Our Biggest Surprises Running a Grocery Store

by FCS Ministries on

by Jeff Delp  

Launching Carver Neighborhood Market was an experiment filled with risk and anticipation. Food desserts have long plagued poor communities, and FCS was eager to find a solution. Could a local, community market survive? Could we provide affordable, healthy food to residents in South Atlanta?

 

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Of course, it will be a while before I can really address those questions. We’ve been open a couple months now and are still learning so much every day. Here’s a few  surprises I’ve encountered along the way.

 

“You’re so  cheap!”

 

One of my biggest concerns launching the market was our price point.

 

I knew we could not compete with the big boys – Kroger, Wal-Mart, etc. - but I also knew we wouldn’t have to. Those retailers are too far away to be direct competition. Still, I was nervous, knowing our prices would be higher than the places where I normally shop.

 

At the same time, research and fifteen years of work in South Atlanta meant I knew we would be cheaper than the convenience stores around us. Still, I was nervous about the neighborhood’s reaction to our prices.

 

What surprised me was how excited our neighbors have been about our prices. Customers were thrilled: “Oh, you’re so cheap!” was heard many a times during the opening weeks. I wasn’t prepared for how excited our neighbors would be - it was a very pleasant surprise!

 

Produce is our top selling item.

 

When we started out, I knew a lot of residents wanted the store to offer produce. But I wasn’t convinced that, when it came time, customers would follow-through on their requests. After all, we all want to eat better, but many of us (including myself!) still make less-than-stellar choices around food.

 

But produce is our top selling category! Yes, you heard that right. A grocery store in a food desert sells more produce than anything else on its shelves!

 

Thanks to a great partnership with Georgia Tech, we have a wonderful summer intern who is categorizing all of our products in the store.  Thanks to his work, we’re continuing to gain better data on how products are performing in the store. But we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the volume of produce we’ve been able to sell.

 

Refrigeration is harder than we thought.

 

It hasn’t all been rosy in terms of surprises. While we’ve been encouraged by the things that have turned out better than we expected, refrigeration has been much harder than we anticipated.

 

It’s been a huge learning curve to figure out how to best care for our products that need to be kept cool. From installation difficulties to multiple  breakdowns to storage shortage, we’ve faced some challenges here.

 

Thankfully, we’ve been able to meet most of our in-store challenges thanks to the hard work of our staff and a great refrigeration service company. And we’re currently working on a plan for refrigeration in our back room to better store our produce. Remember how we said it was our top seller? Well, it’s pretty important to keep your top seller properly maintained for display and sale!

 

Who are our shoppers?

 

We knew we’d have plenty of shoppers at the Carver Market.  But we wondered what kind of shopper we’d have.

 

Our fourth surprise has been all our daily shoppers at the store. Residents are stopping in to buy something for dinner tonight or lunch tomorrow.

 

Many seniors in our community have a scheduled, weekly ride to the grocery store lined up with a family member. Now, we’re hearing how they are able to supplement that trip during the week when they previously would have gone without. Of course, we hope that they (and other neighbors) will eventually transition the majority of their shopping to Carver Neighborhood Market, but that takes time.

 

It’s been a whirlwind first few months as we launched the market and have gotten started providing affordable, healthy food options to the neighborhood. We have a lot more to learn as we keep going, but we’re grateful for the good surprises (and the challenges) that have already pushed us forward in this endeavor.

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