How Design Impacts Your Micro Market

June 27, 2019

The first considerations in establishing micro markets often include planogramming and minimizing product spoilage. One element that often gets overlooked is the design of the market and how customers will feel while they peruse it.

The most successful micro market operators look at how the micro market could improve the existing breakroom, help build a unified brand, incorporate attractive lighting and create a timeless atmosphere

Ensure the micro market is attractive

C. J. Recher, vice president, marketing, at Five Star Food Service, based in Chattanooga, TN, said that operating micro markets effectively takes “thinking outside the box” as micro markets are distinct from vending machines.

“As it relates to market design, you have to be creative and flexible with the space you’re given in your customer’s building. Often, as the operator, you’re only allotted the same space you had with the vending machine bank,” Recher said. “Creativity and flexibility in your market composition and setup is key to maximize sales from each micro market install.”

John Ward, who began operating micro markets through his Rockford, IL-based business, Serenity Market, about six years ago, said his company tries to utilize what a client’s breakroom already has as a starting point to keep costs down for both parties.

“Our goal is to improve the breakroom as far as the way it looks and make it more inviting, make their employees more comfortable and provide additional products,” Ward said.

A logical layout is a good first step. For example, Ward said his company has found that coffee and pastries should be next to each other as much as possible, as they tend to pair well together. The layout should also allow  for an orderly flow, such as having a row of food items, then chips and then drinks. Items with shorter shelf lives, such as salads and wraps, should be at eye level so they are easily seen. He said employees like to rely on a consistent location when looking for their favorite items, as they gravitate toward that area out of habit.

“If all of the sudden you’re putting the Snickers in a different area, you might have a dissatisfied customer for a moment,” Ward said.

Recher said Five Star Food Service pays close attention to its sales data as well the product trends in other retail market segments in its planogramming and product selections. Each product then has a specific place in the company’s markets.

“Consistency is key so consumers can find what they’re looking for, check out and enjoy their break,” Recher said.

Ward added that the company tends to use signage and consumer promotions throughout the year, especially around Employee Appreciation Day and holidays, to ensure a good relationship with customers. 

“That’s very, very important – to have customers feel that you appreciate them,” said Ward.

Use lighting effectively

Lighting is also a valuable tool for a successful micro market design.

“Obviously a well-lit area is going to capture consumers a lot more easily. It makes your products more visible,” said Amanda Sulc, director of category insights & strategy at Accent Food Services.

Sulc said that Accent Food Services’ incorporation of LED lighting into its micro markets via its structure vendor has been helpful.

Scott Halloran, CEO of Richmond, VA-based Trolley House Refreshments, Inc., said his company started operating micro markets in 2010 and now has about 80 micro markets. Recently, they have started including LED lighting for their display racks.

"If you go to some retailers now, you’ll see the gum and mints by the checkout register are lit and illuminated, and it just kind of makes the product pop and look a little bit better,” Halloran said. “A lot of our markets, even though they’re in breakrooms that are well-lit or possibly in a darker corner, putting the LED lighting has started to really pop the merchandise. Jury’s still out, it’s very new for us right now, but we think that’s the next kind of phase of our development.” 

Managing design costs

One of the dilemmas operators may find challenging is the balance between customization and branding. While certain customers may crave a custom look for their breakrooms, establishing a unique micro market can be cost-prohibitive. If a client decides to change to another operator before the original operator regains the upfront cost of a micro market with a special design, the operator will lose money. A nicely tailored approach with customization, however, can bring in more customers. Different operators take different paths in this decision-making process.

Accent Food Services, based in Pflugerville, TX, has more than 1,100 micro markets across the country, which capitalize on a usually consistent look.

Sulc said with the rapid expansion of the company’s micro market placements – with installing around 200 micro markets annually – it is important to have a standardized process that allows them to install accounts more quickly and efficiently. She noted that “plug-and-play” installation structures allow the operator to easily revise the space and increase or downsize their micro market.

“Because we have that standardized set, we’re able to install accounts much more quickly whereas if we were doing everything custom, it would take us much longer,” Sulc said.

The company will, however, customize when appropriate.

“While it’s great to have a standardized process, the key is always knowing exactly what your client is looking for,” Sulc said. “There’s untapped potential in micro market design because it’s more or less a breakroom where employees can come and relax or hang out, or conduct meetings.”

With the multitude of purposes for breakrooms, she recommended operators find out what it will be used for, how accessible it is and whether it is something the client would like to have its own branding.

“It’s good to partner with an area treatment vendor that is able to mass produce if you’re growing at a really quick rate, but it’s also good to have one that’s innovative and progressive,” said Sulc.

Trolley House’s design team started out using a micro market provider that placed its brand on the shelving and coolers, which wasn’t always cohesive with the branding from other manufacturers the company used.

“It was kind of an evolution. We had gone from a typical vending operator mentality of using the bottlers’ assets to perform our business, and then owning snack machines that have very little branding to really, for the first time, thinking about ‘Wait a minute. We’re creating a brand for ourselves at this point, and we need to brand it so it represents our company,’” Halloran said. Trolley House then developed its own look for a micro market with kiosks skinned to the company’s look and software featuring the look as well. “It has a much bigger impact on the client facility,” said Halloran.

“Instead of having a blue and a red and a green and all kinds of different colors, now we’re better engaged with complementing the breakrooms in which we’re going into.”

Trolley House uses its branding and logos consistently with custom colors and countertop styles the client can choose. By installing its own décor, Trolley House can select products from competing beverage manufacturers as merchandise available to its clients.

“We think it’s the best way to go from a planogramming standpoint. It’s a little more costly because you’re buying your own coolers, so it’s a little more of an investment upfront. But it really gives us the flexibility to merchandise our markets with any manufacturer’s products,” Halloran said.

Trolley House has recently begun work to standardize cabinetry more, however. The company acquired a new, larger facility this year, so it now has space to develop and store cabinetry that is more modular, which it can install more quickly, Halloran said.

According to Brent Basch, vice president of market operations at Continental, employers are looking for concepts that support talent retention and workplace of choice initiatives. Continental’s guest experience team supports the company’s mission to delight its guests, every meal, every day by creating a culture of engagement that connects with customers through technology, merchandising, service and response time.

“Understanding each target audience helps us merchandise to guest needs,” Basch said. The company’s design team tailors solutions to meet each client’s specific needs while presenting a consistent market design and brand experience that holds widespread appeal and remains timeless. Each micro market features granite counter tops, custom millwork and lighting, stainless steel coolers, digital message boards and rich hardwood floors, Basch added.

“Design, quality, service and technology all matter. Listening to clients’ specific needs is critical to customizing a solution for them,” said Basch. 

Embrace the art of micro markets

Recher said the transition for an operator from solely vending to operating micro markets is an enormous mindset shift, and he encouraged micro market installers to welcome the challenges involved.

“Embrace change. Embrace technology. Embrace innovation. Test. Fail. Learn. Repeat,” Recher said. “Don’t give up – you’ll find success and what works for your business.”

While each micro market from the multitude of companies in the industry has its own flair, the art of micro markets is creating an innovative breakroom that works for the client at a reasonable cost and return on investment. Difficult choices may present themselves, but the mission for micro markets remains.