This weekend only, get a Marketplace zip–up hoodie when you donate $8/month. Don’t wait — this offer ends at midnight Sunday!
TEXT OF STORY
MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: The good-old American convenience store — you know, a place to pick up some cigarettes, a Slurpee and if you’re desperate, one of those wrinkled rotating hot dogs. But as Andrea Gardner explains, one Japanese company has quietly slipped into four California locations offering a whole new to shop at the corner mini-mart.
Inside you’ll find all the basic convenience-store wares: aspirin, bubble gum, colas and chips. But then more shi-shi stuff like gourmet take-out meals: cartons of paella, next to pad Thai, grilled vegetables stacked above a pile of paninis. And Famima!! looks different, with dark-stained wood floors, stainless steel shelves and lime green walls. Customers seem to like it.
CUSTOMERS:“It’s really modern-looking and clean”…….”You can tell the look is different. It’s more spunky. Like you know it’s more, you can tell it’s got a like Japanese look to it”……..”They got the chips all in a line, in one section, nice and neat, it’s not all over the place.”
But will Americans really pay more for a fancy atmosphere at a basic convenience store? Raymond Saylor is Famima!!’s only American executive, and he says the company’s discovered a gap in the marketplace.
RAYMOND SAYLOR: Americans tend to want, at this level, a healthy product, but they are also on-the-go, so we have to be willing to do both: convenient and healthy.
Saylor says there aren’t enough companies providing fresh takeout food. That’s where Famima!! comes in. Shopping analyst Candice Corlett says the move is well-timed.
CANDICE CORLETT: It’s no longer about a small space where you pick up your beverage and your newspaper while your gas tank’s being filled. Convenience now has a much broader definition. You might want to go in and do some of your weekly shopping in this convenience store.
Corlett says convenience stores saw a change coming about five years ago. Gasoline sales weakened as more customers switched to pumps at Wal-Mart and Costco. Owners of smaller chains in the Midwest took the hint and added rows of refrigerated display cases. British company Tesco will soon roll out a chain of chic mini-marts in the US. Even 7-Eleven is testing out upscale stores.
But even upscale has its price limits. A sushi box costs $7.50. The company says it wants to bring that down and that might help hook customers like Ryan Calavano, who eyed a $4 plate of grilled vegetables but left empty-handed.
RYAN CALAVANO: It seems like a nice place to stop in and get something on my break. I looked at the prices and it looked a little high, which I was actually paying attention to.
And if this new evolved mini-mart can win over folks like Ryan, that shriveled, sweaty convenience-store hot dog could soon be on its last rotation.
In Los Angeles, I’m Andrea Gardner for Marketplace.
There’s a lot happening in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is here for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible.
Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.