Boston College's On the Fly mini-marts were inspired
by 7-Eleven.CHESTNUT HILL, Mass.—Responding to continued student requests for foodservice outlets akin to a 7-Eleven store, Boston College Dining Services has opened three “mini-marts” that it calls On The Fly. Two of the stores, which opened last semester, are located on the main campus, while the third is in Stuart Hall on the law school campus.
“We’re always looking for new revenue streams,” explains Helen Wechsler, director of dining services. “Students have been asking for some type of c-store. We call ours mini-marts because they sell only food items.”
But the list of foods is extensive. On the Fly sells a variety of beverages, snack foods—there are 60 different varieties of power bars for sale—microwavable entrées, ice cream, and a selection of other grab-and-go items such as yogurts, cheeses and deli meats. Students can pay for items using cash, credit cards or one of several meal plan options, including Residential Dining Bucks, Flex Plan Bucks or Eagle One Account Bucks.
The three On The Fly locations have taken up residence in available space in three separate buildings. In addition to Stuart Hall, On The Fly units can be found on the third floor of McElroy Hall and the second floor of Corcoran Hall. Ranging in size from 440 square feet to 1,100 square feet, the units are open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.
Wechsler says her department had three goals in mind with the design and construction of the units.
“We really focused on items that had done well for us in other locations, while at the same time being able to sell some items we couldn’t before,” she says. “For example, we never had the space before to sell bulk candy. We can also offer [students] things like jars of pasta sauce, peanut butter and jelly, mac and cheese dinners and a variety of frozen items.”
In contrast, the other two goals were minimalist, rather than expansive. The mini-marts had to be placed in spaces Dining Services already controlled, so no additional overhead would be incurred, and they had to be staffed without adding managers or student labor. Both goals were accomplished, but not without a little controversy.
In the McElroy space, On The Fly replaced a bulk fruit and yogurt bar. Wechsler figured yogurt bar business would be supplanted by the sale of Chobani yogurt cups.
“But the yogurt bar was very popular; we gave students all sorts of toppings for their yogurt,” she explains. “Some students were not happy with the change.”
Wechsler believes that Dining Services has improved the value of the square footage with the addition of On The Fly, even though she acknowledges that sales are not yet what she would like to see.
“Students are creatures of habit; if they don’t see something they don’t think about it,” Wechsler says, noting that the On The Fly units aren’t necessarily in high-traffic areas. But she’s certain they will catch on, because students want them and because they offer items students need.
“For example, the unit in Corcoran Hall is near where resident students have kitchens, so we’re selling items they can use to prepare their own meals,” Wechsler says.
So far, the most popular items have varied by location, according to Megan O’Neill, assistant director, restaurant operations for Dining Services.
“In one store, where freshmen and sophomores shop, the top sellers are power bars, bottled beverages and Easy Macs,” says O’Neill. “On the Newton campus, where the law students are, ramen noodles are the No. 1 seller. On the lower campus, near where students have kitchens, we sell a lot of brownie mixes, cookie dough, and pasta and sauce.”
She adds that, based on student comment cards, the department adds items every couple of months. The most requested items after the first round of comments? “Eggs, deli meats and 2% milk,” O’Neill says.