In this month’s Retail Spotlight, we discussed a single-product concept and how it is successfully operating in the city despite high rents and intense competition. In this month’s Enterprise Insight, we will discuss the strategy of launching and growing a single-product enterprise with specific case studies.
The benefits of launching a simple-product specialty shop are obvious: lower costs, less (slightly) to worry about, and a way to stand out in NYC’s crowded food landscape. But getting it done isn’t so obvious. Based on the most successful examples we’ve come across, the most effective path is participation in the NYC market scene.
The New York City food market scene started to simmer in 2011. That’s when the team behind Brooklyn Flea, which had been incubating some food vendors, launched Smorgasburg in Williamsburg. Since then, Smorgasburg has expanded to Dumbo and to a permanent facility, Berg’n, in Crown Heights. Across the river, UrbanSpace had transplanted from the UK and started the Grand Central Terminal and Union Square holiday markets around 2003. In 2008, UrbanSpace went food-forward with Mad. Sq. Eats just off of Madison Square Park.
These markets have become proving grounds for concepts looking to test the sharky NYC restaurant waters.
Take, for example, Dough, the wildly popular doughnut shop in the Flatiron district. Dough started in Williamsburg’s Smorgasburg long before launching a brick and mortar shop. Dough simmered in Smorgasburg, building a reputation, testing recipes, and earning real revenue. Then, this past fall, the company opened their first shop with lines around the block.
Likewise, Melissa Weller started selling bagels in Smorgasburg in 2013. Weller had been kneading and baking for the likes of Thomas Keller and Roberta’s before starting her own company, East River Bread, and selling at the market. Now, Weller has been tapped to team up with Major Food Group to bake those bagels for their next concept, Sadelle’s.
Entrepreneurs eager to start their foodservice business in a market have plenty of homework to do in advance. The most successful concepts have done their market research and crunched their numbers. The markets do not allow overlap between concepts, and each market has a different rental agreement. For example, the all-indoor Gotham West Market charges market-rate rents, while at Berg’n, vendors pay a percentage of their overall profits.
The biggest barriers to entry in the foodservice business are capital and exposure. Focusing on one product allows you to keep capital costs down and increases your chances of getting into a market such as Smorgasburg, which increases your exposure.