By Sarah Hamaker
When Mike Fogarty started planning Choice Market, he wanted to recreate aspects of a European grocery store. During an extended stay in Europe, he had been drawn to “these small-format grocery stores that had really curious selections of groceries,” he recounted. “People would shop there four or five times a week, and I thought that concept could be applied to a store here in Denver.”
To capture that essence in a U.S. city, Fogarty “tried to think of it through the lens of the average shopper. What does he or she pick up on a frequent basis? I immediately thought of the perimeter of the grocery store—the produce, dairy, bread. Those are the things we buy daily or every other day, so that’s what I decided to focus on.”
Choice Market, which opened in October 2017, combines speed and convenience with a carefully curated selection of products and food. “I like to call it a hybrid grocery store-fast casual restaurant-convenience store all in one,” he said.
In his previous life as a procurement supply chain professional, Fogarty had noticed a potential niche for a convenience store that served quick, healthy food. At Choice Market, the shelves reflect that with a mix of conventional and organic products, although it does tip more toward the organic and natural side. “We still have candy bars and soda, but we want to offer choices,” he said. “We weren’t going to dictate what to serve the neighborhood—we want the neighborhood to tell us what to carry.” That means, he often brings in customer-requested items.
On the grocery side, Choice Market has ground beef, chicken breasts, soups, pasta, sauces, dairy products and organic produce. “We’re trying to be very selective with how we curate the store,” he said. Three local bakeries deliver bagels, breads and pastries daily, while a local roaster provides fresh coffee beans. Currently, Choice Market partners directly with around 10 local companies, while sourcing other Colorado products through its larger distributors.
Of course, not everything he’s tried has worked out. For example, three shelves of canned fish and sardines didn’t move much at all. “That was a good lesson for us,” Fogarty said. “We learned that snacking is bigger than we thought, as people are picking up a little something between lunch and dinner, so we’re focusing more on filling that need.”
The full-service kitchen churns out made-from-scratch sandwiches, salads, soups, wraps and dinner bowls from organic produce, antibiotic-free meats and other high-quality ingredients. “We prepare food 24 hours a day,” he said. “We’ve really elevated our foodservice to do something different with fresh, quality ingredients.”
Choice Market also has a large to-go section, with a mix of outside vendors and the store’s own kitchen providing the grab-and-go selections. Through partnerships with PostMates and UberEats, customers can order anything on the menu for delivery. Thus far, lunch is the busiest daypart, but “we’re seeing a lot of growth across the board in our foodservice,” Fogarty said.
Choice Market gives customers choices when it comes to checking out as well. Shoppers can use a self-checkout kiosk for both foodservice and regular items. Fogarty recently launched a Choice Market app that lets customers order ahead for delivery or pickup. The app is also tied to a loyalty program that gives customer rewards for frequent shopping. In addition, the store website takes online orders too.
“We offer multiple options for checkout and ordering because people like choice,” he said. “We want to offer an on-demand experience that’s very convenient.”
Fogarty does a lot of marketing on social media as well as onsite at community events such as festivals. He also works with local charities on feeding families, such as offering free Thanksgiving dinners.
So far, the feedback from customers has been good. “We’re seeing the business continue to grow at a very good rate, and since we’re heading into the warmer months, there’s potential for that growth to continue,” Fogarty said. “We’re curious as to how we will continue to evolve Choice Market in the future.”
Most recently, Choice Market announced that it will construct a second location on the first floor of the Denver Housing Authority’s new headquarters in the mixed-income neighborhood of Mariposa. The location will open in early 2019 and will provide the community with fresh produce, groceries and prepared foods. The retailer also plans to hire and train at-risk youth from the neighborhood to prepare them for a career in the culinary arts.
Some future thoughts include electric chargers, bike or car shares and other nontraditional ideas. “We think we can become a truly modern convenience store, one that adapts to both urban and suburban locations and keeps customers leaving happy,” he said.
This story appeared in the June issue of NACS Magazine. Browse the full issue and archives at www.nacsmagazine.com.
Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and NACS Daily and NACS Magazine contributor based in Fairfax, Virginia. Visit her online at www.sarahhamaker.com.