Friday, January 7, 2011

The Snack Shop at 400 Towers

A little over a year ago, our community room was getting a face lift.  It was a project I championed since being appointed to the Residents' Council Executive Board two years before. 
The room is quite large.  Unfortunately, it had no character.  Long, eight foot, tables and card table chairs were hardly inviting.  Think a school cafeteria and you have the picture of the room.
The time had come to bring in new carpeting; drapes; tables and chairs. 
Three vending machines seemed to be the 1000 lb. elephants in the room.
No matter how we tried to configure the new plan for the new furniture those vending machines were in the way.
Finally, I asked if our council received any funds from the machines.  A check of the records gave us the discouraging answer.  The pop and candy machines garnered nothing.  The coffee machine, in the past three years gave us a check for $24.00.
The final straw came when the vending machine raised the prices for candy and pop.  This is a senior complex.  People on limited incomes who can least afford to pay the prices the vending company was imposing.
"Get rid of them!", I suggested. "They are taking up valuable real estate in that room.".
While other board members agreed, they were concerned about taking away the convenience the machines offered.
A lesson I'll never learn is to keep quiet and let someone else come up with a great idea.
"We can offer the same items at a lower price.", I offered.  "Why not have the items available through the kitchen?".
It sounded like the perfect solution.  The kitchen is staffed by volunteers.  They provide two breakfasts; two lunches and one dinner a month.  My solution seemed to make sense, to me.  The chair of the kitchen didn't quite agree and wasn't about to have any of her limited space used as a store.
On Sept. 15, the director of the facility, called me into his office. 
He was taking an efficiency apartment off line and making it into a fitness center.  The apartment/fitness room kitchen could be just the place for a store.
I agreed that the room had possibilities.  It is quite small, only 5'x6'.  If the stove was removed and shelving installed, it might just work. 
"Great. I'll have the vending company pick up the machines on Oct. 1.  The store can open in the same day.", he announced.  "YOU will have 2 weeks to get it put together."
I have zero experience with retail.  None. Zip.  Nada.
My head was spinning.  We'll need volunteers. 
One of the residents DID have the experience I lacked.
He retired from a retail business and then worked part time in convenience stores.  I convinced him that I needed his expertise in deciding what we should place on those shelves.
He agreed to take on the challenge and went on a two week shopping spree for items he thought would sell.
The Residents' Council fronted the start up money.  We knew exactly how much we had to get this project up and running.  We also knew how much we had to repay the council.  It seemed like a daunting task.
The facility's maintenance crew put up the shelves.  The facility's director had a sign make for the shop.
When it was out, the residents would know we were open.

I put out a call for volunteers to staff the shop.  Four people stepped up.  Those four, my purchasing guy and I would take on shifts.
We put together a plan to keep the books; an inventory system; made a shift schedule and faced all of the small details that seem to came up in those two short weeks.
Business plans do not come together in two weeks.  We were on a deadline that couldn't be changed, so that business plan became a work in progress - it still is.
We opened on Oct. 1, 2009. 
That first month we brought in a little over six hundred dollars and gave the council two hundred.  A far cry from that $24.00 check.
In Oct. 2010, our little shop was pleased to announce that our year end gross was $14,000.  After expenses, we were able to  give the council approximately $4000 for the year.
Last month was our best so far.  We grossed $1717.   We sell over 100 different items. 
In the course of the 14 months, we have had many hits and a few misses.  We are keeping to our pledge to offer a variety of items at reasonable prices.  Our prices range for .25 to $2.00.  The most expensive items are microwave soups and 4 oz. bags of cheese curds.
Pop, juice, candy, ice cream; pastries and most of the chips and crackers are .75. 
The shop has become the general store of the facility.  People come to pick up their books for our book discussion group.  The Wii game can be checked out there.  Folks stop in just to say hello. 
We are open from 9am to 9pm, Monday through Saturday.  Our staff has grown to 10 very dedicated volunteers.
Each volunteer staffs the shop for three hours.  That gives us 4 shifts a day.  We have an additional shift, called Shift 6.  It is the after hours shift.  There are three of us with keys to the shop.  Most often, one or more are available to open the shop if a resident needs an item after we close.  Shift 6, at times, brings in more than a regular shift.
Granted, we aren't available 24 hours a day as the vending machines were, but the residents have adjusted to picking up their snacks when the shop is open.
We are now going on our second year.  I believe that we are still evolving and getting better.
Each volunteer brings their own experience to the mix.  They are adept in customer service.  They enjoy the time they spend meeting and greeting their friends and neighbors. Without them, we would have to close the doors.