A lot can be said about how the pandemic changed how we live. COVID-19 ushered in a new era for the workplace and the flexibility of where people work is here to stay. It’s quite normal to hear peers and colleagues being fully remote, working-from-home, or being hybrid remote.
Nowhere is the impact of this reality more largely felt than at onsite dining at corporate centers. A once steady lunch rush and stream of customers simply plummeted. With a full migration back to the office still hovering around 42 percent around the U.S., many food courts and on-site deli operations that counted on lunchtime traffic have yet to reopen. Some have completely shuttered causing property owners to take innovative approaches while reimagining tenants’ needs.
An old amenity fits a new service model
One casualty of COVID was BriarLake Plaza’s on-premise food operations. Transwestern, which manages One and Two BriarLake Plaza, found a temporary solution when the Westchase District Farmers Market reached out.
“While Covid defined where people work, it also created a shift of when they worked,” said John Carey, Farmers Market Manager. Carey saw an immediate opportunity to bring back an amenity that companies offered to tenants – the mobile market. He remembers when ConocoPhillips held mobile markets a decade ago on its corporate campus. The concept was introduced in Westchase District when Carey visited New York City’s Project for Public Places and heard ideas of how urban environments and workplaces could enrich its spaces.
The mobile market is a mini farmers market that sets up onsite during a lunch hour at a property’s plaza such as outdoor walkways. “We bring vendors who serve food, light bites, and sell items that are convenient to purchase,” said Carey. “The office worker gets a convenient lunch and can shop for gifts.”
Carey offers mobile market participation to 11 vendors whereas a typical farmers market features 18-24. Carey is purposely selective. “Proteins and produce require a lot of refrigeration,” said Carey. “Bok choy can wilt if on display too long outdoors and meat can defrost, even if in a cooler, when outdoors.”
Repeat customers, seeking product knowledge
Carey says corporate customers tend to spend more dollars than traditional market goers. “At one of our mobile markets, we had repeat customers waiting to shop specific vendors,” said Carey. “This demonstrates how a mobile market builds customer loyalty.”
For vendors, mobile markets are an efficient way to get in front of new customers. “Since we don’t bring as much product, set up is quick,” said Ana Taggert, owner of Zo-Zo Fresh. She has noticed a more engaged customer who like the informational sharing aspect. “People have been genuinely curious about what we do. There’s a lot of misinformation on health products,” she said. “I can speak directly to customers, address concerns and questions they have about what’s out there.”
Two markets, one day
Carey schedules mobile markets on Thursdays to help vendors earn more sales. At an August 11 mobile market held at BriarLake Plaza, vendors operated from 11:30 to 2 p.m. and were less than a mile away from the Westchase District Farmers Market’s permanent location at St. Cyril of Alexandria Catholic Church. “They are already in the area. From a vendor standpoint it’s an extra payday, you have two sales opportunities,” said Carey. “For the District we also get an opportunity to create awareness about the market. If you miss the mobile market, you can come to the farmers market after work.”
Commercial owner customizes mobile market
Granite Properties is taking a different spin on the mobile market. Kimberly Guillory, property manager at Granite which owns 3151 Briarpark and 2929 Briarpark, is creating a program to achieve FitWel certification through a PEAS Farm partnership that puts the vendor in front of tenants. FitWel is the world’s leading certification system where buildings and communities are enhanced to strengthen well-being. Guillory hands out fresh apples and oranges to tenants to promote online ordering with PEAS Farm. “On PEAS’ site, they can shop for everything, from fresh fruit and vegetables to soaps,” said Guillory. “Tenants order online on Tuesday mornings and have until Wednesday to place an order. Orders are delivered on Thursdays to our security desk before PEAS heads to the 3 p.m. market.”