Hospital gift shops typically have more cards, flowers, candy, and stuffed animals than everyday convenience items. But that’s not the case at Vista Health in Waukegan, IL, where the gift shop has been transformed into a hybrid marketplace designed to serve customers as well as hospital staff.
In September 2020, Vista Health opened The Market, a 24-hour mixed shopping experience featuring 60% food, beverage, and convenience items and 40% retail products. “People expect to walk into a store and have an array of options at their fingertips. It’s not just about freebies anymore,” says May Limbach, director of brand marketing at Aramark, the operator hired to manage the store.
The idea was born when Vista Health’s gift shop salesman announced to the 200-bed hospital that they were leaving. Vista had noticed slower inventory turnover, declining sales performance, and decreased buyer engagement, and decided it was time for a change. That’s when they asked Aramark to take over the shop – and give it a much-needed makeover.
“We wanted to be aware that 80% of the gift shop’s sales come from hospital employees,” says Limbach. “They’re not just looking for your usual freebies. They want access to an assortment of fresh food and drink options, even if it’s 3:00 a.m.”
The shop area has been completely renovated. Say goodbye to tired carpeting and overcrowded shelves; sleek wood paneling, bright lighting, and a purposeful merchandising display designed to feel clean instead of cluttered. Coolers have also been installed to house fresh food and drinks.
Meeting the needs of busy doctors, nurses and hospital staff – as well as visitors looking for a quick bite – meant stocking The Market with a variety of premium take-out options like paninis, wraps, salads, fresh fruit, and more. “In the gift market environment, fresh foods are becoming our most popular items,” notes Limbach. And it’s these deals that make the store stand out the most. “You don’t just get candy or a protein bar, like you would with your usual convenience store experience. You actually get a meal,” she says.
Although food is at the forefront, The Market was never meant to compete with the hospital cafeteria. “The cafeteria is supposed to serve meals in set times for staff, visitors and caregivers,” says Limbach. “The Gift Market is meant to supplement, for those who need to get in and grab something very quickly.”
Those looking for a sip or snack will also find them at the market. The shop offers a range of bottled drinks, packaged snacks and even coffee. “It’s always the little ones, small essentials or impulse buys that provide the most convenience,” says Limbach. Whether it’s a visitor to the hospital or a nurse coming off a long shift, “having access to a healthy salad or a novelty ice cream, these things can sometimes be very helpful. “, she adds.
Retail items like balloons, cards and stuffed animals are still available. But these products are more tightly organized to reflect what people are actually buying. Aramark’s expert merchandising team tracks what’s selling and what’s not, and uses this data to update The Market’s product inventory and display strategy quarterly. “Do customers regularly buy jewelry and handbags, or do we just need a selection of these and develop what’s trending?” Limbach said.
Efficient staff and technology allow The Market to operate 24 hours a day on a reduced budget. Enthusiastic hospital volunteers often take care of the shop floor, eliminating the need for a large network of managers and associates. This alone resulted in a 10% reduction in overhead. Self-service payment kiosks also minimize the need for cashiers while speeding up transaction time. “Waiting time at checkout is usually the biggest problem with a retail experience,” says Limbach. “If it was a doctor, nurse or hospital associate who really only had two minutes, this self-checkout would make all the difference.”
This ability to pay seamlessly 24/7 has also increased sales, especially in the evenings and nights. In fact, late-night sales have been a big part of The Market’s business. “A third of our transactions were after hours,” says Limbach.