C-store booms under new supplier

Mariah Howland

The freshly stocked C-store

The Mountaintop Market, also known as the C-store, located in Dewey Hall, has switched suppliers. Milton, Vt.–based Dowling’s Inc. replaces J. Polep, enabling the store to provide JSC students, faculty and staff more local products at affordable prices.
The college had used J. Polep since before Deb Shaw, the manager, began working at the store, roughly four years ago. ARAMARK, JSC’s previous food service provider, had arranged the contract.

After the switchover from ARAMARK to Sodexo, Dining Services General Manager Tom Fondakowski decided to give J. Polep a trial run of one semester before deciding whether or not to switch suppliers.

“We agreed to keep the same vendors, just like we acquired the staff, and then assess,” said Fondakowski.
J. Polep didn’t improve its service to Fondakowski and Shaw’s satisfaction. According to Shaw, the service was at pretty much the same level it had always been—poor.

Fondakowski explained that one of the major problems with J. Polep was their unreliability with product shipments.

“Deb would order [a product], and it would ship, and then half the product wouldn’t come in,” Fondakowski said, “and unfortunately because they were coming from Boston she’d have to wait until the next week and then order it again. And then she’d call the salesperson and she wouldn’t get a call back.”

The incomplete shipments frustrated Shaw.

“I never got a call back from them,” she said. “Not once. So many things would be missing from the orders. I would be promising the kids something that I couldn’t deliver… They’d tell me that they had a nice new product for me, they’d give it to me for two or three weeks and then it would never show up again. It would disappear from the face of the earth.

“Their prices kept climbing. [It] made our prices have to go up, which made the cost to the students higher.”

In addition, because the products for the C-store were shipped from Boston, the price of gas affected the cost of the items for sale.
Shaw and Fondakowski wanted to find a new provider that was locally based, both to keep costs down and expand the range of local products sold by the store.

Whenever products come in from a shipment, Shaw compares Dowling’s prices to J. Polep’s prices, and marks the cost of each item to reflect the changes in cost.

“We do the same mark-up for both,” said Fondakowski. “Say if the price is 20 percent less for us, the price will be 20 percent less for [the students].”

The store is already seeing an improvement in sales.

“We’re selling more food, a bigger variety, lower prices,” said Shaw.

Fondakowski agreed. “We had the biggest sales-week when we changed to Dowling’s,” he said. “A thousand more dollars in sales than we had at any time first semester when there were more students on the meal plan. A thousand dollars more in sales—not in profit, in sales.”

Except for one visit last semester, J. Polep had never sent a sales representative to the C-store, according to Shaw. Dowling’s, however, seems eager to facilitate a good working partnership with the store.

“We actually have a salesperson from Milton, Vermont, that’s so excited to be here that he shows up every week and does the order with [Shaw],” said Fondakowski.