The University of Northern Colorado has rolled out a new convenience store brand to satisfy student cravings with products they need at prices they can afford.
By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.
When students rolled into the University of Northern Colorado’s (UNC) University Center this fall, Munchy Mart was waiting.
The brand new 1,250-square-foot convenience store, which opened in August 2011, features a futuristic design, bold lighting, serious customer service and a foodservice program that could give some restaurants a run for their money.
The store is located on the first floor in the heart of the University Center, which sits in the middle of the campus, linking the West and Central campuses.
UNC, which was featured in CSD’s July 2010 issue, is no stranger to superior service. The university boasts more than a dozen dining facilities. In its University Center alone, the campus features a food court, Taco Bell Express, Starbucks, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Subway and its Bears Bistro—which offers Chicago-style deep dish pizza, made-to-order pasta and salad bowls, sushi, deli sandwiches and more—as well as a catering operation.
However, the UNC vision team that reviews the University Center’s services and programs, heard many comments through its review process that a convenience store was needed in the center, spurring plans for what was to become Munchy Mart.
“We actually kicked everything off in January 2011,” said Hal Brown, the director of dining services at UNC. “We used our in-house folks to do the construction, so we started in January to be sure we had everything ready to go by late summer, early fall.”
The Name Game
To drive excitement with students, the university erected a sign announcing that a c-store was on the way and began soliciting student input in naming the location. “We put up a big banner that said, ‘Please name the store,’ and we put up a Web link where students could send their submissions. We had over 200 names submitted for the contest,” Brown said. Faculty, staff and student groups weighed in on the name challenge as well.
Once UNC’s dining services narrowed the brand suggestions down to five, it included the options on the class of 2015 incoming freshman Facebook page, allowing the incoming class to pick the final name. “We knew they would be with us for the next four years and they would take ownership,” said Brown. “So we wanted them to feel it was their store.”
One common name suggestion from students was “Munchies,” but some felt munchies could have a negative connotation. The end result was a compromise.“Munchy Mart was a combination of a couple different names we put together,” Brown said “We really liked that Munchy had ‘UNC’ within the name, which also stands for University of Northern Colorado,” Brown said.
Munchies and Meals
Since its grand opening, Munchy Mart has lived up to its name. The store offers a host of hot, cold and frozen beverages, snacks, international foods, entrees and grab-and-go foodservice items to go along with an array of grocery products and health and beauty items.
One of the most popular offerings with students is Munchy Mart’s gelato station, which sits in front of the store. “Something we heard a lot from the students was that they wanted ice cream. So we added f’real machines in the store so students can make milkshakes, but we also wanted to have the gelato because it’s a little healthier and we also offer sorbet,” Brown said.
In total, Munchy Mart offers 10 different gelato flavors and two sorbet flavors. One popular gelato flavor was named for the University President Kay Norton, who reportedly loves dark chocolate gelato. La Presidente Gelato is a dark Belgian chocolate with decadent brownie chunks.
Under the “Fresh 2go” label, Munchy Mart offers a range of prepared fresh, portable foods from pepperoni rolls and flat bread sandwiches to Pad Thai and chicken wings, as well as the school’s signature breakfast Bear-ritos, which are named after the school’s sports teams, dubbed the Bears. The store is also known to have the best home-made vegetarian burger on campus.
Munchy Mart’s cold case features sushi, Greek yogurt, fresh salads, sandwiches and wraps, along with Jello parfaits, pudding parfaits and fruit cups. Also available are Oscar Meyer hot dogs, Johnsonville brats, nachos and freshly baked doughnuts and rolls from the Donut Haus, a local vendor.
On the beverage end, Munchy Mart features Seattle’s Best coffee, Nestlé hot chocolate, ICEE, 10 different fountain drinks, and bottled beverages, including Coke, Pepsi, energy drinks, milk and Odwalla juices, in addition to f’real milkshakes, smoothies and cappuccinos.
Unlike a traditional c-store, Munchy Mart does not offering tobacco, as Colorado state legislature prohibits the selling of cigarettes and other tobacco products on college campuses.
To design the convenience store, UNC partnered with Architects Bennett, Wagner and Grody of Denver, and foodservice consultant the Baker Group of Grand Rapids, Mich.
“Because of the location, originally we were working with a big, deep shoebox-type space and we didn’t want a gas station feel, but rather a more retail feel,” Brown said. Dining services pointed its architects and foodservice consultant to its Coffee Corner locations—three satellite coffee shops across campus that act as mini-convenience stores and offer a variety of coffee and sandwich options—as a model for the c-store venture.
While the UNC school colors are blue and gold, dining services wanted fresh colors and a curved design that opened up the space. Accent lighting inside the store gives Munchy Mart a quirky, colorful and almost futuristic appeal. The floor tile features an organic texture with gray tiles winding into brown tiles, and the ceiling panels include what looks like “carbonated soda” in green, royal blue and transparent hues. Comfortable chairs and tables sit outside the store entrance, where students can relax or study.
“I think both the architecture team and the foodservice consultant really saw what we were looking for and brought a lot of curves and lighting into the store that was really different than anything else we had on campus, or in the community,” Brown noted.
Dining services ensured Munchy Mart would be a pleasant place to shop. C-store employees are trained to deliver top-notch customer service.“We really tried to have that Walt Disney hospitality, that says ‘Welcome to our store.’ Our customers are greeted every time they walk into the store with, ‘Hello, what can I help you find?’ and with ‘Goodbye, look forward to seeing you when you come back,” when they exit the store. So, it’s a fun and enjoyable place to shop,” Brown said. The store employs one retail manager, one assistant manager, one part-time student manager, and 24 part-time student employees.
Munchy Mart’s 1,250 square feet includes 1,000 square retail feet, 941 square feet of walk-in refrigeration (a five door reach-in cooler) and 100 square feet of dry storage space. When all was said and done, the cost of constructing Munchy Mart totaled $775,000, and dining services is projecting an ROI of three years.
Student reaction to Munchy Mart has been “overwhelming,” Brown noted. On the social media site Foursquare, Munchy Mart is the most popular spot on campus. Students, Brown said, are attracted to the portable food options and appreciate the convenient location, as well as the prices, which are lower than the convenience stores surrounding the campus.
“Students recognize the value and make Munchy Mart a shopping destination,” Brown said. “We can tell our vision is working because sales have far exceeded our expectations.”