Micro-Size Me

Company cafeterias are giving way to hybrid micro-markets.


Published:

 Innovation doesn’t come easy, especially in the ultra-competitive food service industry. So when Ray Friedrich and Chris Peppo hatched the idea of installing mini-markets inside large office and medical buildings, they had to overcome labor costs to make it pay off.

“We’re not putting people out of work because, without us, it  would be back to the vending machines,” says Friedrich, CEO of Sterling Services Inc. in Canton Township. “But the numbers don’t work with lots of labor, so we developed a program where customers select the items they like, check themselves out, and pay using a credit card or store account.” In larger companies, Friedrich says they hire chefs to work on-site.

So what about the potential for theft? “It’s negligible,” says Peppo, director of vending operations. “We have (security) cameras set up in the markets. No one wants to lose their job stealing a candy bar.”

The mini-market concept, which has been introduced in 30 locations around the region, varies based on the facility and tenancy. Apart from its hybrid markets, Sterling Services operates a variety of food services, including vending machines in 220 locations. The company also consults with large corporations around the country on their needs for food services. Automatic Merchandiser, a trade magazine, cited Sterling Services for starting the “micro-market” concept.

At the Comerica Bank processing center in Livonia, for example, Sterling Services changed the cafeteria into a buffet-style restaurant. There’s no salad bar in the cafeteria; rather, customers select a salad from a posted menu or have a chef create one. Soups are made from scratch, bread is baked daily, and entrees change each day.

“We get about 600 people coming through every day, and those numbers are going up,” Friedrich says. “At other locations there’s no chef on-site, so we offer cold sandwiches, pizzas, and other items that can be heated in a microwave.”

Food sales average 36 percent at the micro-markets, compared with 12 percent from vending machines. “If people can pick up a clear container and look at a sandwich or salad, it gives them more confidence to buy it,” Peppo says. “It’s the exact same food in a vending machine, but people can’t pick it up.”

For organizations that are used to spending $165,000 or more a year operating a cafeteria, the prospect of providing food at any hour of the day at minimal costs to their bottom line is compelling. “We offer food, beauty products, aspirin, popcorn, you name it,” Friedrich says. db

Related Articles

Bozii Time

Pepper Ghost

An old magician’s trick is digitized to project hologram-like effects.

Eyes on Success

Three siblings share Young CEO of the Year title for their decorative eyeglasses.

Profit Leap

A former actuary jumps into the indoor trampoline market.

Sisters Code

Marlin Page's Detroit-area nonprofit Sisters Code weaves empowerment with technology.

Most Popular

  1. CCS Partners with Shinola to Launch Fashion Accessories Design Program
    Students at the College for Creative Studies will soon be able to study the design of fashion...
  2. New Economy Initiative Takes ‘Street Level’ Approach to Detroit's Entrepreneurial Hubs
    Starting today, the New Economy Initiative in Detroit is taking a street-level approach to better...
  3. Five Qs: Charlie Wollborg on Positive Flow at TEDxDetroit
    Charlie Wollborg, founding partner at Curve Idea Accelerator in Pontiac, and curator of...
  4. TEDxDetroit Unveils Speaker Line-up for 2014 Event
  5. Google Maps Gives ‘Spin Tours’ of Businesses on Mackinac Island
    Visitors no longer need to take a ferry to visit the many unique and interesting shops on...
  6. Duffey Petrosky to Open Satellite Office in Chrysler House
    Farmington Hills-based advertising agency Duffey Petrosky will open an office in the Chrysler...