Handy Pantry Food Stores

Founded in a single location by Joseph and Dorothy Stocken with a second mortage and five children, Handy Pantry Food Stores has expanded to 11 locations throughout Suffolk County on Long Island, eight of which are franchised. The founder’s grandson, Nickolas Mirando, director of sales and operations, wants to see the number of franchisees expand.

“We are a franchisor by nature,” Mirando says. “We’re in a growth phase and actively seeking new franchisees, people that are hardworking and want to own their own business. We’re providing a lot of unique opportunities for individuals like that, such as financing for the potential franchisee, which is hard to come by at this time in the economy.”

Mirando says the ideal franchisee is a “positive thinker. It sounds silly, but that’s really what defines us from most of our competition. We sell cold cuts with a smile. That’s really what draws the people. We know our customers on a first-name basis. That’s really what we focus on – the service and friendly ambiance that we offer in the store.”

Handy Pantry Food Stores is a hybrid operation. “Our business model is not something that you see everywhere,” Mirando concedes. “We’re very unique. We have five departments – deli, dairy, frozen, grocery and produce – and we do that within a store around 3,200 square feet. So you’re able to get all your needs in a very small location.”

Mirando considers Handy Pantry’s competitors to be small supermarkets of up to 15,000 square feet in size rather than convenience stores. “Convenience stores don’t offer the same selection as us,” he says. Handy Pantry Food Stores have small backrooms for back stock, but most of the inventory is on display and refreshed at least weekly by the company’s grocery distributor.

The stores have 12- to 18-foot deli cases and 6-foot salad cases with menus of sandwiches and salads that rival a restaurant’s. “We’re definitely the best-priced convenience store/deli in terms of Boar’s Head pricing,” Mirando insists. “Very rarely do I see anybody competing on our price, and if they are, it is on one or two products. Boar’s Head products are our niche, for sure.”

New Ideas

The company is experimenting in a few of its stores with a new layout, displays and products. “We basically created some new ideas,” Mirando says. “It was nothing fancy per se, but we implemented some new products, such as organic milk, milk substitutes such as almond and coconut milk, gluten-free grocery products and craft beers. We did resets to make some of the products more visible to customers and put them in conjunction with other products – because certain things go together – and some new mixing and matching.”

New European-style deli cases that have rounded fronts to dramatically display prepared foods and deli products are being installed in the stores to replace older, shorter ones with flat glass.

“We redesigned our weekly circular, put up a new website and made new strides at connecting with our customers through social media,” Mirando lists. “We also made improvements to the physical advertising material that is in the store with new colors. It’s really reinventing what we’ve already been doing so well for 38 years.”

Customer reaction has been favorable. “We’ve seen a tremendous success in sales and [in] the reaction of customers and the response that we’ve gotten,” Mirando reports. 

High and Low

Besides Boar’s Head products, Handy Pantry Food Stores also includes more economical brands in the deli and throughout the stores to appeal to its blend of blue- and white-collar customers. “Our demographics are pretty well balanced,” Mirando declares. “Some of our stores are in higher income areas and some in lower income. It really is a great blend, and the beauty of our business is we cater to all those markets, which is why we are in the position that we are and why we’re successful. When customers leave one of our stores, they still have money in their pocket – we’re value-oriented.”

The company leased some of its stores until it had a bad experience with a store lease not being renewed at the last minute. “Since then, we’ve made it very clear that we are going to purchase the property to protect our franchisee,” Mirando resolves. “Our interest is not to hurt these people. We want them to be successful. We’re not going to overcharge them on rent or maintenance. We are very much a hands-on franchisor and looking out for the best interests of the franchisees.”

Another reason for the company’s success is the family atmosphere it maintains in its stores. “The more labor-intensive part of strong management is to guide our people and find the best in our employees,” Mirando points out. “That is what we focus on. Every person that is employed by us has embraced that family culture.”

That culture extends to the franchisees. “We have so many great opportunities out here, I would love to find more franchisees,” Mirando says. “We try to create more of a family ambiance. We tell every franchisee, ‘You are an extension of our family.’ It’s a lot like a marriage.”