic foodstuffs, plus some grab-and-go sandwiches and salads. The top selling item is the gallon jug of milk, Moravec observes, and is followed by typical college favorites like frozen pizzas and corn dogs, ramen soup, cereal, soda, ice cream and, chips and salsa.
“We watch what sells carefully and we tweak constantly, and we started putting in packaged sandwiches and salads those sales just got better and better,” Moravec observes. “So we now have a section dedicated to just that.”
The grab-and-go items are made in BYU’s central kitchen and delivered fresh daily.
Access is by card swipe at the door using cards only residents of Heritage Halls possess, so the customer base is limited only to those students. Cameras provide additional security as does the stigma and penalties associated with getting caught stealing.
Moravec says theft is practically nonexistent with shrinkage rates of less than one percent that are probably due more to unavoidable system glitches than intentional pilferage.
Payment is exclusively through the university’s Cougar Card declining balance accounts. The system does not accept either cash or commercial credit cards.