As protesters in Jordan take to the streets to demonstrate against rising gas prices, one convenience store in Jordan is catering to customers who won’t sacrifice quality or low price.
The cutely-named Snax, set up by serial entrepreneur Hazim Sarraf, is not an ordinary neighborhood dukan. The first thing that strikes you upon entering is how pristine it is- from the white tile to the rows of neatly stacked goodies to the variety of refrigerated options to the eat-in lunch counter, it’s clear that Sarraf has put a lot of thought into serving customers on the go.
It’s hard to get a quick bite in Jordan, and the store speaks to that need, offering healthy Snax-branded wraps and sandwiches that can be heated up and pressed on the spot.
In 2-3 years, this might be commonplace in Jordan, but right now this (as opposed to food that has to be ordered ahead of time, or isn’t a dry coffeeshop pastry or almost-frozen baguette sandwich) is a differentiator. With decent food and its simple, 60s-style logo, Snax makes convenience strangely comforting.
Ironically at first, attention to detail worked against Sarraf. Customers thought that because the store looked so clean, his products were expensive.
“2010 was tough,” he says. “But in 2011, we started seeing growth, and now people know who we are; it just took us awhile to have people understand the brand.”
For those focused on smartphone applications, this may be a healthy dose of reality in the Jordanian market- even convenience stores need time to be understood.
Once people started seeing that Snax prices were reasonable, Sarraf began getting customers of all stripes. “Our customers range from a gas attendant to someone who’s driving a Porsche. I don’t have a target segment of the population. I just want to get as many people as possible into our store.”
Haven for women
Interestingly, one of the benefits of being clean, brightly lit, and staffed by friendly employees is that Snax is also an easy choice for women. If a woman needs to buy groceries or home goods, especially at night or on her own, Snax is designed to be safe and open 24 hours a day.
“In some locations, close to university, the number of female customers is quite high relative to the total number of customers,” says Sarraf. He makes sure to stock basic items like laundry detergent just to ensure that any customers shopping for home goods can grab the quantities they need.
While product margins are his bread and butter, Sarraf makes sure that everything about Snax is well thought-out, even the music.
“My biggest worry was putting in a CD and letting it repeat,” he describes.
Then Dubai-based GreatTunes offered Snax a 24-hour satellite music channel. “This way the staff never get bored. We can even promote our own store products with ads in-between songs if we want, or place ads for other companies as a potential revenue stream,” says Sarraf.
Now any Snax, from upscale Khalda to downtown Amman, is more likely to be playing a popular alternative artist than the top 40 that permeates Jordan’s radio stations. The store also offers free wireless.
Facebook fan Emad Gharabieh asked the obvious question: “Can I [listen] to your radio station somewhere in the internet, it's one of the reasons I keep visiting your stores.” Not yet, but maybe some day.
Staying ahead of the curve
Running a store is a tough business not simply because managing inventory is difficult (Snax receives two shipments a day to allow agility) but also because dukans have to keep employees motivated, hope that they don’t steal, and continuously find new locations as they scale.
To face these challenges, Snax reconciles cash flow on a daily basis to prevent stealing, and creates upward mobility so that cashiers see the store as more than just a place to earn a check and leave.
The turnover rate for cashiers is high, Sarraf admits. Yet he knows most of them by name, makes sure that everyone is treated fairly and paid on time, and is clear about their opportunities to become store managers: “Most of the cashiers that have stayed with us have seen us grow from 3 stores to 10 now. They know that if they work hard, there’s an opportunity to grow.”
That opportunity is not simply in Jordan- Snax is now expanding into Abu Dhabi, a virgin market for high quality convenience stores, he says. “The market is very similar to Jordan in that there are little dakakeen everywhere, but Abu Dhabi has new regulations that all minimarkets have to reach certain standards.”
With already high standards, Sarraf is betting on taking over sizable market share. Sarraf has signed a local partner and plans to open three Snax by the end of 2012: “It’s running smoothly.”
So is Snax a recession (or price hike)-proof business? “We’re not selling high end items,” says Sarraf. “We’re selling items that people need on a daily basis.”
As an entrepreneur, Sarraf has leveraged his family background in real estate and construction investment to launch the brand, yet it’s his hardworking, hands-on, test-driven approach that makes Snax what it is.
He seems to be endlessly passionate about improving their offering- it’s not just radio ads and healthy wraps that he envisions; after seeing how much coffee customers were buying, Sarraf and his brother decided to launch their own coffee line. Now that they have the distribution solved, it seems natural to imagine how they can continue to improve upon basic products. They're also planning to launch mobile applications for Android, Nokia, and iPhone to show locations and offer promotions and updates on new items.
The store’s secret to its fledgling success isn’t magic. It’s building an exceptional brand that caters to ordinary customer needs. “At the end of the day, people want to buy mobile phone cards, snacks, and home goods, at a reasonable price,” says Sarraf. “We’re not selling anything out of the ordinary.”