Forget basic lines and budget prices, the new breed of
c-store - found in London and LA - is going for rich pickings, says Tracy West

It's not often that you'll find caviar in a convenience store. Fish fingers - yes. Tinned tuna - yes. Even perhaps smoked salmon, but caviar? Well, if you pop along to 102 Brompton Road, Knightsbridge, you'll find caviar and much, much more. That's because it's home to Harrods 102, arguably the most exclusive convenience store in the UK. There's not a tin of Happy Shopper peas in sight.
It's described by the Harrods PR machine as "a new generation of convenience store, offering a selection from the Harrods Food Halls as well as some enticing new walk-in services". So in addition to your Beluga caviar, loaf of bread and pint of semi-skimmed, you can also drop off your dry-cleaning, get your shoes repaired and use the pharmacy. So far, so not that special, but there's more. There's a Yo! Sushi concession plus the store offers top-of-the-line Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
There's also the Bagel Factory offer of freshly baked bagels, sandwiches and coffee; the Fournil de Pierre exclusive in-store bakery; and the Energy Kitchen, which sells fresh juice, soup and pretzels.
You can get flowers courtesy of top florist Kenneth Turner, plus all manner of health services including holistic back rubs, a sen chi herbalist or a visit to the oxygen spa bar.
The idea of the herbalist is to make traditional Chinese medicine more accessible - customers can even have foot massages and acupuncture in a screened-off room.
And while many c-stores offer home deliveries, Harrods 102 has a 'unique concierge service', which delivers to addresses within a 400m radius of the store. Customers who have the misfortune of living outside this zone can have their order assembled for 'quick collection'.
As for the success of the store, Harrods is a little cagey. When asked how well it was doing, Harrods spokesman Andre Dang told Convenience Store: "Like any store, there is always room for more growth and better sales." He describes customers as "a very eclectic mix of local residents, people who work locally and visitors to the Knightsbridge area".
He continues: "Our snack and water lines tend to be the most popular items, and lunchtime purchases are a big hit. There is an increasing demand for the concierge and collection services - especially with the development of the residential areas surrounding the store."
Whether the Harrods 102 concept will be developed is something the posh people's store won't be drawn on. There have been unsubstantiated rumours that a branch will open in shoppers' paradise Dubai, and that there are plans to roll out 100 stores across the UK and in Paris, Berlin and New York.
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in Los Angeles, another upmarket c-store is making waves. This time it's Famima, the American brand name for one of Asia's leading convenience store chains, the FamilyMart Company. The chain has more than 12,914 stores operating in Japan, Taiwan, Korea, Thailand and China and net sales of about $10.3bn.
The first Famima store opened in West Hollywood in the summer of 2005 and today there are 12, with plans for many more.
Famima is described as a 'premium experience in modern day corner convenience store hopping'. It's a neighbourhood deli, quick-service restaurant, premium grocer, bank, business and stationery store, newsagent, internet provider and morning coffee stop all rolled into one.
Famima vice-president of operations Hidenari Sato describes the typical customer: "They are upper-middle income, local people. We target all age ranges, but our core range is 21- to 44-year-olds."
Average customer spend is $7-8 and best-selling products are deli lines, panini, sushi, desserts and beverages, particularly bottled water and green tea.
"Famima is somewhere between a premium grocers, quick-service restaurant and a convenience store. Plus our design is different to any other conventional type of convenience store," says Sato.
The stores specialise in freshly prepared packaged gourmet meals, salads, sushi, panini, sandwiches, dim sum, deli, hot soup, freshly baked bread, organic gourmet coffee (which is said to be priced below that of the grocery store chains) and other assorted hot and cold drinks.
Famima's chicken korma recently won the grand prize at the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Chef Showdown contest in Las Vegas. The award-winning chicken curry with cashews and basmati rice is a best-selling item and available to go at all stores.
The Japanese influence in Famima is strong. "The sushi we make are authentic Japanese products, just like you can have at a sushi bar or restaurant. It is made using our knowledge from Japan; keeping high-quality products in chilled temperature conditions," says Sato.
"We have several Japanese confectionery products as well. They are packed in small convenient packages, with good designs. Other Japanese products include a beverage called Ramune, incense sticks and Japanese fashion magazines."
Famima selects its locations carefully. Its eighth store was opened in the high-traffic location of Figueroa at 8th Street in downtown Los Angeles, which is the largest business district in Southern California. At the time, Famima Corporation president Shiro Inoue said: "With more than 150,000 people working downtown every day and many more coming to visit LA, the downtown Famima store will target working professionals by offering them a variety of healthy and gourmet meals, snacks, drinks and everyday items with high-quality, quick customer service."
The launch of Famima in the US is being communicated in FamilyMart's home territories. The company is running a 'See My LA' promotion in conjunction with the city of Los Angeles and is working with LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to promote Los Angeles as a travel destination for FamilyMart's 10 million daily customers in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Thailand and Shanghai.
Back in London, Nick Cooper might not have the Harrods name but he's doing very nicely with his Hudson's stores. These are all in private residential developments on the river Thames. "Our catchment extends to a radius of 300 yards, beyond which visit frequency drops away significantly," says Nick.
Typical shoppers are the residents of the developments, who are professionals in their 20s to 40s, usually without children. On top of this, Nick says any office workers in the developments also use the shops.
He adds: "These people have disposable incomes that are above the national average and quite often they are very wealthy. Therefore, they are not particularly price sensitive and are happy to spend a little extra to buy something different.
"Our stores differ in three ways: we sell far more fresh food and far less frozen and ambient than a typical c-store; we sell meal components (meat, salad, pasta and sauce) rather than ready meals; and we sell unusual services as well - dry-cleaning, home cleaning, handyman services and flower arrangements."
Not surprisingly, best-selling lines are premium items such as fresh bakery products, £7 bottles of wine, Corona beer and Green & Blacks chocolate. The most expensive product available is Dom Perignon Champagne, at £70 a bottle.
One might think that a premium c-store would mean premium business rates and top rates of pay. But, surprisingly, Nick says his costs aren't too high.
"We are in tertiary sites - our rents are up to 50% cheaper than the high street - and we're lucky to have very good people who don't cost more than the average."
With the IGD hosting its first Premium Retailing conference last year, at which it stated that UK shoppers spend £13bn a year on posh food, it might be time for you to take a look at your range. You might not be able to turn your entire store into a mini Harrods, but you could try stocking more upmarket, premium lines. Caviar anyone?

Upmarket update


? Tesco will enter the US this year with its new Fresh & Easy fascia. Although perhaps still best known here for its value rather than its quality, its entry into America is being seen rather differently. US commentators are convinced the stores are going to be 'upmarket' outlets with a
big fresh offer. Arizona, California and Nevada are the chosen locations, with
Phoenix expected to have the first store.
? Sticking with Tesco, in the UK there have been reports that its Kensington store had to be redesigned because a refit made it look 'too upmarket'.
? Whistlestop stores are being revamped to give them a more top drawer look with more emphasis on fresh foods. Michelle Murphy, head of retail for Whistlestop owner SSP, says the company wants them to complement the M&S Simply Food stores that it runs.
? In South Africa, Woolworths Food is a high-class c-store chain that's doing very well. It's reported to be taking market share from leading supermarket chain Pick 'n Pay.
? Deli de Luca in Norway is a luxury c-store chain with stores that are based on foodmarkets and cafés. The result is said to be outlets that are easy to shop, with a café-like atmosphere.

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