the ostore

Baton Rouge’s upscale LA Rouge Mart meets at the intersection of Opulence and Convenience.

In 1993’s dinosaurs-run-amok blockbuster Jurassic Park, the park’screator John Hammond often repeated the phrase, “spared no expense.” Louisianaentrepreneur Muhammed S. Khan can say the same. But unlike the film, in whichbloodthirsty dinosaurs revolted and tore the island to shreds, Khan’s investmentsin his LA Rouge Mart appear to be paying off.

The Baton Rouge-based megastore opened in November 2000, and even though thefirst couple of years were rough, according to Khan, his upscale neighborhoodis finally beginning to catch up to him. Located along the city’s “Golden Mile”—whatKhan refers to as the “Fifth Avenue of Baton Rouge”—LA Rouge Mart is aboutto get some new neighbors in the form of Talbot’s and Whole Foods Market, whichKhan thinks will help attract more of what he believes is his core audience:educated, white-collar professionals living in an area with some of the region’spriciest real estate.

“I had no experience in the convenience store business when I started this,” says Khan, whose background includes experience as a bank officer and co-owner of a prominent home improvement retail chain. “But I did hire the finest architects, the best designers and the most noted author of feasibility studies in the business. I made a lot of mistakes early on, but now our sales are growing at about 15% to 20% per year.”

The store’s tag line “Where Opulence Meets Convenience” is accurate. The storehas high ceilings, an all-glass front, ceramic floor tiles and a 100-ft. tunnelcarwash dubbed the Auto Spa. It also has one of the most unique foodserviceoffers in the industry: Lil’ Ceasars Mediterranien Caf. The caf’smenu includes items like grilled tilapia ($8.50), hummus ($2.99) and tiramisu($3.50), to name just a few, as well as a few convenience store standbys likegrilled hamburgers and fried chicken.

“We learned that in this area, if you do something gourmet it will work,” Khan says. “We tried pizza, but people here are very health-conscious. After making a few mistakes we hired a chef and opened this concept selling great Middle Eastern food because it’s so popular here. There are 30 Greek restaurants just in the immediate area; Baton Rouge has one of the highest ratio of restaurants per capita.”

Overall site growth has been slow but steady. Khan’s goals, which he believes are achievable in the next six to 12 months, are to grow foodservice sales to $40,000 per month, gas gallons sold to 180,000 per month and car washes sold to 200 cars per day. To get there, he intends to add more profit centers and build upon the 1,300 customers that visit the store every day.

Eventually, Khan hopes to acquire a permit to serve beer and wine, and he alreadyhas initiated plans to forfeit some parking spaces to build an adjacent drycleaningfacility. Dry cleaning alone has the potential to bring in added revenues of$15,000 to $20,000 per month, he says.

“Our No. 1 priority is for our customers to be happy and satisfied,” Khan says.”If they’re happy and satisfied, they won’t worry about spending a few penniesmore. I’m not scared of the competition; if I can provide a better service,I’ll do better.”

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