The Village Pantry Greens

New programs, growth bring renewed excitement to Indiana-based chain

INDIANAPOLIS -- An updated, successful coffee program, a new point-of-sale system and an outlook for growththese are just some of the steps forward that are driving optimism and excitement at the Village Pantry convenience-store chain.

There are a lot of positive things going on that are really just the opposite of the speculation that has gone on previously, Kent Raphael, vice president of merchandising for the c-store chain, told CSP Daily News, referring to suggestions by analysts and others that store closings were on the horizon and a repackaging [image-nocss] and resale of Marsh Supermarkets' c-store arm was likely.

Indianapolis-based Village Pantry was bought by Sun Capital Partners in September as part of its purchase of the Marsh Supermarket chain.

Where probably we were a bit neglected under Marsh management, [now] we're getting money to upgrade our systems, said Raphael. We have very old POS systems that we're going to update. We're getting the VeriFone Sapphire [system], which is a big investment. We're getting another accounting system to coordinate our store-level pricebook and systems. And where we've been losing store count over the past few years, very shortly we're going to start adding stores again.

On the growth side, Raphael said expansion is likely in the form of both acquisitions and new construction. We're anticipating building two [stores] this year, and they're out working on some [acquisitions] right now, he said. The sites we're looking at are in our current operating marketsbut we see the possibility of going farther into Ohio or Illinois or even Michigan.

The most progressed project, however, is the rollout of the updated Bean Brothers coffee program, which began as a test in seven stores late last year.

It's now in about 100 of our 148 stores, Raphael said. We keep rolling out additional stores every week. It is about $5,000 to $6,000 worth of equipment that has to be installed into the store, then there's training and so forth. We are anticipating having it in all the stores somewhere in late May.

The program includes a new coffee blend with a heavier throw weight created by Marsh's catering arm. Raphael said when the conversion is completed in a store, there is an almost immediate sales boost, even without a major marketing campaign.

We've already seen a 23% increase in sales, and we haven't even really started promoting it in an efficient manner, he said. Just with the soft introduction, the in-store sampling and the in-store signage we've seen that. I expect that once we start getting pumptoppers out, street signs and advertising in different media, I wouldn't be surprised to see a 40% increase.

Overall, Raphael said the coffee program is just one example of the leaps forward he expects Village Pantry to take in the near future under Florida-based Sun Capital's ownership.

They're making substantial investments. It's been quite exciting, he said.

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