What would you do with 30,000 square feet of retail space? If you’re Don Perin, you grow a convenience store. “I had this large building in the middle of nowhere in Marion, Ohio, and I decided to set up a card table in the corner and start offering hot sauces, fruit and vegetables for sale,” he said. Grand Prairie Farm Market was born.
“I definitely had room to grow, but I started out small in order to build the store to be what the people of this area needed,” Perin explained. “The store has become a place where people can stop by for a convenient or grocery item and be out real quick.”
Since Perin himself has been in the area for 45 years, owning an ice and vending company at one time, he was familiar with what the area needed in a convenience store. “I delivered ice to convenience stores all over the place, so I knew people in that business,” he said.
When he decided to open a convenience store, Perin tapped into that knowledge. He also began visiting farmers markets, grocery stores and wineries all over Marion County for inspiration. “I wanted to see how they were doing business, what was selling, what wasn’t, what customers wanted. I still get out and about to see what new products might fit into our store.”
The result is a store with an eclectic inventory, from Amish baked goods to locally made bratwurst and ice cream. “I like to carry Ohio-made products that are in the price range my customers will support,” he said. “We are about giving people unique, local items, but also helping people save money.”
One thing Grand Prairie Farm Market sells that’s not a staple in most convenience stores is cheese—more than 70 different kinds. “I felt it fit in with our farm theme, and I found a great local source—Walnut Creek Foods—for cheese,” he said. Perin would like to expand the cheese section as soon as he can install more refrigerated cases. “Our cheese sells really well, mostly because I price it competitively,” he said.
The store has developed a following for its house specialties, such as homemade ham salad. “We have people call ahead to order ham salad to pick up when they’re passing through,” Perin said.
I like to carry Ohio-made products in the price range my customers will support.
Grand Prairie also sells pizza, made fresh on-site every weekend. “Not a lot of convenience stores in our area sell pizza, and most don’t sell homemade pizza,” he said. “For us, it’s been very popular.”
Since its inception, the convenience store has shared space with a flea market and storage units, an unusual combination that has generated higher traffic in the store, as well as rental income. “With 30,000 square feet, we had a lot of space to work with,” Perin said. “So we converted part of the building to a weekend flea market, where people can rent spaces to sell their handmade goods or garage-sale-type items.”
Each weekend, between 30 to 35 vendors set up shop in the flea market space. “The flea market boosts convenience store sales, while having the convenience store right there also brings in customers for the vendors,” he said. “It’s been a win-win situation for us.”
In addition to the flea market, Perin has about 50 storage rental units inside the building. Each third weekend of the month, the storage renters can sell out of their lockers. “Having the storage unit sales only once a month gives people a chance to restock items, while not taking away from the weekly flea market vendors,” he said.
For advertising, Perin mostly uses the store’s Facebook page, where his manager posts photos of food specials and upcoming events. He also supports local fundraising efforts, such as donating tailgate packages worth $125 to a local school’s auction.
“We enjoy helping out in the community any way we can,” he said. For example, when a customer wanted advice on how much lunch meat and cheese to purchase to make sandwiches for the high school football team, Perin simply volunteered to make the sandwiches himself, at no cost to the customer. “Being a single-store operator gives me additional flexibility to make on-the-spot decisions like that one,” he said.
For Perin, the most important thing is that customers know he cares. “I want our customers to recognize that Grand Prairie Farm Market tries to do the best it can to help them, whether it’s saving money on products or giving donations to the community,” he said.