All Aboard Famima!!
By Renée M. Covino
The California c-store chain from Japan's FamilyMart presents its latest store in L.A.'s Union station as a renewed gateway to the brand
Los Angeles business commuters, visitors and travelers have a fresh, convenient ticket to ride — the 10th Famima!! store opened last October in Union Station.
The busy location provides a renewed brand opportunity for the somewhat subdued U.S. subsidiary of its Tokyo-based FamilyMart Co. — the first c-store chain of Japanese origin to reach 10,000 stores. So far, Torrance, Calif.-based Famima!! laid all of its store tracks in Southern California.
Famima!! is not a very well-known name or concept in the U.S. — or even in L.A., according to the chain's vice president of operations, store development and store construction, Philip Hockwald.
"With so many people going through Union Station, this was a good opportunity to introduce a lot more of them to the Famima!! brand," he said. "We see it as a gateway to many of our other stores in Southern California."
The new store is currently the 10th store in the chain and the sixth located in downtown L.A. Approximately five other stores were opened and closed in the last few years because they were "not meeting expectations," Hockwald stated.
Along the way, the chain learned the original Japanese-based model did not transfer well in the U.S. While the Famima!! concept is still designed with a lot of fresh deli items, including a focus on a variety of Asian delicacies, only about 10 percent of Famima! customers are of Asian descent.
"In the very beginning, Famima!! was very strict on the [FamilyMart] model, and it wasn't as successful as we wanted it to be," Hockwald explained. "We needed to blend in more American items for that core customer."
Between 85 percent and 90 percent of the chain's customers are pedestrians looking for easy-to-hold food on-the-go, Hockwald noted. Union Station boasts more than 51,000 pedestrians daily and 19 million pedestrians annually. The Union Station Famima!! store, therefore, has about 4,000 customers per day versus about 1,500 customers in other Famima!! store locations, he said.
Despite its traffic, the new store, at 1,500 square feet, is actually a reduced prototype for Famima!! and is being dubbed by Hockwald as "the second generation of a smaller footprint." The chain, which "evolves as we open each new store," according to Hockwald, discovered its stores with 3,000 to 3,500 square feet had a lot of wasted space, particularly in storage and back room areas.
"Most of the space inside this store is dedicated to revenue generation," said Hockwald. "Because of today's economics and the real estate market in L.A., we're trying to see if we can offer the traditional convenience items in a smaller footprint. It is the smallest store for us now, but also, the busiest."
It also boasts the most prepared food offerings — "probably about 40 percent of this store is dedicated to fresher foods, whereas in the past, we went with a model of about 20 percent," Hockwald said. "Prepared foods are very important to us."
The Famima!! Union Station store offers a wide variety of fresh deli items, including sandwiches, panini, Asian delicacies and salads, as well as freshly baked goods, freshly brewed coffee and fried foods. There is also a new vegan line created by the chain's creative team called "California Vegan," featuring rice and noodle dishes for around $5 each.
The coffee counters were introduced by the chain "over the last year-and-a-half, and that has really expanded our morning business," said Hockwald. "It's also encouraged more sandwich purchases in the morning for lunch that day."
Of the prepared foods, sandwiches are, by far, the most popular, probably accounting for about 30 percent in the Union Station store, according to Hockwald. That's because a large percentage of food purchases at the store "have to be one-handed since people are carrying bags, pulling suitcases, or have books under their arms, they're always carrying something else as they walk," he said. "So any type of food has to be unwrapped and eaten with one hand."
After sandwiches, the next popular are the Asian items, or "the deli rice category as we call it," Hockwald said. This encompasses "sushi, rice balls and bento balls, which is basically rice bowls." Fried foods and salads would come next in popularity for the Union Station store.
Of course, when a convenience store adds fresh food to a smaller footprint, something has to go. As its developed, the store is cutting back on traditional categories like candy and salty snacks, Hockwald explained. Other Union Station store tweaks include add-in SKUs of "unique, imported items, such as higher ends of candy and chocolate, imported snacks from Japan, China and even Germany."
And the chain never stops tweaking and evolving. Because of the greater emphasis on fresh food, employees are being trained a lot more in food and safety prep, Hockwald noted.
"From opening to warming the prepared items, they need to be aware of health code standards and our own standards," he said. "With sushi, we'll never open that for customers, it's a sealed package. But they will open sandwiches for baking or soup for heating. We're even teaching them how to hand out chopsticks so that the customer is the only one actually touching them."
Hockwald added the chain has already developed a list of "next time we'll do it this way" for when the next store is opened. Basically, even more space will be dedicated to fresh food and prepared items. "And we're in the process of developing more items that can be eaten with one hand," he said.
Beyond this newest store, Famima!! has expansion goals within and outside of the state of California in the next five years. "Our goal is to first get it right here, prove the concept, and then start expanding," said Hockwald. The company has looked at "major city centers across the nation," he added.
Within the state, San Francisco and San Diego are being considered, but the chain is also interested in cities such as New York and Chicago, according to Hockwald.
"The company goal is to expand outside of California by 2015," he said. "Locally, I would like to have at least 20 more stores in the Southern California area."
For comments, please contact Renée M. Covino, Contributing Editor, at email@example.com.
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