First Robotic Convenience Store at U.S. Apartment Community Debuts in Fort Worth
Property Management Insider is pleased to introduce Tim Blackwell as a contributing editor and news reporter. His debut article is a follow up to “Are Robotic Convenience Stores the Next New Amenity for Apartment Properties?”
FORT WORTH, Texas — The first robotic convenience store installed at a U.S. apartment community has drawn curious looks and plenty of press from Dallas/Fort Worth media. And one thing is for sure – kids like it.
Takis, a spicy Mexican chip, has been a favorite among young consumers since the store opened February 9 at Ladera Palms, an 800-unit apartment complex in southeast Fort Worth. The kiosk-style unit, which occupies about 40 square feet next to the leasing office, is already making money and will be officially unveiled February 17 at a grand opening to showcase about 200 items from snacks to laundry detergent on sale for residents.
“It’s been amazing,” said property manager Laurel Santiago. “People are attracted to it because they’ve never seen anything like it before. There is something about standing in front of something where you live and being able to buy things that you haven’t ever seen in a machine like it.”
The Robotic Ultra Convenience Store, which is manufactured by Ohio-based Shop24 Global, occupies about 40 square feet outside the gated community’s leasing office and is a vending machine on steroids. A robotic arm fetches items for a complete meal or household items around the clock from a climate controlled storage unit.
For now, Shop24 accepts cash and credit cards, but will take Texas’ Lone Star Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) cards pending approval from the U.S.D.A.
Leslie Kuhlman, an asset manager for Post Investment Group, Inc., said the store is a perfect fit for the property because many residents are new to the U.S. and don’t drive. Refugees from other countries are placed through charities at Ladera Palms, and many have never lived in an apartment or experienced the conveniences of a refrigerator or microwave.
“This property is two miles away from the closest grocery store,” she said. “We have a lot of immigrants on the property and many of them do not have cars. They don’t even know how to speak proper English. So we expect a lot of foot traffic. We think this is going to be phenomenal.”
Post Investment Group, which has 23 properties in Texas and a few in California, has a substantial investment in the store, Kuhlman says, and is responsible for maintaining the inventory for residents. Ladera Palms personnel will order items and stock the store, as well as manage revenue.
Shop24 Global, which typically manages stores and gives the property a percentage of the profits, agreed to let the complex handle the day-to-day responsibilities, said a company spokesman.
Kuhlman anticipates that onsite personnel will spend about an hour day as storekeeper. If the task becomes too great, then Shop24 will absorb the duties.
“We chose a different route,” Kuhlman said. “We signed a contract with a supplier in Fort Worth and we control the machine. Our profit margin will much, much higher.
“If our employees cannot do this, we have an addendum for Shop24 to take it back over. We want to test it and see how well it does here. We’re building a new property in Little Rock and the location would be perfect.”
Ladera Palms has already gotten a taste of the pitfalls of managing a retail store, like overstocking, but so far has come out a winner. Only one case of Takis was supposed to have been ordered, but somehow five showed up.
But the kids are scooping them up.
“There were two rows of Takis on the first night and they were gone in the morning,” Santiago said. “It’s crazy. We’ve already been through them. But that’s what we’re trying to do, see what’s most popular. Once we go through the grand opening, then we’ll get a better idea.”
Ladera Palms will give away cloth shopping bags and two items for each resident to create awareness. Stock lists will be delivered door to door.
Santiago and Kuhlman believe that once adult residents grasp the potential for the store that sales will increase and Shop24 will ultimately attracts new residents. Post Investment Group will monitor the store before determining how many other properties get one.
“I have a really good feeling about this,” Kuhlman said. “It’s going to be great for us as owners, but for the residents the machine is going to be like a best friend. It’s going to supply everything they want.”