Right Place at the Right Time

Gut decision results in stylish, upscale c-stores in two growing Atlanta neighborhoods.

Abbey Lewis, Editor in Chief, CSProducts

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It took only three weeks. David Jaffer and his brother were enjoying breakfast in the booming Atlanta neighborhood of Midtown back in 2003 when they overheard fellow restaurant patrons complaining about the eyesore across the street. It was on that visit from their native California that the two discovered a new calling.

They paid the bill for their meal and took a walk down the street to talk to the owner of the eyesore—a run-down market. They discovered that he’d indeed be interested in selling it to the right buyer. Three weeks later, the brothers were in the c-store business.

Today, their Midtown market better reflects the tastes of the trendy neighborhood, boasting a walk-in wine cellar and walk-in cigar humidor, all from inside a small convenience-store footprint.

“The only other time I worked in a c-store was after high school 15 years ago at ARCO. My background primarily after high school and college was in banking and insurance,” Jaffer says. “So I fell back on my high school experience. It was a culture shock and exhilarating at the same time.”

Once they got over that initial shock of their dramatic 180-degree career turn, the Jaffer brothers got down to renovating the space. The old market simply didn’t “fit the neighborhood profile,” Jaffer says. Not having much traditional c-store experience, he relied on his visits to comparable spaces throughout Europe. “In Europe, c-store operators do an amazing job cater-ing to locals by having a small store that offers liquor, pharmacy, mobile phones and a gift shop all inside the small market,” he says.

After one such trip, the brothers began construction of a brand-new store that they would call the Intown Market, located in downtown Atlanta. To meet some of the more European specifications, they added a “beer and wine hub” and a deli.

What Jaffer once thought was a “leap of faith”—the deli—has become the company’s main force of growth in 2010. It offers Boar’s Head meats and carefully constructed gourmet sandwiches, salads and sides. It took the brothers a year to work out the kinks (food costs, employee turnover), but today, it’s a major factor behind a healthy bottom line at the downtown store, thanks in part to the area’s population boom.

The deli has given the Jaffer brothers the luxury of worrying less about rising cigarette prices and declining shoppers due to inclement economic conditions. What they’re not selling in cigarettes they’re making up with other items such as natural products and tasty foodservice items. “[Taxes] are going to continue to rise. We’re willing to take a hit on [the cigarette] business. … We just need to have other items to get that customer. I say quit. I’m going to get you to go buy other things at our store,” Jaffer says.

As their business has matured, the Jaffer brothers have really strived to become their customers’ ally. To do so, they’ve worked at fi ne-tuning their operation to optimize each customer’s 3- to 4-minute visit to their stores. It is their priority to keep the store clean, and the coffee fresh, and continue to offer a variety of grab-and-go food items, all while keeping up that very personal service initiative.

“We are a small independent store that benefi ts from having a symbiotic relationship with our customers without the burdens of having various layers of management structures,” Jaffer says. “The flexibility allows us to get things done right the first time.”    

Midtown Market, Intown Market

Where: Atlanta, Ga.

Who: David Jaffer

What: Two-store group that boasts a wine cellar and gourmet deli

Years in Business: 7

Main draw: The group’s Intown Market showed significant growth last year, due in part to the neighborhood’s growing population and its affinity for its deli sandwiches. Website: www.intownmarket.com   

Beauty of Independence

Owners appreciate being able to operate without the “ball and chain.” David Jaffer claims they have greater ability to respond to the needs of their customers more quickly— and on a more personal level. “When I was growing up,” he says, “I remember how the people who worked at the local grocery store really knew their customers on a personal level. I try to get to know my customer and operate my business like the olden days.”

Indie Innovation

The group recently incorporated a touch-screen POS system that equips the stores with scan capability. The system makes it easier to control inventory and keep pricing consistent.

In 2011, the group will grow its social-media presence by implementing a loyalty program through its website.

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