Learning on the Job

Platte Street Mercantile is a laboratory for frictionless payments, price strategy and product mix.

Learning on the Job

June 2020

By: Sarah Hamaker

With its urban general store design and modern cashless checkout, Platte Street Mercantile in Denver is about as far from a laboratory as possible. But co-owners and friends Janine Williams and Tammy Williams (no relation) founded the convenience store to conduct research for Impulsify, a software company that develops retail solutions for the hotel industry.

The company’s Retail Management System and self-pay kiosks are used by 950 hotels to manage grab-and-go lobby stores, but Platte Street is both women’s first foray into owning and managing their own convenience store.

“We’ve had this idea for a convenience store for a while,” said Janine, Impulsify’s founder and CEO. “We wanted to create an old school general store with self-service technology to serve our neighborhood,” Janine said, “as well as a lab to test our proprietary POS technology, design and retail philosophies.”

Behind the Scenes

Janine and Tammy, vice president of retail design for Impulsify, mined tons of UPC performance data captured by Impulsify’s POS software to choose the right product mix for Platte Street Mercantile. Platte Street carefully curated its product mix with best-selling national brands alongside local favorites. “Our clientele is a little different from the average hotel guest we are used to, where anything chocolate or chips flies off the shelf,” Tammy said. “Our Platte Street guests are more organic, more vegan and local-driven.”

Popular local items include specialty candy, granola and CBD products like chocolate, mac and cheese and coffee. (Colorado allows the sale of CBD products.) “About half of our store is completely local,” Tammy said. “In our hotel stores, the top three beverages are Diet Coke, Coke and water. Here, it’s sugar-free Red Bull, Rowdy Mermaid Kombucha and regular Red Bull.”

See More!

Ideas 2 Go showcases how retailers today are operating the convenience store of tomorrow. To see videos of the c-stores we profiled in 2019 and earlier, go to www.convenience.org/ideas2go.

Our Platte Street guests are more organic, more vegan and local-driven.

The store stocks a wide variety of grab-and-go food, such as fresh-made pastries, pre-packaged sandwiches, salads, wraps and breakfast burritos. “We order two to three times a week from [local purveyor] Olive & Finch, which packages items on their menu for resale to avoid any in-store food prep,” Tammy said.

What also sets Platte Street Mercantile apart is how it has embraced technology with its self-checkout. That aspect has worked well in the neighborhood, which is mostly populated by people in their twenties and thirties. “The nearby businesses are very tech-driven, which brings customers who are used to cashierless payment,” Janine said. “We’ve only had a handful of people in the months we’ve been open ask about paying with cash.”

The store has at least one attendant on hand at all times to greet, restock and assist customers checking out at the kiosk if needed. “Studies show people generally want a convenient way to pay with minimal cashier interference in a grab-and-go purchase, so we offer our kiosks to help our customers get what they want and go but provide friendly assistance if they need it,” Janine said.

Testing Ground

Co-owners Tammy Williams and Janine Williams opened the self-pay, grab-and-go convenience store in December 2019. Customers can choose from a variety of beverages, fresh-made pastries, pre-packaged sandwiches, salads, wraps and breakfast burritos, plus specialty candy, granola and CBD products like chocolate and coffee. The Platte Street co-owners review sales data every 90 days to decide if the merchandise mix should change based on what customers are buying.

The pair use the store as both an incubator to see how their ideas are playing out and as a way to serve the neighborhood. “We get to watch how end-users shop the store and how they purchase using our technology, which shows us very quickly the holes and flaws,” Janine said. “It’s been a tremendous learning experience.”

Every 90 days, the pair reviews the data to decide what changes to the merchandise mix might be needed. “Our system tracks and measures sales velocity and gives us the information to see what products are moving quickly and which aren’t,” Janine said. “Because we analyze the data so frequently, we’re able to make merchandise adjustments to accommodate what our customers want right now.”

It's not just the product mix that Janine and Tammy study—it’s also the technology and how their customers use it. “Retail’s constantly evolving,” Janine said. “What’s working now in self-pay might not work tomorrow. We love being able to test new products and new trends in our microcosm of Platte Street because what is popular here, might be an emerging trend worth expanding into hotel stores and beyond.”

But all of this focus on data doesn’t mean Platte Street Mercantile has ignored its customers. “We could have named it anything, but we called it Platte Street Mercantile to tie it into the historic Platte Street neighborhood,” Janine said. “Our tagline, ‘Hello, Neighbor!’ is the heart of what we want to be in our community.”

“Even though we have self-pay as our only checkout option, we want to engage with our customers in an authentic way,” Tammy added. “We train our attendants to genuinely interact with customers with questions like ‘How did you hear about our store?,’ ‘Do you live nearby?,’ and ‘Is there anything you would like us to carry?’ It’s a way for us to connect and offer hospitality to our neighbors in an increasingly self-service world.”


Bright Ideas

During the social distancing phase of the coronavirus pandemic, Platte Street Mercantile quickly adapted its products to meet the changing needs of its customers. “To better accommodate our shift in clients—from local businesses and offices to almost exclusively apartment dwellers and nearby residences—we changed up our assortment to carry groceries, quick meals, frozen meals, toiletries and toilet paper,” said Janine Williams, one of the co-owners. “We have also been putting together a daily post of dinner, snack and baking ideas with a focus on comfort foods.”

Its self-pay kiosk offers easy social distancing without having to interact with a cashier. “Our neighbors are able to shop, self-check and be on their way with almost no interaction,” she said. “They have been very supportive and very grateful for our presence during this time.”

Sarah Hamaker

Sarah Hamaker

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer, NACS Magazine contributor, and romantic suspense author based in Fairfax, Virginia. Visit her online at sarahhamakerfiction.com.