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Urban Value Corner Store: Convenience Is The Best Amenity

There are countless points a potential resident considers when deciding on an apartment; amenities and proximity to surrounding businesses are usually high on the list. What if there was an amenity that brought a convenience store — not a coffee stand, not a vending machine, but a full convenience store — right next to your doorstep?

Steve McKinley was sitting on more than 30 years of retail experience, looking to take on a new adventure, one of his own making. He came across an empty space underneath a large apartment community, and the draft of Urban Value Corner Store (UVCS) began to come together in his head. He spoke with the developer, who had been trying for years to figure out the perfect amenity for the space, one that could really improve the quality of life and the living experiences of the residents. A month later, McKinley came back to the developer with a business case, and UVCS was born.

UVCS is an innovative retailer aimed at high-density apartment communities. They operate as a full-service amenity, a hands-off option for developers. The clean, well-organized, and friendly convenience store is a major draw for residents; many have made their decision to lease (and renew their lease) based on the presence of the store in the community.

The grand opening of the first location in McKinney, Texas, was in October 2019. Now, UVCS is on track to have nine stores open by the end of 2022, all in the Dallas/ Fort Worth area. While McKinley admits the Dallas area still has plenty of room for UVCS to grow into, he’s got his eyes on other large communities in Texas — like Houston, San Antonio, and Austin — and out of state — like south Florida, the Carolinas, Atlanta, Phoenix, and Denver. “We believe we’re really just now touching on the momentum of what we can really do, and the roadmap looks very favorable for how many communities we can get into,” said McKinley.

“My initial concept of building a whole bunch of locations has probably multiplied by 10 or 20,” McKinley continued, “because we believe that the format we’re providing and the focus on the residents is something nobody else is doing, and we are.” Even with an enticing company like UVCS, though, this kind of growth does not happen overnight. McKinley has spent the past three years building great relationships with developers and apartment owners, and it’s starting to pay dividends. He’s not even worried about the added work each location brings: “From store one, we’ve always had a dream of a large store base. All of our decisions, all our policies, all our procedures were already built around it. I’ve learned from my history that you’ve got to think big before you can act big.”

“What gets me going every day is that we’re positively impacting people’s lives every single day. That’s a real motivating factor inside what we do.”

The secret to thinking big is finding your focus and giving it everything you have; for UVCS, that’s the residents. “What makes us different,” said McKinley, “is 100 percent of our focus is on the residents. We don’t advertise to the outside, we don’t try to get drive-by traffic. It is about how we make the living experience better for residents.”

The secret to thinking big is finding your focus and giving it everything you have; for UVCS, that’s the residents. “What makes us different,” said McKinley, “is 100 percent of our focus is on the residents. We don’t advertise to the outside, we don’t try to get drive-by traffic. It is about how we make the living experience better for residents.”

What makes UVCS convenient, however, is more than just their speed, and even the speed doesn’t come from rushing customers out the door — convenience and speed both come knowing your customers and anticipating their needs. With more than three years of data thus far, McKinley has a pretty good idea of what his customers want and starts each store with about 90 percent of consistent product. However, it’s once a UVCS is established in a community that they can massage their selection to suit the specific desires of that neighborhood. As an example, McKinley said, “In a recent store that we just opened, all of a sudden, we’re selling more fresh food than we ever have, and now we’ve expanded that assortment in ways that we didn’t in weeks one through four. Other stores might have a larger wine selection because there’s more wine drinkers than beer drinkers — we’ll adapt to that. So that’s the uniqueness of our business is that yes, we have a core set, but more importantly, we listen to what the residents want and need to improve their living experience.”

The decision to customize their product selection is also what allows UVCS to support other local shops and entrepreneurs. Inside of any given UVCS, you can find locally made products such as sauces, spices, cookies and candles. McKinley said, “I meet these folks at the farmers market and really want to give them an opportunity to promote their product. Everyone loves supporting local.”

Supporting growth in local communities is all the more important after everyone’s hard times during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. UVCS, like all retailers, had to adapt. With lack of supply in nearly every avenue, McKinley either had to find alternative resources or introduce new product lines to compensate. The first several months of COVID were undoubtedly difficult, especially for a new business like UVCS, but McKinley was prepared to continue operations with the residents’ safety and best interests in mind, as always. “We took all the protocols that you had to do at the very beginning of this, which made people feel comfortable still shopping inside their amenity,” said McKinley. “Beyond that, it was just making sure that we’re still executing our strategies and not losing sight of what are core mission is: to improve the resident’s experience one transaction at a time. That’s our mission statement, and we stay very true to that.”

The simple closeness of UVCS may be enough to keep most residents’ attention and loyalty, but McKinley has taken to raising awareness with residents through social media, making Facebook and Instagram posts directed right to the residents. McKinley wants UVCS to be embedded in the community, so they use their platform to inform residents about events like movie or karaoke nights — and the deals UVCS is running alongside those events: ICEE promotions or gift card giveaways.

“It’s all about that experience that we’re able to do that nobody else can.”

All the effort UVCS puts into their relationship with the residents is not overlooked by the apartment complex or the residents themselves. Leasing agents bring prospective tenants through the store as they are touring the facility; it’s a part of their community that they’re happy to promote. The loyalty program UVCS rolled out in 2021 has seen an immense amount of people earning points and discounts with the frequency of their visits. In fact, McKinley says it’s no secret that UVCS is the most used amenity within the properties they are at: “More than gyms, more than dog parks, more than yoga studios — maybe not as much as pools in the summer.”

The store team gets to know residents by name, and customers clearly appreciate the heart that goes into each UVCS; there is a steady stream of five-star Google reviews that shows no sign of stopping. Residents rave on the convenience, cleanliness, friendly employees, and the great selection, tailored to them.

It’s the dedication to the UVCS customer service philosophy that keeps happy customers coming back; they call it ASAP — and no, it doesn’t stand for “as soon as possible.” As McKinley explains it, ASAP stands for:

  • Acknowledgment: “Any time someone walks through the door, we’re acknowledging that resident. We want them to know that we know they’re there.”

  • Speed of transaction: “We know they want to get in and out, so a task never trumps our ability to check them out.”

  • Available: “When they have a question, we’re there; we’re going to take them over to whatever product they need.”

  • Product knowledge: “We want to stay on top of what’s the latest energy drink, the latest seltzer that came out. Whatever is being introduced, we want our team to be on top of that.”

Acting on that ASAP mission and not accepting anything less is the core of UVCS, a bit of their “secret sauce,” as McKinley says. “As simple as I describe that, it’s the core of our philosophy, which our store team executes every day with every resident,” he said, “and that is what’s resonating with the residents.”

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