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Bodega Rebrands Itself

Automated retail kiosk startup that drew social-media ire gives the name game another try

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Bodega, the automated retail kiosk startup that incurred a social-media firestorm last fall by misappropriating the name of the iconic corner stores, has a new name: Stockwell.

The original concept by Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan, two former Google employees, is a 5-foot-wide, 3-foot-deep “pantry box”—similar to a vending machine or hotel minibar—that the company stocks with a customizable assortment of nonperishable items commonly found in corner stores, such as snacks, candy, soup, beverages, pain relievers, toothpaste, shampoo and laundry detergent. Customers unlock the unit with a cellphone app, and cameras register what they remove, charging their credit card as necessary.

Major investors included First Round Capital, Forerunner Ventures and Homebrew, as well as angel investment from senior executives from Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox and Google.

In 2017, the company tested 30 of the boxes in San Francisco in targeted locations such as apartment-building lobbies, gyms, college campuses and other spots where it did not have to pay for retail space. It then rolled out 50 Bodega units on the West Coast.

Bodega ran into public-relations quicksand when a writeup in Fast Company said the venture had the goal of putting the traditional bodega out of business. That led to a major backlash on social media in defense of the mom and pop store owners in New York and other urban markets. Posts took Bodega executives to task for trying to appropriate not only the cultural identity of real bodegas, but also the cats that are a fixture in many of the independent, local stores, which also often serve as community centers.

A story in The Washington Post called Bodega “America’s most hated startup.”

In a new blog post, McDonald, who is CEO of the Oakland, Calif.-based company, said, “Coming up with a name for what we do—bringing every day essentials to consumers quickly and easily—was a challenge. The inspiration for our former name, Bodega, was, we thought, an homage to the local corner store, the people who ran it, and their place in our collective conscious. We were wrong. We reviewed the feedback thoughtfully and ultimately decided that our new name, Stockwell, was a better expression of our mission and our unique offering to consumers — a store open 24 hours, filled with the things they need, located right where they live, work and play.”

He said that the company will be launching a new app soon.

“We’ll continue to celebrate small, local brands and also bring you products you know and trust,” he said. “And of course, Stockwell will personalize your store to fit your community’s needs.”

Should traditional bodegas be worried? Does the new name bode well for Stockwell? For the answers, look to social media.

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