The Rochester Institute of Technology’s Global Village has earned accolades for its new convenience store, restaurants and international flavor.
By John Lofstock, Editor.
Long known for its high academic standards, the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) can add award-winning convenience store retailer to its impressive list of accolades.
After nearly three years in the planning stages, the university unveiled Global Village in September. The $54 million project features housing, retail space and restaurants, and has emerged as the new centerpiece of RIT’s sprawling upstate New York campus.
Each of the retail, dining, residential and office facilities represents different regions from around the world and is a model of the university’s global focus. As such, Global Village has become the central gathering point for students and faculty. At the heart of Global Village’s retail operations is The Market convenience store, a one-stop shop focused on the dynamic needs of a diverse student population.
“The Market is modeled after outdoor marketplaces found around the world,” said Melissa Kara, assistant manager of The Market at Global Village. “It has become an appealing location for our international campus members to purchase products from home, as well as allows everyone to try a variety of unique foods they can’t get anywhere else on campus.”
The Market has gained quite a reputation in a short period of time. Though it’s been open for less than a year, the store received the 2011 Best in Business New Store Design award from the National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS). Kara will accept the award at the NACUF conference in July and participate in a panel discussion about RIT’s winning design.
“I think everyone here recognized that we had created something unique and special, but you never really know what others will think until the project is completed,” Kara said. “Once we started getting feedback from students we knew the store was going to be a success. When we found out we had impressed the NACUFS judges to win a design award, it was the validation we were looking for.”
The rustic design of The Market features stamped concrete floors with specialty lighting, a fresh fruit stand, fresh-baked artisan breads, a coffee station with fresh pastries and a self-serve panini station.
The store also features a selection of fair trade gift items—everything from purses and scarves to dishes and jewelry.
The candy aisle is reflective of what you would expect in an area dubbed Global Village. The selection features a variety of ethnic candies from Europe, Asia, India and an assortment of Hispanic treats.
The coffee station is another area where The Market sets itself apart from RIT’s other four convenience stores. Coffee Connection is co-branded with a local coffeehouse in Rochester that offers fair trade, organic java blends from Peru. However, Coffee Connection is a non-profit organization that reinvests its profits in various social and environmental causes at home and abroad.
“The founder of Coffee Connection, Nancy Sawyer Molina, is very active in helping to rehabilitate women who have suffered either domestic abuse or drug abuse or are trying to get back into the workforce,” said Amanda Kelley, associate director of marketing and communication for Student Auxiliary Services. “It’s an amazing operation that we are proud to support.”
The Market also keeps pace with the growing demand for organic and natural foods among the student population. “Our produce section is very popular and students are requesting more and more fruits, gluten-free foods, vegan and vegetarian options,” Kara said.
Unlike other colleges and universities, RIT is completely self-operated. Just how much students enjoy the services RIT provides is evident in the bottom line. The university’s Dining Services division rang up more than $26 million in sales last year, primarily over a 10-month school year. The five convenience stores, which fall under Dining Services, total about $7 million in annual sales.
RIT gained valuable experience for Global Village by perfecting its other retail operations. The university’s other c-stores include:
The Corner Store. Open until 2 a.m., The Corner Store offers a wide range of snacks, beverages, dairy products, refrigerated and frozen items, fruits and vegetables, Seattle’s Best coffee, DVDs and gifts items. Special delivery gift packages for birthdays and holidays are also available via The Corner Store’s Website giving parents an opportunity to send treats to their kids throughout the school year. The store does upwards of 15 deliveries a night to as many as 40 around the holidays.
This location also goes cashless after 9 p.m. from Monday-Friday and on weekends. To help reduce credit card swipe fees, students are are encouraged to transfer funds to their Tiger Bucks card, a university-managed debit account accessed through an RIT ID card that is available to all students, faculty and staff. To entice usage, Tiger Bucks is accepted at more than 75 on and off campus locations for everything from meals and textbooks to event tickets and hair services.
Sol’s Underground. This distinctive location offers a large variety of health and beauty products, vitamins and supplements, fresh flowers, international and gourmet packaged foods and school supplies. Sol’s Underground also offers flat bread pizzas, quesadillas, paninis, fresh soups and wraps, as well as Freshens-branded frozen treats. Like The Corner Store, Sol’s goes cashless at night and on weekends.
The Café & Market at the Crossroads. One of RIT’s largest c-stores, The Café & Market carries a selection of grocery items including fruits, snacks, dry goods, international foods, refrigerated and frozen foods, dairy products, beverages, school supplies and baking/cooking ingredients and various other common food items.
Bytes. This on-campus snack and gift shop offers a variety of treats, snacks, beverages, candy, gifts and make-your-own cereal mix. This location goes cashless after 5 p.m. Monday-Friday and on weekends.
In addition to the convenience stores, RIT operates more than a dozen dining halls and restaurants including Brick City Café, the Global Village Cantina and Grille, Gracie’s, The Commons and the RITZ Sports Zone.
In all, RIT’s Dining Services division has about 135 full time employees and up to 700 student employees at any point during the academic year, said Patty Spinelli, executive director of RIT’s Dining Services, which oversees the university’s convenience stores.
College stores are unique in that they cater to a captive audience. Indeed, every student and faculty member is a potential customer. The range of products at college stores doesn’t vary all that much from traditional c-stores. Energy drinks, bottled water, snacks and foodservice are all top sellers, but they are sprinkled around nontraditional student-needed items like moving boxes along with pencils, pens and notebooks.
As a result of the strong focus on student needs, business at The Market has been stronger than expected.
“We have college students from all over the world here on this campus. They are very strong into brand name recognition so if we see a commercial for a new product on Friday night, we start reaching out to our suppliers to check availability on Monday morning,” Spinelli said.
Another challenge is the need to constantly update the product mix based on the student population. “We buy a lot of niche products that might not be successful at traditional convenience stores,” said Lon Chase, general manager of The Café and Market at Crossroads. “We have to keep continually changing because the students’ needs are constantly changing every September.
Of the 7,000 residents on campus, about half of that population has full kitchens in their apartments or suites and the other half has access to kitchenettes. As a result, the c-stores have to provide ingredients for cooking since many students don’t have cars to shop off campus.
Students also tend to prefer purchasing smaller packages and snack items because they don’t have a lot of storage in their rooms. “They come into our stores multiple times every day,” Chase said. “It’s not like your typical convenience store where somebody looks to get in and out very quickly. Students use our stores as a place to meet and gather socially, but they also expect us to have the things they need to get by every day.”
Meeting the Foodservice Demand
Dealing in foodservices is complicated for those that do it full time. For students it’s even more of a challenge. RIT’s Dining Services models itself after Wegmans, the well-respected grocery store chain in upstate New York that has been an innovator and a model of consistency for decades.
Wegmans has long had a loyal group of admirers in the convenience store industry, including the likes of Sheetz and Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes so RIT is in good company with whom it has chosen as a retail role model.
“We spent quite a bit of time with the folks at Wegmans when we were designing this store,” Spinelli said. “All the shelving is made of wood and has a Wegmans old world feel to it. We’ve also been told by some students that our stores remind them of a Whole Foods, which is another great compliment.”
Dining Services also has a full-time employee that focuses exclusively on training and foodservice safety.
“Part of our responsibility is to prepare these young people for the working world, so we work hard on building employment skills,” Spinelli said. “Retail is also someplace where we interface with the rest of the university, so we have to not only make sure our student employees are consistent when it comes to foodservice safety, but that they understand the importance of presentation and satisfying the customers’ needs. Our employees can’t look at our customers as other students. It’s important that they learn to recognize them as valued long-term customers.”
Spinelli is firm in her belief that serving students is top priority at Dining Services. “We see it as our mission to educate students, whether that be teaching them about job responsibilities or providing an educational experience in the foods of the world,” she said. “More importantly, we want everyone to feel comfortable with us and provide an experience that reminds them of home.”
At a glance: The Rochester Institute of Technology
The Rochester Institute of Technology’s campus occupies over 1,300 acres in suburban Rochester, the third-largest city in New York. The campus consists of 243 buildings totaling 5.6 million square feet. RIT can trace its roots back to 1829 when Colonel Nathaniel Rochester and other community leaders founded the Athenaeum, an association “for the purpose of cultivating and promoting literature, science and the arts.”
The Rochester Athenaeum grew into a popular cultural center and began establishing a substantial library. In 1847, the Athenaeum merged with the Mechanics Literary Association to form the Rochester Athenaeum and Mechanics Association. The two groups merged their literary collections to create a library of more than 8,000 volumes that attracted scholars from around the country. Distinguished speakers, including Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Frederick Douglass, helped the association gain national notoriety.
Student Body: 17,206 undergraduate and graduate students
Residence Halls: 1,748 rooms for approximately 3,476 students
Apartments: 957 units for 2,814 students
RIT Inn and Conference Center: 170 rooms for 332 students
Greek Housing: Six buildings for 108 students
Global Village: 69 suites for 414 students
• Listed in Forbes magazine as one of America’s Best Colleges
• Ranked first or second in academic reputation among regional universities in the North for more than 20 years.
• Recognized as one of America’s 100 Greenest Universities by the Sierra Club.
It Takes a Village
The Rochester Institute of TECHNOLOGY’S Global Village is a $54 million project, with housing, retail space and restaurants. It has been used as one of the few outdoor meeting places on RIT’s expansive campus. Global Village features a 2,200 square foot convenience store, called The Market, the Cantina and Grille restaurant, Oishii Sushi and the RIT-run Global Grille. Rounding out the on-campus oasis is a salon, a wellness center, a print center, a post office and outdoor seating for up to 200 people.
Patty Spinelli, executive director of RIT’s Dining Services, said Global Village as whole was designed to be “an outdoor living room,” and when it snows as often—and as much—as it does in Rochester, it’s easy to understand why this section of campus has become so popular.
Global Village includes a canopied area with overstuffed lounge furniture, a fire pit and water displays, creating the unique ambience that is more coffeehouse than college campus.
“Students are always happy to see the sun, so as soon as the weather hits about 50 degrees the plaza is completely full,” Spinelli said. “Students are waiting to get out and interact with each other.”
Global Village feeds that frenzy with nightly events, such as live music, social events, and school rallies, and in July will play host to a conference for professional women.
“Business has been excellent,” said Melissa Kara, assistant manager of The Market at Global Village. “People are excited to come in and see products they can’t find on campus or other places. For international students, it’s good for them to have a kind of home away from home.”