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Indie Closeup: Huff’s Market 2.0

Store is a big hit in its 2nd go-around; commitment to ‘hyper-local’ procurement is differentiator
huff's market
Photograph courtesy of Huff's Market

With a host of local vendors supporting the effort and a new front porch to add curb appeal, Kensey and Dylan Amerson are on solid footing to maintain and expand their retail blueprint as they embark upon Year No. 2 as c-store operators.

Taking a no-shortcuts approach to retail is one way. Going above and beyond the call with local-product sourcing is another. Boasting a lean-and-mean operating mentality is yet a third.

Huff’s Market, located in Milledgeville, Ga., a small community adjacent to state Hwy. 49 not far from Macon, re-opened its doors in spring 2022 after Dylan Amerson’s great aunt, Dorothy Huff, was forced to shutter the unit in 2021 due to health reasons.

Enter Huff’s Market 2.0, which is thriving because, for starters, locals are enamored that the c-store/country store is back up and running. In addition, new tweaks in 2023 are helping the local business power up its competitive advantage.

“From the start, our main goal was to make sure Huff’s Market operated as a hyper-local store, from product sourcing to people,” said co-owner Dylan Amerson, who operates the store with his wife, Kensey. “We have exceeded expectation with the hyper-local strategy, increasing our local supplier network about 50% this year.”

Functioning as back-pack guides in Tennessee before obtaining the financing to acquire Huff’s Market, the Amersons made a serious commitment to local product procurement—from produce and meats to freeze dried jams and chocolates.

Even though they also rely on co-ops and local food processors to support procurement, they haven’t wavered—sifting always for additional local partners. Ones that have been instrumental include Condor Chocolates Five Points, Double L Ranch, Cindy’s Bits and Pieces and Liberty Farm.

There are pros and cons to a locally dominant sourcing strategy. “We brought in 60 pounds of tomatoes one day in June and sold out in less than two days,” said Kensey Amerson. “You can’t just re-stock immediately, and it’s hard to explain to customers why you don’t have tomatoes. It’s magnified by the fact that when people shop at a Kroger, they have produce at their fingertips, but it’s not locally grown. It’s tough to communicate that local means higher quality—placing a premium on daily and weekly supply fulfillment.”

Results-Driven Tactics, Strategies

In addition to local product sourcing, other aspects about Huff’s Market are making an impression with customers in building and retaining loyalty, including:

  • Curb appeal assured. The store built a sleek wooden front porch with larger-size plastic chairs to allow patrons to sit outside, giving it a country store-like vibe. “We also constructed a wheelchair-accessible ramp for both customers and delivery people, who appreciate that,” said Kensey Amerson. The porch connects to the adjacent small retail business that the Amersons rented out.
  • Foodservice expansion. The store is not technically a commercial kitchen, so they cook and assemble food outside after preparing from a Green Egg Smoker. The store is certified through the Georgia Department of Agriculture.
  • In addition to link biscuits, country ham biscuits, biscuit bites, hamburgers and bratwurst, Huff’s recently added made-fresh-daily grits to their menu. “The more items we can add, the better because people always jump at new things. Grits pairs nicely with sausage patties and other items. It’s a cost-effective way to expand a menu without adding to our workload,” she said. “We also added Brunswick stew, particularly popular during holidays and random Saturdays—it’s Dylan’s grandfather’s recipe and it’s insanely popular. We stock it frozen.”
  • Huff’s also “hand-patties” their artisanal burgers, sourcing product from a local meat processor. “We do it ourselves [rather than having them hand-pressed at the processing plant] because it really exudes a certain quality. People prefer that look, which has a gourmet feel about it,” she said.
  • Social media’s impact. Facebook is a key driver of spreading the word about Huff’s Market. “One vendor told us that creating a Huff’s Market Facebook page would be a game-changer. It has been incredible because so many people have caught wind of us via social,” said Dylan Amerson.
  • Say ‘no’ to…Various general merchandise goods. During summer 2022, “we stocked some leather goods sourced locally, such as key chains, leather bracelets, and more—and it moved slowly. We also tried placing charcuterie boards and thought the holidays would push volume, but it never worked out,” said Kensey Amerson.
  • Huff’s also has a lower commitment to selling grocery and various staples at Huff’s. Coca-Cola is a primary vendor-partner and so is Frito-Lay. The store takes customer requests seriously, locating and stocking various items, such as Mike’s Hard when a customer asked for it.

On the future, Kensey Amerson said that welcoming a part-timer in August will help ease the workload they bear alone.

“We are trying to just coast and let everything take its course. Meantime, we continue to sustain what we started in 2022. That is, ‘come to Huff’s and tell us what you want and we will try and get it in stock for you.’ We perceive our retail model as a hub where people can come have coffee, watch the news, sit inside or on the porch—and talk about what’s most important.”

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