Tight Space Design: Munchy Mart, University of Northern Colorado

Designing around three columns just one of many challenges (slideshow)

Published in CSP Daily News

By  Lindsey Ramsey, Managing Editor, FoodService Director

GREELEY, Colo. -- Designing in tight spaces is tough to manage. When a copy center left a shoebox-shaped hole at the university center at the University of Northern Colorado, in Greeley, Hal Brown, director of dining services, was faced with the task of turning the space into an attractive, functioning convenience store. Brown spoke to CSP sister publication Foodservice Director about the challenges of catering to customers' needs in a very limited space.

When the campus university center was looking to make a few upgrades, dining services was trying to decide how to best serve customers' needs, Brown said. One of those needs was that customers desired a c-store, which the campus didn't have elsewhere. When the copy center moved out, Brown was asked what he thought about putting a c-store in the location, and his first concern was the size: It was less than 900 square feet.

"We were able to negotiate some space behind that location that used to be storage area," Brown said. "We got an extra 300 or 400 [square] feet to put in a walk-in cooler and a little bit of dry storage."

Brown then brought in Bakergroup, Grand Rapids, Mich.-based design consultants, to give the space its retail feel.

"I didn't want it to be stark white like a gas station c-store," Brown said. "I wanted it to be much more modern and an upbeat space. If you feel good about the space, it's my opinion that [customers will] buy more."

A lot of the retail feel of the space is created by the lighting and the bright colors. "As we developed through that process, I kept saying I wanted a fun and funky feel," Brown said. "I think the green really highlights a lot of the fresh product that we have in the store. We wanted curves because the room itself was such a shoebox."

Brown also had students involved in naming the store from the beginning, eventually opting for the quirky Munchy Mart name.

The space had three columns, which was only one of its challenges with the design. Brown said there is also a huge security gate that separates the university center in half.

"One of the strategies that [Bakergroup] came up with was taking out the wall next to [the gate] and we put a gelato case there," Brown said. "That way people could see into the store from the other side of the gate, and it also gave us a different type of concept where we could utilize a walk-up type of service."

With retail, Brown said, you usually want open spaces and natural light. This space had neither. In addition to using bright lighting to make the space look more open, the team turned two shelving gondolas sideways to save space. The department also carved out space for coolers for its self-branded grab-and-go items.

"As a narrower room without a lot of windows or space to work with, coming up with a great design that allows us to have a good customer flow in and out of the store was key," Brown said. "But we still needed the ability to stock our shelves. We originally wanted three gondolas, but it was just too tight."

To manage the products in the store, Brown contracted with an outside vendor, but he advises to keep an eye on product as a way to make a small space succeed.

"You need to maximize the space you do have, so you have to decide what your top-selling items are," Brown said. "Vendors want you to carry everything, but you can't in a limited space. So you need to focus on what your customers want and base your design on those wants. Make it a destination."

By Lindsey Ramsey, Managing Editor, FoodService Director
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