Are Robotic Convenience Stores the Next New Amenity for Apartment Properties?
It’s 7:00 p.m. and that hamburger dish isn’t going to get made unless there is some milk. There’s none in the fridge and going to a convenience store four blocks away – or the grocery store – isn’t an option. That sing-and-dance reality show is just about to come on the tube: It would be great to be able to have that pint in no time and leave the car where it is.
Does your resident grab the car keys or just settle for PB & J?
An Ohio firm hopes to help apartment residents make that decision and afford property managers a new amenity by bringing convenience store shopping as close to the front door as possible without re-inventing the milk man. Shop24 Global, based in Columbus, offers consumers a self-retail solution with its kiosk-style vending stations that are popular in Europe and the East Coast.
Store inventory is based on up to 200 of the fastest moving items at convenience stores and maintained at a constant 36 degrees. Stores offer typical chilled items like sandwiches, drinks and snacks, but also household staples like soap, aspirin and laundry detergent – even motor oil and anti-freeze.
The one-stop shop is catching on.
In the past year and a half, Shop24 Global’s Robotic Ultra Convenience Stores have begun popping up on college campuses, a gas station in Columbus for a major grocer, and now apartment complexes. In November, Shop24 Global announced its first planned multifamily property operations, a complex in Fort Worth, Texas, and one outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. Both are expected to be operational by the end of January or early February, says Shop24 Global Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Mike Weigel.
Another complex in Dallas plus one in Denton, north of the D/FW Metroplex, will get stores as well.
Weigel said Shop24 Global jumped into the multifamily market sooner than expected after the company’s product received positive response at last year’s National Apartment Association convention. Since then, the D/FW area has become a hotbed for growth – the company manufactures the stores in Plano, TX – and the company plans more installations this year at apartment complexes and even some senior facilities in the area and beyond.
“We’ve been most enveloped in the college and convenience store markets, and we knew apartments were on our list but not at the top of our list,” Weigel said. “Last year we went to NAA and got incredible response. After the first hour, we knew we had a hit in the market.”
Not Your Grandfather’s Vending Machine
Some may remember when vending machines were short and squatty, and the only thing that prevented the snacks purchased from launching into orbit was a metal bin and flap at the bottom. The choices were usually limited to candy bars, chips, and gum, and pulling the lever to get the goods often gave the consumer a workout. A loud “geedunk” signaled that the item had been dispensed.
Shop24 Global’s stations, which can be indoor or outdoor, are self-contained and trendy. The smooth operating robotic delivery system is much quieter and more refined.
With a minimum footprint of 8’x9’x13’, the stations can be designed to fit the location (outdoor locations are best) and are protected by double-paned, bullet-resistant glass with limited external access. Stores accept different methods of payment including cash, credit cards, debit cards, and supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) cards 24 hours a day.
Up to seven items can be purchased in one transaction, so a consumer can essentially buy an entire meal while walking only a few yards from their apartment. And pricing is comparable to other stores in the area, Weigel said.
“We want our stores to be close enough so that people can walk out in their socks and underwear and buy,” Weigel said with a laugh. “We’ve got to be close to where people live.”
Property managers stand to benefit from Shop24 Global’s stores by not only providing a convenience to residents but also an opportunity to get a piece of the pie. Shop24 Global installs, fulfills, and maintains the store and shares revenue with the property. Beforehand, the company does its homework about what items to stock.
Shop24 Global first surveys residents in the community to determine the most desirable items. Depending on where the property is located, the inventory can vary, Weigel said, but about 80 percent of the items stocked are common among all properties.
Based on resident feedback, an area distributor is contacted to determine what is selling best at area convenience stores. From there, a “plan-a-gram” is drawn to determine how to stock the store. Once the store is open, Shop24 Global handles the rest.
“We take care of all the fulfillment,” Weigel said. “We have a route that goes around the stores. The apartment complex doesn’t have to do anything with the store except enjoy a wonderfully strong amenity.”
Safe, Convenient Solutions
Shop24 Global pitches that there is a huge market for this type of ultra-convenience store and it is the wave of the future for the convenience store shopping experience. Don’t look for these stores to pop up on every street corner (Shop24 Global says it’s not trying to compete with grocery and convenience stores), but in this fast-pace world consumers likely won’t argue with the ability to make quick, convenient purchases.
Property managers can take note that robotic vending solutions offers not only convenience but more security in making single-item purchases, especially in gated communities or when stations are confined to secure, well-lighted areas. Weigel says the stores are safe enough that a 12-year-old can comfortably make transactions.
And that school kid probably will want to make Shop24 Global’s store a regular stop. Stores have been known to handle cookie dough, which is a popular item at most college locations, Weigel said. So, don’t forget the milk.