The average collegestudent has evolved. What was once stereotypedasanacademic pauperliving off nothingmore than pocketchange, ramen noodles and pizza crustshas transformed intosomething more: afast-paced, health-conscious studentlooking to get themost bang out oflimited bucks. Whilemost universitiesoffer extensive campus food programsfor students, many are opting for quickand simple solutions to accommodate students’ lifestyles through campus-operatedconvenience stores.
College C-stores: Friend or Foe?
For the most part, universities providean ideal location for traditional c-stores.They are typically filled with thousands ofpeople—students, faculty and staff alike—itching for quick, cheap ways to shop. Plus, universities house the most sought-afterdemographic group in the country—the18 to 25 age bracket.
However, with the on-the-go lifestylethat accompanies college life, studentscould be diverted from traditional storesby the convenience that comes with having a c-store on campus.
“We really needed to address thechanging demographic and lifestyle of ourpopulation,” said Dave Fuhrman, directorof dining programsat Johns HopkinsUniversity (JHU) inBaltimore. “Gone arethe days where students would waitin line at the cafeteria or order a pizza.Students now arelooking for highquality, healthy anddiverse foods andthey’re looking forthem quickly, so weneeded to implement a program thatwould accommodatethem with an offering on campus.”
Todothis ,Fuhrman and theJHU administrationturned to popular college supplierAramark. Cashingin on the collegestudents desire forconvenience without the added travelo fl e a v i n gc a m pus is a trend thatAramark decided totake advantage ofby creating its own cstore program. Thecompany’s HigherLearning division had already made aname for itself by providing schools programs that brought popular branded foodofferings—such as Subway, Taco Bell andother brands commonly seen in c-stores—before developing its C3, or “Convenienceto the Third Power” program.
The C3 program is far too involved andintricate to be considered a turnkey solution, however, it does offer a variety ofmodels and plans to help colleges set upthe c-store offering that meets their needs,whether it’s a simple grab-and-go sandwich center or an elaborate offering thatcould rival Sheetz and QuikTrip in termsof merchandise variety.
JHU has taken advantage of the latter program, using Aramark’s program tohelp design its Charles Street Market convenience store. The store is found withinthe university’s residential area and offersthe standard c-store fare and more, including fresh produce and a branded EinsteinBagels foodservice offering.
“Because of the diversity of our customer base, there is a demand to provide a different solution to dining and convenience on campus,” said Furhman.
Teaching an old c-store newtricks
The Charles Street Market measuresin at roughly 3,500 square feet and offersboth a street entrance and a more privateentrance to the freshman residents that liveabove the store. Outside, the store featurespatio seating for customers picking up aquick bite from Einstein Bagels or the campus café found within. Inside, the store hasbeen broken into “zones,” each offering different selections.
One of the most popular zones withinthe store has been the produce zone, whichoffers students quick and easy access tofresh fruits and veggies without running tothe grocery store—a big perk for both students without cars living on campus andfor commuter students who don’t want to make any extra stops on the way home.
“Students—whether they’reliving on or off campus—arebecoming more savvy, and optingnot to eat burgers and pizza allthe time. They want to create theirown meals, and they’re demanding fresh produce in the stores,”said Fuhrman.
Because of this demand, the store carries not only conventional produce, but also a section devotedto organic produce as well. The offeringtakes up a lot of valuable space, whichFuhrman feels is a necessary part to keeping the co-eds happy. “To capture the sales, we need to provide what the students, faculty and staff are looking for,” he said.
To be sure they were designing a storethat its customer base would enjoy, JHUand Aramark spent a lot of time studyingthe current student trends and interests.The campus contributed by surveying thestudent body. The results helped determineeverything for the store, from the types ofdrinks they sell to the produce offering,even to the hours of operation, which are 7a.m. to 3 a.m. daily.
“We listen to our students, who, like allcollege students, keep interesting hours.Because of that, we catered everything tothem including the hours of operation,which are almost 24 hours,” Fuhrman said.”We’re not open 24 hours because we wantto at least encourage them to sleep.”
Creating Convenience Meals
Directly addressing students and theirneeds is an approach that has also benefitedTexas State University San Marcos whenit comes to satisfying its customer base.The school’s Paws Market, named for theschool’s Bobcat mascot, listened to its students’ demands for nutritional meal replacementbars andenergy drinks, dedicating much of the shelf space to the highimpulse and destination products.
“We carry every flavor of the Odwallaand Clif meal bars, and each one of themsells incredibly well,” said retail managerApril Bridget. “By carrying such a big variety of those and other energy products, we’re able to set ourselves apart from thelocal convenience stores in the area thatdon’t carry nearly as many varieties.”
Located in the campus student unionbuilding, the store also carries a variety ofpackaged goods as well a full selection ofCoke products. Aside from food, it offers aselection of stationary products and a college-centric health and beauty selectionstocked with a variety of first aid productsand over-the-counter medicines.
While Paw’s Market isn’t the only storeof it’s kind on campus—a similar storeoperates on the other side of campus—it’smade its presence known to the studentsby accommodating their demand for quick,grab-and-go alternatives to cafeteria food.The store offers prepackaged sandwiches,burritos, nachos, popcorn and roller grillitems.
Rather than using a more researchintensive approach like the Charles StreetMarket, the Paws Market discovers newtrends by listening directly to the studentbody that not only shops in the store, butoperates it as well.
“I have about 20 students working in the store and they handle a lot of the purchasing,” said Bridget. “We also get a lot ofrequests from students, which has helpedus out a lot with our marketing and merchandising efforts. In fact, the reason wecarry so many different varieties of mealbars is because the students requested thatwe carry many different flavors. Listeningto the students’ request is what has reallyhelped us grow the business.”