- Identifying a niche and a need: The large but underserved Chinese and Vietnamese population south of Boston. As of last year, an estimated 22% of residents were Asian, Prior to 2000, many Chinese and Vietnamese living in the suburbs had to do their shopping in Boston's Chinatown (see my earlier report on the rise and fall of Super88)
- Leveraging existing networks and knowledge: Established in the 1970s in New York City, the Kam Man supermarket business was already going strong in the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut). Extending the model and distribution network to eastern Massachusetts was a feasible option for the company.
- Innovating on a huge and otherwise unusable retail space (a former Bradless in an aging strip mall not far from Quincy Center). A 40,000-square-foot chunk was devoted to the supermarket. The remainder was partitioned off cubicle-style (the walls don't reach to the ceiling) and sublet to other businesses serving Asian consumers.
While the harsh flourescent lighting and scuffed linoleum of the old Bradlee's may not seem inviting, the model is clearly working: The parking lot of President's Plaza was filled to capacity, and most of the cube space was occupied. We saw many other customers doing the same thing as our family -- start with lunch at one of the small restaurants in the plaza, move on to shopping at the giant supermarket, and then browse the other businesses in the marketplace. There is turnover among the cube businesses, but some (such as the Lollicup shake tea) have been around for a few years, and the basic subletting model with Kam Man Food as the anchor has lasted since being established in Quincy in 2003.
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