Company News

Indie Closeup: Family Mart Stays the Course in a New Era

North Carolina retailer is truly a family-centric venture
Photograph: CSP

A retail name change can lead to general confusion, flummox loyal customers and affect online search outcomes. The newly named Family Mart in Eden, North Carolina, hopes to dodge any transitional growing pains as the convenience store rebrands from Kathy’s Mini Mart in early 2023.

While the new name might sound generic, it fully reflects the store’s essence: the staff at the Marathon-branded location in northcentral North Carolina is truly family-centric, explains long-time store manager Sheri Cubbage, a 2021 CSP Indie Influencer.

“Family Mart is relevant because all of the people who work here are family. My son and husband work here, and some of [the new ownership’s family will] work here as well,” Cubbage said.

Indeed, the store, located north of Greensboro a few miles from the Virginia border, is assuming new ownership, as long-time proprietor Ron Hodgson retired and passed the reins to his stepdaughter Bridgett Snody.

Cubbage said the new owners are learning retail on the fly—a necessity since they’ve never owned or operated retail. “Bridgett had been in the nursing profession and her husband in construction,” said Cubbage. “Both Ron and I trained them on operating POS registers, and then about the business aspect of running a store, including understanding fuel operation.”

She said there’s also a need to flatten the learning curve on store accounting practices, category management strategies and order fulfillment through primary wholesale distributor H.T. Hackney Co, Knoxville, Tennessee. 

Keeping an Eye on Quality

Cubbage is looking to stay the course on delivering quality customer service and ultra-competitive prices as a new retail era commences. Historically, the store has found a way to out-muscle formidable retailers Food Lion and Walmart on several select product categories.

It has long offered the best price points on JTI’s LD Cigarettes, available at $2.80 per pack, which boasts one of the most competitive pack prices in the region.

“We’re one of the top sellers of LD not only in this state but in the U.S. Low prices mean more foot traffic—we get people from different counties and across state lines to buy LD from us,” she said. “I’m keeping an eye on the rising tobacco prices and will continue to keep prices as competitive as possible through any challenges. I regularly make the rounds to other local retailers to price compare.”

Family Mart recently introduced Bon Appetit pastries to its packaged sweet snack/bakery portfolio, and it continues to reap success from a solid relationship with Neese Sausage, based in Greensboro, North Carolina. As with LD tobacco as a destination stop, Cubbage brings in customers from other North Carolina counties for Neese’s quality sausages—available at prices more attractive than many local supermarkets offer.

Deli Decisions

The store discontinued a full-service deli several years ago, but Cubbage said the new ownership is contemplating reviving it. “The deli did very well, but was discontinued due to a kitchen fire,” she said. “Bridgett has verbalized to me that she’d like to offer a full deli again.”

Other products at Family Mart that are destination-worthy include locally grown River Bottom Honey, for which Cubbage sets prices at $17 for a 3-pound jar and $10 for a 16-ounce jar—about $5 lower than price points set by some nearby retailers. Honey is grown at the local WG Bee Farm.

Some general merchandise segments have also been integrated into store sets due to a hunch about potential high sales velocity. One is candles. “We began selling smoke odor exterminator candles in jars, and they’ve moved quickly. We sell them about $4 less per candle than other general retailers around here do,” she said.

Because she’s logged a great deal of experience at the 2,800-square-foot store—serving as a de facto owner when Hodgson was in semi-retired mode—Cubbage had been offered a chance to acquire the store but the plan didn’t pan out financially. She has worked at the store for 22 years.

About the name change, Cubbage anticipates “some confusion” at the outset, but adds that the store had originally been known as Ron’s Mini Mart, and “some long-time customers still call it Ron’s. The way I see it, the name change will be minor as long as we continue to provide great customer service and competitive pricing for all product categories, which we already do,” she said.

Family Mart Factoids

Dispensed beverages: The store provides six fountain heads devoted to Coca-Cola products; three cappuccino heads; three coffee flavors served from air pots; and one Slurpee machine. “We recently put in ginger ale at the fountain, and it has worked well. Hot chocolate also sells quickly,” Cubbage said.

Boiled peanuts: Served from a steam tray, Family Mart sells a 32-ounce (suggested retail price $3.49) and 16-ounce (SPR $1.99) cups of Peanut Patch boiled peanuts, with the Cajun flavor being as most popular.

Motor fuel: Cubbage is watching how the state motor fuel tax increase affects her weekly and monthly gas throughput in early 2023. The motor fuels and alternative fuels tax rate in North Carolina increased from 38.5 cents to 40.5 cents per gallon. “Kerosene prices have jumped significantly, so we’re closely watching how that impacts our typically strong kerosene volume,” said Cubbage.

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