the new age of convenience

Megan Ramey created a convenience concept for worldly urbanites that is a true departure from the gas stations Bubba is used to.

From the street, the MoCoMarket in Madison, Wis. looksmore like a beauty salon or a furniturestore—with its large frontwindows and minimalist, communal-stylebench seating—than a convenience store.Once inside, customers are captivatedby its bamboo floors, wooden point-ofsale(POS) stations on MAC platformsand minimal, chrome shelving featuringorganic products, tech gadgets and CDs.And that’s the way owner Megan Rameyintended it.

“Convenience stores are usually associatedwith gas stations, whereas marketsusually inhabit urban infill and MoCo isdefinitely the latter. MoCo’s offering isconvenient and the product-type offeringis similar, but that’s where the comparisonbetween our store and convenience storesend,” said Ramey. “I intend to change theway people live and part of that is helpingthem move back to dense city centerswhere everything they need is a bike rideor walk away. I would love to rebrandwhat a convenience store is in the U.S.”

Breaking the Convenience Mold
MoCo is a bit of a stretch from atraditional convenience store sense—certainly not a place where Bubba canexpect to find a Slurpee or beef jerky, butRamey appears to be on to something.Convenience stores are constantly searchingfor ways to become more attractiveto female customers and there’s no betterway than by stocking the items ladiesuse for their beauty regime. But Rameyis confident in her approach and is quickto silence the suggestion that MoCo beconsidered “high-end.”

“Two phrases make me cringe whenspoken about MoCo’s interior and offering:upscale and high-end. I like thephrases ‘better’ and ‘unique,’” said Ramey.“MoCo’s customer is a trend-setter/spotterand likes to differentiate themselves fromthe mass-market adopters. From my strategyclass, I know that early adopters willusually purchase items with higher retailsjust so they have something that nobodyelse does. My challenge is enacting a strategyto ‘cross the chasm’ to attract earlyadopters and the mass market.”

Fashion Meets Function
Ramey was well prepared to developthis store. She graduated from theUniversity of Georgia in 2001 with a Familyand Consumer Sciences degree with anemphasis on fashion merchandising. Shewent on to work for Wisconsin-basedfashion retail firm Lands’ End for fiveyears and, during that time, she started onher MBA at the University of Wisconsin.She eventually left Lands’ End to helpher friend start a business, which she saysgave her the courage to start her own.

Well-traveled herself, Ramey is a bigfan of Dwell, an urban lifestyle magazinewith an eco-edge, which she admits was abig inspiration for the store. She sought tocreate a place that could provide the basicnecessities for urbanites but also feed theirother emotional needs—inspiration, entertainmentand trend watching.

“The idea of a ‘lifestyle store’ was reallywhat intrigued me. I wanted to create oneplace to bring together everyday accessoriesfor the urban lifestyle, like indie popCDs, magazines, healthy to-go and dinnerfood, and random non-food itemsthat urbanites might have seen in theaforementioned magazines,” Ramey said.“When you see all these things in onespace, it definitely conveys a lifestyle with organic foods next to the guilty pleasurefoods that we grew up with.”

The 1,470 sq. ft. store, which is locatedon the ground floor of a condominiumbuilding, opened just over three monthsago. It’s stocked with convenience-likefare—packaged beverages, snacks andguilty pleasures like Kraft Mac & Cheese—but Ramey blends unique organics withbrand-name basics customers knowand love.

Beyond basic convenience, MoCofeatures brand-name health and beautyproducts like Neutrogena, Giovanni andAlba, along with stylish sunglasses ($8 to$30) and fresh-cut flowers. The store alsohighlights three international or regionalwines that will rotate monthly as well asthe option for customers to build theirown case of beer with some of the bestMidwestern microbrews.

Taking a cue from bookstore success,MoCo offers 50 linear feet of magazines,with titles as diverse as Dwell and Ready-Made to more mainstream titles likeEconomist, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair andWomen’s Health—a selection that Rameyfeels is descriptive of the kinds of customersher store aims to attract. Customerscan also expand their musical tastes withfeatured CDs from an XM Radio selectionas well as “trendy gadgets that are sure tomake any urban home a haven,” accordingto company promotions.

Food For Thought
In a similar vein as convenience stores,Ramey realizes her customers need to eat,so why not eat there? Of course, in thevein of the a lifestyle store, she’s not sellingchicken fingers and burgers. MoCo featuresgrab-and-go sandwiches made freshin the store, and a long soup and salad bar.But the centerpiece of the offer is a buildyour-own parfait bar as well as sushi and“frushi,” which is rice steamed in coconutmilk and honey, mixed with coconutflakes, rolled with fruit and served withfresh raspberry sauce to dip it in. It’s anidea Ramey got from a restaurant she triedin Chicago and she’s bringing the upscaletaste to Madison.

“[Frushi] is really good for you and notfattening,” said Ramey. “Grab-and-gofood and beverages are doing very well.”

Ramey and her staff roll sushi in themorning so it’s ready to grab-and-go allday. She admits it’s a skill to master, butit makes patience and cross-training thatmuch more important.

“Without sacrificing food quality, Icoach and shadow all of my employeesin preparing all the food,” Ramey said.“My manager and I took a sushi class at aseafood market in Chicago which helpedtremendously. All employees go throughcontinuous food training.”

Tech-Friendly
Ramey is also in tune with what hertech-savvy customers are looking for.Customers can enjoy wireless Internet andXM Radio, and Ramey encourages heremployees to do “market research” onlinewhenever they have downtime to staycurrent with popular Internet culture.

“Technology has been a facet of my lifethat I place on a pedestal. It has alwaysaided me in being more efficient and so itdoes with MoCo,” said Ramey. “Our POSstations look very differently than traditionalconvenience stores because they useMAC hardware featuring wireless mousesand keyboards. Customers notice that wesupport Apple and this strengthens ourtech- and trend-savvy image.”

Ramey’s POS system is called PayGofrom Christian James Inc. It tracks MoCo’sinventory and even integrates with thecompany’s e-commerce Website to storecustomer information and maintain stocklevels. With a ready-made customer basein the condominium residents above herstore, she’s able to store house accountsand track weekly tabs.

“It’s very similar to a loyalty program,”she said. “We’re actually preparing forfuture marketing efforts with email to letcustomers know all the unique facets we’llbe adding soon.”

For example, Ramey is interested intrying free grocery delivery to the neighborhoodand corporate lunch catering.Both delivered by wheelbarrow bike, ofcourse.

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