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Market Serves Up Fresh Local Products

In December 2017, Dave and Jen Sears purchased Fieldstone Market in Traverse City. Since then, they’ve rebranded to Fresh Coast Market and made more than $300,000 in improvements, including a new coffee shop, renovated cafe and much more, along with adding hundreds of Michigan products.

Dave tells us more about the local business’s transformation from a convenience store to a gourmet market, and how Fresh Coast Market is weathering the COVID-19 pandemic.

How has the pandemic affected your business so far?

The first couple weeks were pretty busy, but we are starting to see a slow down as more and more people simply stay home.

What's it like to be a small business owner at this time?

This is an unprecedented time in our history. We have challenged our team to two things. First to realize that we are fortunate to be in the food industry at this time and that we are able to stay open, unlike many of our friends and family who are out of work completely. Second, we are looking for ways to continue to help and support our community.

Almost 300 people have liked your Facebook post about offering free toilet paper.

The whole thing with the free toilet paper was because we realized that some people legitimately needed toilet paper and could not find it because others purchased too much. So we were able to secure a couple hundred rolls and decided to simply give it away to anyone in need instead of selling it. So over the last two weeks, we have been giving away toilet paper.

“We are all in this together. We will help anyone as we are able and look at times like these as opportunities to help and serve others and bring us together as a community.” –Dave Sears

What drew your family to the Traverse City area?

We actually moved here from Oklahoma, but had lived in Michigan most of our lives, primarily downstate. We always knew that we would come back "home" to Michigan, but thought we would probably move back to the Grand Rapids area, where we had lived last. We would vacation in TC like many in the state and started asking ourselves the question ..."What if?" What if we could raise our family in the TC area? We looked at many business opportunities before Fieldstone became a possibility.

So, tell us more about the store. How many Michigan products have you added since purchasing the market in 2017?

We now carry more than 130 Michigan brands, with hundreds of Michigan products. We have the most Michigan products of almost any store in Northern Michigan, probably other than Meijer (because of its size). We carry most of the major brands like M22, Fustini's, 9 Bean Rows, Cherry Republic, Friske Farms, Higher Grounds, TC Elderberry and tons more! Our customers love it as they don't have to drive into town as frequently.

And you’ve been busy with renovations, too.

We are a completely different store. We added the coffee shop, our dessert case, our new deli case, a newly renovated café, a state-of-the-art point of sale system and MUCH more. We have almost 10,000 items now in the grocery side, more than quadrupling the amount of products that we sell. We have a great selection of gluten free and dairy free products as well.

What's still on your to-do list at the market? In November 2019, you told The Ticker you're only halfway through your plan to turn the space into an upscale gourmet market. What else can we look forward to?

This year we plan to roll out online ordering for sure, and then we will see how things go the rest of the year based on the current environment of our area with the virus and see how that impacts the next few weeks and months of business. In the future, we plan to add an outdoor seating area, a fireplace in the café and expanded fresh meat and produce departments.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from customers?

Overwhelmingly positive. Sales have skyrocketed and customer feedback has been amazing!

You rebranded from Fieldstone Market to Fresh Coast Market in November 2019, correct? How does the new name represent your business better?

Correct. We re-branded based on customer feedback. Local customers started to come in last spring asking, "When did this happen?" They were referring to all of the changes we had made over the last two years. We asked them when was the last time they had been in the store, and we heard everything from 2 years to 10 years. Then we would ask them if they were local or from out of the area. Overwhelmingly they would tell us that they live within a few miles of the store. So we asked them why they had not been coming in, and they said they didn’t know we had made all of these changes, and the last time that they were in, it was just a party store.

This started as a trickle of customers and then a steady flow, so we knew we had a marketing issue and the name was beginning to hurt us. We started thinking of rebranding and the name Fresh Coast Market seemed to better fit what we were about, which is fresh local products. We have seen a huge and positive response to the rebranding.

What do you want to share about Fresh Coast Market and your team?

We truly want to be a value to our community. We are constantly looking for ways to help and support our neighbors and community. We know how important it is to understand the needs in the community and look for ways to be part of those solutions. We don't just want to be known as the best specialty food store in Northern Michigan, we also want to be known as the most generous business in Northern Michigan. We pay our employees very well and most of them are making $2–$4/hour more than they did before we purchased the business. We give them excellent benefits including great pay, free gym memberships, free meals and much more. We are passionate to help out with children and education and have held informational meetings for potential adoptive and foster parents, helped with support at local TCAPS schools, NORTE and more.

What has it been like working with Venture North?

Venture North has been a great partner for Fresh Coast. They stepped up with gap financing to help us purchase the business and have been VERY supportive over the past two years. They have helped us with grants and other local support options. They have truly been there to help us succeed!

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