By Sara Counihan
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Traditionally, convenience has been defined by speed of service—how fast you can get somebody in and out. But over the past decade, convenience has evolved to being defined by what choices you offer customers—food offers, innovative technologies, last-mile services, frictionless. On this week’s episode of the NACS Convenience Matter podcast, the hosts talk to Mike Fogarty, the founder and CEO of Choice convenience stores in Denver, to hear how he has mastered food, technology and most of all, choice.
According to Fogarty, Choice started due to the lack of innovation Fogarty saw in the industry to meet their target market, which is the millennial and Gen Z generation that is health-conscious, shops four to five times week (never on a Sunday), maybe has one car for a family of three and above all, values convenience.
“We didn’t feel there was a format and a retailer that’s really meeting their needs or digitally enabled all of these different things. So, Choice was really founded on that premise that we’re going to serve that customer,” said Fogarty.
For a small operator, one of the biggest challenges is testing and learning new products and services, according to Fogarty, because of the smaller amount of capital typically available.
“I sold my house and got an SBA loan. That was the founding of the company. … What do you invest in and when do you do that? Not just with technology, but with people and your corporate staff, and it’s the chicken and egg thing all the time,” said Fogarty.
One concept Fogarty has invested in to pay dividends is foodservice, which makes up 50% of Choice’s sales. The store’s vegan sushi option has won his target customer over and has been offered since the store opened three years ago. The sushi option has resonated so well with his customers that Fogarty decided to open a sushi store inside one of his convenience stores, or a “store within a store,” called Wellness Sushi. The concept opened a few weeks ago, and it’s been “crushing it” since opening, says Fogarty.
Food is what brings customers to Choice, but technology could be what keeps them coming back. Choice offers self-checkout, walkout technology and an app, which all sync and communicate with each other. According to Fogarty, this was intentional from the store’s inception.
“The idea of omnichannel was foundational for the business from day one. Even when we wrote the business plan, we knew that this tech was coming,” said Fogarty.
“Convenience will be fueled by technology in the future. Convenience looks very different than just being open. Now you have to have the products that I want, at the place that I want, at the price that I want, and all of those things have to triangulate in order for it to be truly convenient. And so technology will fuel that level—the new era of convenience,” said Fogarty.
Hear the rest of Convenience Matters’ interview with Fogarty where he discusses his delivery model (he uses a hybrid method), how he pivoted his office building location during the pandemic and what Phish band lyric he thinks relates most to his business.
Watch a NACS Ideas 2 Go video featuring Choice Market’s downtown Denver location, where Fogarty and his team talk about how they’ve developed a convenience store and prepared food offer that’s perfectly suited for customers who tend to gravitate more toward upscale healthier options.
Each week a new Convenience Matters episode is released. With more than 300 episodes to choose from, the podcast can be heard on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play and other podcast apps and YouTube and at www.conveniencematters.com. Episodes have been downloaded more than a quarter million times by listeners around the world.
Sara Counihan is contributing editor of NACS Daily and NACS Magazine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.