2012-07-02

Co.Exist

Stockbox Brings A Flexible Model To Teensy Grocery Stores

A solution for America’s food deserts, Stockbox brings more than just produce to neighborhoods without fresh food. It’s an entire grocery store--in miniature.

Next month, Seattle’s South Park neighborhood will have a new option for grocery shopping: Stockbox Grocers, a tiny permanent grocery store that has fresh produce, dairy, and meats, in a neighborhood where fresh and easy food isn’t always available.

Stockbox started as a graduate school project for Carrie Ferrence and Jacqueline Gjurgevich in 2010. The mobile-grocery-store-inside-cargo-container model seeks to serve people in food deserts--low-income neighborhoods with limited access to supermarkets, where around 10% of Americans live, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which maps the deserts.

Ferrence says that the model soon changed from a roving mobile vehicle to something more familiar. “We started looking at other mobile markets in other parts of the country and we realized that many of them had stalled, or disappeared. We realized that the communities were looking for solutions beyond produce.” The cofounders changed their approach, adding milk, dairy, and meat products to the store. They also realized that communities needed a store they could depend on to be in one place. “So, we developed a concept that was permanently placed in the community to really provide a range of options for food,” says Ferrence.

The prototype store was open for two months last fall in the Seattle neighborhood of Delridge. The new store, opening next month, is just a bit bigger than a cargo container at 500 square feet. Thought it uses many of the design elements from the prototype, it is in a storefront--which helps support other neighborhood businesses. Initially funded by grants, business plan awards, and money from Kickstarter, the budding grocery is now working with investors to launch 3 to 5 stores in 2013. Pricing is competitive with grocery stores, and below the price of the convenience stores that dot the neighborhood. They showcase local products as well as providing staples.

They are taking notes from their prototype store and working on creating a checkout system, inventory management, circulars, coupons, and ways to reward customer loyalty. “Ongoing learning is critical to our success,” says Ferrence.

The tiny startup gained national recognition when the White House blog told their story about crowdfunding in a post last spring. Stockbox is also trying to change the way that some people feel about grocery stores. By turning attention to selling perishable items instead of 23 kinds of vitamin-enriched water, they focus on the inventory that moves most quickly--and that can mean healthy profits. But the health of the community is still what drives the startup. “Stockbox is safe, welcome, inspiring,” says Ferrence, who comes from a family of corner-store owners. “We’re not just trying to get stores up cheaply and quickly. We want customers to have a positive experience in the store.”

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