At first glance, Johnson Family Markets might seem a contradiction. The 3,200-square-foot store sells organic ostrich meat and produce, as well as biodynamic wines. It also shares the property with a Dairy Queen and Orange Julius shop. Out front, there are gasoline pumps.
“Our whole thing is ‘conveniently organic,’” said owner Matthew Johnson. “Our big thrust is local farm growers and organics.”
Specialty and organic make up about 70% of the products sold in the store, which opened last month in Mooresville, N.C. Johnson hopes to have 10 to 15 units operating within five years.
“If the farmers have a good reputation and we know them, they get a little blip put up about them and their products,” he said. Foods are stickered with mileage indicators, “so customers know how far it's traveled.”
Johnson, an oral surgeon and real estate investor, said the inspiration for the market comes from his experiences with open-air markets he encountered as an Army soldier while stationed in Germany, though the interior design is more along the lines of Trader Joe's or Tesco's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market.
Many people think the markups in traditional convenience stores are a rip-off, and Johnson is combating that perception by limiting the number of vendors and going directly to manufacturers and producers.
“Our goal is to have a store that has prices very comparable to a supermarket, even though we're smaller,” he said.
The tiny store is already anticipating growth among green motorists, and is installing a charging station for electric hybrid vehicles. In the meantime, gasoline is treated almost like a loss-leader. In order to get passersby to stop, Johnson, whose medical office sits adjacent to the store, started offering full-service Shell gas at no extra charge. What's more, he's offering below-average prices — minimum purchase amounts inside the store are rewarded with up to 8 cents a gallon off a fill-up.
“So many people are trying to make a profit off gas,” he said. “I just offer it as an added convenience. It's the same as offering a restroom. It allows a person to stop.”