By Frank Beard
NEW YORK—New York City may be known more for corner stores and bodegas rather than the type of convenience stores found in Pennsylvania or Texas. Nonetheless, the city is full of new and innovative retail concepts that are worth experiencing.
Here are five to consider during your next visit.
1. The Goods Mart (SoHo)
This 400-square-foot store offers a modern, fresh take on convenience retailing. Owner Rachel Krupa describes it as “7-Eleven meets Whole Foods Market,” with the inspiration coming from the rural Sunoco and grocery store of her Michigan hometown rather than New York bodegas. She operates a second location in the Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood.
Products are carefully curated, with the rules being simple: No GMOs, artificial flavoring, or preservatives allowed. No beverages are sold in single-use plastic bottles. Pre-made sandwiches from Alidoro are available—I’d like to return for the one with smoked chicken, mozzarella, arugula, and balsamic dressing—and customers can also enjoy organic slushies. During my visit, I purchased a CBD + Tumeric shot from Sol-ti.
The Goods Mart is one of the stores featured in the 2019 edition of Ideas 2 Go, the annual NACS video review of how retailers are defining convenience. It will be shown during the Thursday, October 3 General Session of the NACS Show in Atlanta.
2. Bridges General (multiple locations)
New York also has a strong need for convenience stores in office building lobbies. Thankfully, Bridges General is to the rescue. The retailer has several locations in the city, with the goal of opening at least 100 in New York and San Francisco.
“On that fateful day when you’ve arrived at work only to realize that you forgot to put on deodorant,” writes Nick Santa-Donato, for Chowhound, “EO Deodorant wipes and an assortment of Boy Smells candles are just a few dollars away.” He describes the experience as what working at Google must be like, except you have to pay for everything.
Indeed, I found a pleasant selection of curated CPG products when I visited a location near SoHo. The atmosphere reminded me of a convenience store mixed with the classic, relaxing atmosphere of a good barbershop. Maybe it has something to do with the logo design, the lounge area and the particular shade of blue that was seemingly everywhere. It’s a great design. I could shop there regularly. As stated on their website, “the daily grind can be boring. Getting what you need doesn’t have to be.”
3. The Drug Store (Tribeca)
My Uber driver raised an eyebrow when I told him about this one. Inside a tiny storefront in Tribeca, you’ll find three fridges filled with Dirty Lemon’s bottled waters—which may very well have the most eye-catching and attractive beverage labels that I’ve ever encountered.
What you won’t find, however, is anyone working at the store. You simply pay by text. The number is on the wall. Tell them what you took, they’ll send you a link, and you’ll complete an online transaction. That’s it.
I have serious doubts that this is anything but a clever marketing initiative, but it’s worth experiencing. The product is also fantastic. The only downside is they retail for $10.
4. Amazon Four Star (SoHo)
We’ve all had the experience of endlessly browsing Amazon, clicking one link after another of suggestions and related products. In September 2018, Amazon debuted a new store that achieves a similar effect in person. It’s called Amazon 4-Star.
Discovery is the differentiator here. Amazon took many of its most popular categories—such as consumer electronics, toys, home goods and books—and chose those that are rated four stars and above. Sections display products that are “most wished for,” “frequently bought together,” “Amazon exclusives” and more.
Tiny screens—similar to what you might find on a Kindle—replace traditional price tags on the shelves and tables, displaying the product rating and number of reviews.
5. STORY, at Macy’s (Herald Square)
On the surface, I’m excited by any effort to breathe life and excitement back into department stores. While some are still thriving—like Von Maur—it’s been my experience that many department stores are little more than soulless vestiges of their former selves. Oftentimes the experience and offer is messy, confusing and doesn’t seem tailored to anyone. They’re a good reminder that no brand should rest on their past success, no matter how iconic they are—or once were.
“In 1985, US department stores took 14.5% of all retail spend,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, in a December 2018 tweet. “Last year, they took 4.3%. The figure is still falling. The internet is often blamed for this. But the blunt truth is that US department stores just aren’t very good retailers. In fact, most of them are abysmal.”
To see what Saunders means, just look at these photos he shared. He’s right. The experience at those stores is abysmal.
This brings me to Macy’s. In May 2018, they acquired STORY—an experiential retail concept that famously changed its design, product assortment, and marketing every four to eight weeks. It now exists inside 36 Macy’s locations. I had the chance to see it when visiting the flagship Herald Square store.
The theme was “bringing the outdoors indoors,” in collaboration with DICK’s Sporting Goods and Miracle-Gro. Sections were themed around specific activities, from hiking and camping to growing plants or grilling out. An eclectic mix of products was on display, and there were plenty of “instagrammable” areas for selfies.
My verdict? Whereas Amazon 4-Star is a store I’d return to, this felt like a one-and-done experience. It’s eye-catching and has plenty of pretty colors, but I didn’t find the product selection very compelling—other than the bottle of Dirty Lemon’s charcoal water that I purchased after noticing a small fridge of their beverages. Others have levied sharper criticism about the non-flagship iterations of STORY.
Nonetheless, I’d be happy to return to see a newer STORY theme—especially one for the winter holidays. It’s a bold idea, and I’d encourage everyone to visit for themselves and form their own opinions.
NACS Daily readers, don’t miss the takeaways and photos Frank shared with us from his retailer visits in Iowa and Nashville.
ABOUT FRANK BEARD
Frank Beard is an analyst/evangelist for convenience store trends at GasBuddy, a NACS Magazine contributor, and a speaker and advocate for the industry’s healthful offerings. You can follow Frank on Twitter at @FrankBeard.