Two MBAs from the Bainbridge Graduate Institute have launched the latest solution to urban “food deserts,” places where the confluence of poverty and poor transport mean residents have little access to fresh, healthful groceries. Carrie Ferrence and Jacqueline Gjurgevich call their company Stockbox Grocers. Stockbox brings groceries to underserved areas by converting metal shipping containers into commissaries and deploying the containers throughout South Seattle.
While the grocery industry is new to them, both women are no strangers to retail. Ferrence worked for seven years at Second Use Building Materials in South Park and Gjurgevich spent a decade in inventory and revenue management for Marriott Hotels. The two successfully tested their first Stockbox in the Delridge neighborhood last fall and they plan to establish three locations that are more permanent in Delridge and Skyway this year.
Launching each store requires the same kind of permitting as opening a normal brick-and-mortar grocery outlet, but Stockbox also relies on partnerships with neighborhood businesses to host its facilities in their parking lots. The first Delridge store, a prototype housed in a modular security office, spent its eight-week trial run spanning three parking spaces next to the Westhaven Apartments at 2201 SW Holden St. Ferrence and Gjurgevich are trying to strengthen their relationships with nearby businesses by locally sourcing as much of their inventory as possible.
Says Ferrence, “Many customers were really shocked by how many items were in the store.” The trial Stockbox offered around 300 different items and had to adjust its inventory several times in response to customer demand.
While Stockbox is a community-focused effort, the company is for profit and aims to make each store financially viable. The business model has stores breaking even within six to 12 months of deployment, says Ferrence.
Stockbox raised more than $20,000 in seed funding through Kickstarter, a website that allows individual donors to act as venture capitalists for projects that inspire them. The women also have also found support throughout the Seattle business community, working with both grocery and general business advisers.
While Stockbox’s food desert solution is new, shipping containers have been gaining popularity as a kind of mega-Lego in architecture in the past few years. HyBrid Architecture of Seattle used the containers to erect two buildings in 2009, and MT Housing of Yakima retrofits the durable containers as housing for agricultural and industrial workers in inhospitable environments.