Huddle Mart unable to compete with retailers
Liz O'Donnell | Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Checking out at the Huddle Mart can sometimes frustrate students.
A bottle of shampoo? About $2.50. A stick of deodorant? Up to $4. A box of cereal? $5. All with price tags that are typically higher than those found at big-box retailers in the area.
With a usually noticeable price differential, students are left wondering, why the significant markup?
Huddle Mart general manager Jim LaBella said part of the reason for the difference in price between his store and a local superstore like Meijer was the volume of business each store handles.
“There is a difference between a convenience store and a supermarket,” he said. “We are a convenience store and supermarkets have a lot more volume.”
While students have the opportunity to go to multiple stores to purchase snacks, medicine and other common necessities, many use the Huddle Mart in LaFortune because of its convenient on campus location.
Despite the location, some students still opt to travel to off-campus supermarkets like Meijer or Martin’s because of their wider selection and lower prices.
Mark King, associate director of retail for Notre Dame Food Services, said there are several ways the Huddle Mart determines the prices of their items. He said they spend a lot of time surveying competitors in order to create a benchmark on prices, but most come suggested from their suppliers based on the price they pay to purchase the items.
“Sometimes items come in pre-priced and sometimes [we use] market analysis,” he said. “In those instances we try to be at or below our competitors.”
One advantage he said the Huddle Mart has over other convenience stores like CVS is that it often sells medicines for a lower price.
“With some of the medicines we’re actually lower than CVS,” he said. “What a lot of chains do is push their generic brand, so the name brand is actually higher in some items.”
King said some items, like prepackaged sandwiches and yogurt cups, which are made on-campus, are priced to maintain a certain cost ratio.
LaBella said the profit they make off the markup on items goes into a bigger pool of money that is used to fund new equipment and update different Notre Dame Food Services venues on campus.
“We’re self-sustaining. The University doesn’t support us and we don’t get a budget,” he said. “We have to survive on our merits, which means everything from paying workers, remodeling and replacing broken equipment.”
King said some areas do better than other areas, but they look to fill the needs of the campus community as a whole.
“Our goal is to do the best for the whole student body,” he said. “Some people want to look at one little thing, but we want to look at things as a whole.”
LaBella said he has posted about 85 percent of the prices on the items in the Huddle Mart and it hasn’t seemed to negatively affect business. The Huddle Mart only recently began posting prices.
“I was a little worried it would hurt business, but we’ve actually gotten a lot of compliments and people saying thank you,” he said.
King said despite the current economic crisis, the store has been able to keep most of the prices the same.
“We are doing everything we can to keep the prices down,” he said. “If you see an increase in price it’s because we had to purchase it for an increased price.”
LaBella added that the Huddle Mart isn’t as effected by the crisis because the store is “kind of a little isolated community.”
“The economy does effect us and we are aware of trying to find more value, but it doesn’t effect overall operations like it would on the street,” he said.
One item he said won’t see an increase in price are the quarter dogs sold at midnight that students flock to the store to eat.
“I started quarter dog sales sixteen years ago and I have never raised the price,” he said.