Despite the current economic climate, Canastota, NY-based Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes continues to expand its footprint. The company has 82 freestanding convenience store locations in Upstate New York, 46 of which are owned and operated by franchisees; the remaining 36 are corporate run. John MacDougall, the organization’s founder and president, said that, to date, his business has not been significantly affected by the volatile economy. During a time when many businesses are struggling to keep their doors open, Nice N Easy continues to grow.
Although Nice N Easy began as a much smaller organization than exists today, the franchise model was adopted early on. At the time, MacDougall’s business partners were involved in the petroleum business. “Back in the 1980s, there were a lot of old gas stations that proved to be unproductive but sat on nice pieces of real estate,” MacDougall said.
“We came up with the idea of converting these old gas stations into freestanding convenience stores,” he continued. “Once we got started, other businessmen approached us and asked if they could implement our strategy at their locations, and that’s the reason we became involved with franchising relatively early in the game.”
Building on an idea
Across its 36 corporate-run stores, Nice N Easy employs a team of 1,200 individuals and generates approximately $65 million annual revenue. To ensure customers at all of the stores are satisfied, the company’s team has worked hard to develop the food-service section located within each.
MacDougall recognized the potential monetary gains surrounding a food-service division roughly a decade ago and, as a result, introduced Easy Street Eatery, a section located in approximately half of the Nice N Easy stores that offers prepared food like pizza, subs, and sandwiches to customers.
From the beginning, Easy Street Eatery was a success. To accommodate the stores’ new offerings, subsequent locations were constructed differently. The majority of the Nice N Easy stores built in the last 10 years are between 4,500 and 5,000 square feet—much larger than the original locations, which averaged 1,200 to 1,500 square feet.
According to MacDougall, approximately 25% of the space in each Nice N Easy store is dedicated to food service, and new products are introduced regularly. “We do an excellent job of listening to our customers and taking their recommendations regarding the types of products they would like available to them at Nice N Easy,” he said, noting that he and his team follow their customers’ recommendations 90% of the time.
When looking to introduce new products, the company’s inhouse team also works closely with its vendor community. “We’re always open to checking out what new products our vendors can bring to the table,” MacDougall added.
To recognize the significant role its vendors play in its success, Nice N Easy holds a charity golf tournament in their honor each year. In addition to serving as a salute to these companies, the tournament raises funds for a predetermined nonprofit organization. This year, the event will include a silent auction, and all proceeds raised will be donated to Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“It’s important to the team here that we, as an organization, are a recognizable member of the communities in which we operate,” MacDougall said. “We’re actively involved in local YMCA programs and school systems. We take it seriously.”
Although the Nice N Easy chain continues to grow, the company’s executive team knows that exceptional front-line employees are a key determinate of success. “Many individuals have found a career with us,” MacDougall said. “If you ask our customers what sets us apart from others, they’d tell you it’s the quality of our service.”
To motivate front-line employees, MacDougall and his team are open about their willingness to promote from within. He said 90% of the in-store managers are former full- or part-time clerks, but that’s not the only statistic that proves Nice N Easy employees are satisfied.
The company’s employee turnover rate is roughly one-third of the industry average, and its retention rate of employees from the manager level on up is equally impressive.
“This data speaks well of our effort to design a company that employees are proud to work for and that provides employees with the benefits and compensation they deserve,” MacDougall said. In the years ahead, he expects these numbers to remain steady.
Currently, the team at Nice N Easy is preparing to open its 83rd location in Clay, NY, a Syracuse suburb. The store will be outfitted with an Easy Street Eatery, and it will incorporate a number of sustainability initiatives MacDougall and his team recently began to pursue.
“We began to incorporate green initiatives into the last three of our stores we’ve built,” he said. “At the newest store, we plan to implement solar panels to supplement our electricity needs.” Prior to meeting with the architect assigned to the new location, the team at Nice N Easy met with various engineers and consultants specializing in green initiatives to discuss potential ideas and decide what were, ultimately, the best options.
The team at Nice N Easy plans to keep green initiatives in mind when constructing additional locations as well. Currently, all of the company’s stores are located in New York state, but MacDougall said expanding into other states is not out of the question. “We won’t rule anything out,” he said.