The stacks of plastic milk crates in the back room at Clark's Market are taller than an NBA power forward. They contain products that never found customers at the grocery store on Steamboat's west side. Grocery items such as jars of whole nutmeg, ready-to-spread butter cream frosting, Crown Prince anchovies and green pickled serrano peppers.
"The name of the game is turns," store manager Mike Kennedy said, so the anchovies and the serrano peppers, along with hundreds of other items, are on their way back to grocery distributors and eventually may find their way to food banks. In their place are new items the store management hopes will find a better reception in Steamboat.
Kennedy, who came here from Loveland when the Steamboat store opened on March 16, 1999, said all of the independent chain's stores are in different markets. Loveland is different from Steamboat, which is different in its own way from Aspen, which is different from Blanding, Utah. After 18 months, Kennedy said it was time to tweak the store's product lines.
Altogether, 4,000 new products have been added to the store in an effort to better meet Steamboat's needs and increase the rate of "turns" at the store.
Kennedy said he relies on computerized "movement reports" to track the rate of turnover of various grocery and household items in the store. The reports told him it was time to expand the store's inventory in several disparate categories household cleaning supplies, beauty items and frozen organic and natural foods.
While the additions to the household aisle are substantial, they aren't as glamorous as the frozen organic foods.
Kennedy said he has devoted an additional 16 feet of freezer case to ready-to-eat organic meals and other products. Another way to describe the expansion would be by the number of "doors" in the freezer case devoted to items such as Amy's organic spinach and cheese snacks, and organic carrot juice made by a company called Ferraros Naked Juice. Where before there were two doors devoted to frozen organic food, there now are six.
Other products in the case include Natural Sea fish sticks, which are breaded with organically grown whole-grain flours, and Natural Touch veggie corn dogs.
For the first time, customers can purchase organic soy ice cream at Clark's. Customers can find either fresh or frozen soy milk, an increasingly popular product in Steamboat, Kennedy said. He said he believes as an independent grocer, he can expand his local niche by offering products the larger grocery chains aren't flexible enough to stock, because the chain stores order from large corporate warehouses.
Kennedy was frank in acknowledging the customer base at Clark's has been slow to grow in the store's first 18 months of operation.
"Sure, we'd like to see the store busier, but we knew it was going to take time," Kennedy said. "We see it growing."
Clark's director of retail operations is Dave Erickson. Based in Basalt, he believes the Steamboat store might have been built in advance of the Steamboat market being ready for it.
"We're happy with our sales growth," Erickson said. "It seems to be a trend, and we have a great nucleus of employees. Steamboat's been a little standoffish to an independent grocery store. The store was built maybe a year or two ahead. It's only going to get better and better."
Kennedy said the Steamboat store employs 52 people and will add 12 to 15 employees for the ski season.