With fresh foods, made-to-order coffee and drive-through service, United Express is meeting the grab-and-go needs of Texas customers.
By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor
United Supermarkets is going all in on its effort to boost its convenience store business by expanding its United Express c-store concept.
With two freestanding United Express stores already up and running, the company is converting its three Taste of Market Street locations to the United Express brand this year, as well as building three new freestanding c-stores and expanding four existing fuel kiosks into full-fledged United Express stores.
Headquartered in Lubbock, Texas, the company operates four different store brands. United Supermarkets is the core brand, with 36 stores in Texas. Other brands include Market Street, a grocery-to-gourmet brand that just opened its 11th location; and a Hispanic format store called Amigos, which has three existing locations and a fourth scheduled for construction next year.
On the c-store end, the company operates 18 United Express fuel kiosks and five free-standing convenience stores (three under the Taste of Market Street banner and two under the United Express banner).
United Supermarkets, founded in 1916, is now in its 97th year. The family-owned chain has its roots in Oklahoma and today spans 30 markets in Texas. H.D. Snell founded the company in Sayre, Okla. He had five children. His son H.D. “Jack” Snell purchased the existing Texas stores in the 1940s and made them a separate company. Today, United Supermarkets is still led by the Snell family and is now in its fourth generation of management. Jack’s son, Robert Snell, serves as chairman of the board, while great-grandsons Gantt and Matt Bumstead are co-presidents of the company.
“We’ve been a separate chain from the Oklahoma United Supermarket stores for close to 70 years,” noted Eddie Owens, director of communications and public relations for United Supermarkets. “The Oklahoma stores in the last 3-5 years were sold to Homeland, so they’re not owned by the family anymore, although they do still operate under the United Supermarkets name.”
The first freestanding United Express location opened in 2011 in Lubbock. A piece of property had become available in an underserved area of the city, Owens noted “We saw an opportunity where we could meet a need for fuel and convenience and give us a presence at the same time in that part of the city.”
A second freestanding United Express followed in December 2012, which shares a piece of property with a Market Street location that opened a few weeks later in January 2013. “Where we have the opportunity to provide a c-store location with fuel at a piece of property where we have a grocery store as well—that has become a footprint for us not just with our Market Street brand, but with our United and Amigos brands as well,” Owens said.
United Express and the store it’s paired with on the same property are likely to vie for the same customers, but in opposite ways. “They’re likely to be the same customers, but at different times of the day or with different purposes at the time they stop in,” Owens said. The strategy behind the United Express offering is to appeal to grab-and-go customers, as well as those stopping for gas.
Coffee & Convenience
Two big drivers for the freestanding United Express c-stores are the ability to provide freshly-prepared foods and to develop the chain’s coffee service through the drive-through window.
Guests are able to order anything they desire right through the drive-through—from a gallon of milk to a bag of ice—but the chain is especially driving its gourmet-to-go coffee service at the drive-through to compete with the likes of gourmet coffee chains, such as Starbucks.
Using its own Arriba store brand coffee provided though a local partner, United Express offers a full line of made-to-order coffees and teas, including lattés, smoothies and frappes that aim to compete with the big brands on quality and variety.
The chain also offers an array of grab-and-go, as well as proprietary fresh prepared foods. “The fresh-to-go product offerings available at United Express are prepared inside the main store—even for our standalone store here in Lubbock, that product is prepared at Market Street and transported to the c-store,” Owens said.
Market Street Stores—with the tagline, ‘Where everyday meets gourmet,’—feature the traditional supermarket experience plus restaurant-style prepared foods from pizza and paninis to plated meals made to order, available for dine in and carry out. The newest Market Street location in Lubbock, which opened Jan. 9, has a dining room with indoor-outdoor seating for up to 250 people.
United Express provides a small sample of these to-go foods, including fruit, fresh sandwiches and burritos, all featuring the Market Street proprietary label, to a grab-and-go audience without the time to shop a supermarket.
Meanwhile, a United Express store scheduled to open in Amarillo, Texas in 2013 on the same property as a United Supermarket is expected to feature grab-and-go food that is prepared at the United Supermarket store.
In addition to prepared foods, United Express stores also feature a f’Real milkshake and frozen beverage kiosk to cater to traditional c-store customers. “That’s a new feature for us that we just added at our newest location that opened in December,” said Owens.
The Lubbock store that opened in December also features a walk-in beer cooler, as well as an extensive wine selection. It also uses the most energy efficient lighting possible, and takes advantage of natural sunlight through skylights to conserve energy.
In addition to the two United Express stores already up and running, two others are under construction in the Texas panhandle and a third is also scheduled for construction in 2013. In addition, three Taste of Market Street c-stores will be converting to the United Express banner.
“Long-term, the chain’s desire is to continue to grow as we’re growing now with the inclusion of United Express freestanding stores near Market Street and United Supermarket or Amigos locations,” said Owens. “But I think the other opportunity for United Express is in north and west Texas towns that might not be suitable for a full fledged store but can certainly support a United Express c-store format in communities where it would be appropriate.”
At a Glance: United Supermarkets
Brands: United Supermarkets, United Express, Amigos and Market Street.
Store Count: 36 Texas-based United Supermarket stores, 11 Market Street stores, three Amigos stores, 18 United Express fuel kiosks and five free-standing convenience stores (three under the Taste of Market Street banner and two under the United Express banner).
Unique Features: Drive-through window service, gourmet made-to-order coffee program, fresh prepared grab-and-go foods.
Executive Team: Gantt Bumstead, Co-President; Matt Bumstead, Co-President; Robert Taylor, CEO; SuzAnn Kirby, Chief Financial Officer; Sidney Hopper, Chief
Operating Officer; Wes Jackson, Chief Merchandising Officer; Tony Crumpton, Executive Vice President,Facility, Fuel & Supply; Chris St. Clair, Executive Vice
President, Information and Logistics