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Gym, pool...C-store? How Urban Value became a ‘full-service amenity’ for Multi-Unit Apartments

Updated: May 11

Original Post from C-Store Dive by Brett Dworski Reporter


Apartment Amenities
Urban Value Corner Store - Apartment Amenity

By 2019, Steve McKinley was looking for something new. The veteran retailer had held leadership positions with companies like Dollar General, Officemax and Circuit City for nearly three decades. This time, he wanted to start his own venture. He found it in a 1,300-unit apartment building in McKinney, Texas, about 30 miles north of downtown Dallas. “Underneath the apartments, they had this empty space of about 1,500 square feet, and it had been empty for years,” McKinley said. “My son called me, and he goes, ‘Dad, you should put a store here.'"

McKinley met with the building developer, who wanted to fill the space with something that would provide tenants with daily needs without them having to leave the building. That’s when he realized a convenience store was the perfect setup.

“It was a great opportunity to develop this concept of a full-service amenity for high-density apartment communities,” he said. In October 2019, McKinley opened the first Urban Value Corner Store in that same McKinney apartment complex. While the initial response from tenants was positive, the company struck gold a few months later when the COVID-19 pandemic kept the building tenants at home — and coming to the store.

“I thought to myself, ‘Gosh, if it’s working here, it’s going to work in other high-density apartment communities as well,’” McKinley said.

Less than four years later, Urban Value now has eight locations in the Dallas area, and McKinley is hoping to reach 12 by the end of 2023. But Urban Value has bigger growth plans in sight. It’s looking to open stores in other apartment buildings nationwide, with the mission at each location remaining the same: Making the tenants’ living experience as seamless as possible. “You’ve got to have great pools, great gyms and dog parks, but every [apartment complex] has those,” he said. “So what’s going to separate you from everyone else?”

Inside this Apartment Amenities

The first step to opening a new Urban Value Corner Store is getting in touch with the apartment building developers, McKinley said. He and his team belong to apartment associations in various cities and states, and even attend real estate trade shows to scope out potential partners.

Once a connection is made, the deal making begins. “Our pitch is, ‘Hey, I have a way to improve the living experience of your residents — let me walk you through it,’” McKinley said. McKinley then discusses the concept of an Urban Value Corner Store, which is similar to traditional c-stores in some ways, but different in others.

Apartment Amenities
Urban Value's Apartment Amenities

These locations don’t have lottery machines or ATMs, and while they offer tobacco products, McKinley purposely avoids building the sort of tobacco wall seen behind the register at many C-stores to maintain a more high-class image, he said. On the food service side, Urban Value is all-in on frozen and pre-made food products, such as sandwiches, burritos, salads, wraps, pizza, and other grab-and-go options. McKinley said there’s no cooking or food prep done on-site to keep the stores clean and make obtaining health permits easier. Packaged beverages are the star of the show. Urban Value has up to twenty cooler doors in each store that hold a variety of beverages, food, beer, and wine. McKinley said that energy drinks currently account for 10% to 12% of the company’s total business. He noted that residents have made it known they prioritize beverages at these locations.

Urban Value also works with local vendors in each area where it operates, specifically bringing in products like chips and hot sauce from companies around town. He said the company has about 900 SKUs in each store. “Every [developer] I’ve interacted with, they have this vision of what a c-store typically looks like, and the first response is ‘No,’” he said. “So then [they] come out and visit our store, and within five minutes, they go, ‘Okay, we get it.’” McKinley said he typically targets developments with at least 700 units since that’s the amount of residents the business needs to make it economically viable. Creating these apartment amenities resonates with developers.

Find and retain talent

The hunt for talent is something Urban Value has in common with traditional C-store retailers. McKinley and his team schedule interviews with 10 to 15 candidates for every new position, and many prospects don’t even show up for the meetings, McKinley said. While he seeks people with a history of working in a customer-facing role, many of McKinley’s new hires have little to no retail experience, he said. Instead, he’s brought on young, eager people who are ready to learn the business, and many of these people have stuck around all five years the company has existed. Urban Value currently has 30 employees on its entire team and expects to continue to offer opportunities to more as Urban Value Corner Store grows.

“[The employees] really like what we’re doing,” he said. “It’s a good environment to work in.”

That environment includes flexible hours on the job. Urban Value’s store managers work Monday through Friday, and usually leave by 4 p.m., while assistant managers arrive in the mid-afternoon and close up around 9:30 p.m. every day of the week. Each store typically has three full-time staffers on the payroll. “Go do what you need to do, and have a life outside your job,” he said.

Beyond the flexibility, Urban Value’s employees have embraced the company’s culture, which says that every decision — from merchandising to policies — must be made to improve residents’ experiences, McKinley said.

Urban Value implements its ASAP philosophy, which stands for acknowledging the customer, speed of service, availability, and product knowledge. The retailer also has a philosophy called “100/0,” with 100 standing for being 100% accountable for the residents and zero, meaning no excuses.

“When people sign up for us to work, they know, ‘Hey, this is our culture. This is why we’re successful. This is why developers embrace what we’re doing,’” McKinley said.

Providing Top Apartment Amenities
Urban Value Corner Store's Talent

Sticking to the basics

McKinley’s philosophy is to not only bring the best service to the residents but also keep Urban Value’s playbook simple and stick to what it’s good at. This means keeping the stores clean, conducting due diligence on new vendors or products, and upholding its ASAP environment.

“I think where entrepreneurs fail is they try to overcomplicate the playbook,” he said. “So the message I give to the team is if you’re great at the basics, everything else will come.”

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