For an MBA project at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute in Seattle, Carrie Ferrence and Jacqueline Gjurgevich set out to solve the problem of “food deserts”, or low-income neighborhoods with limited access to healthy, affordable eats. (According to the US Department of Agriculture, more than 23 million Americans live in such areas.) The duo’s solution: a mobile grocery store converted from a shipping container. Their model soon changed, though, when they realized that people needed a store that stayed in one place. Hence, Ferrence and Gjurgevich tweaked their approach – they kept the shipping container grocery store idea, but did away with the mobility feature – and Stockbox Grocers was born.
Last September, Gjurgevich and Ferrence opened a prototype store in Seattle’s Delridge neighborhood. Located in the Westhaven Apartments parking lot, the prototype offered over 300 types of items and attracted 20 to 25 customers in an average half-day during the two months that it was open. “No one’s really put a grocery store in a parking lot before,” said Ferrence. She and Gjurgevich had to invite people in, as they were just staring at the store from a distance.
However, the pair are determined to break down the concept that a “real” grocery store needs to be tens of thousands of square feet and carry countless variants for each product. Next month, Stockbox Grocers will launch its first store in the Seattle neighborhood of South Park and plans to open three to five more in 2013 with the help of investors. Gjurgevich and Ferrence are also working on a checkout system, customer loyalty rewards, and inventory management, among others.
While residents of food deserts have access to convenience stores, these establishments focus more on junk food, liquor, cigarettes, and lotto tickets instead of healthy meals. Stockbox Grocers is up to the challenge of getting people to change their habits by offering fresh produce, grocery staples, and organic products – all through an unconventional setup.