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06/22/2022

Right Time, Right Place for Foxtrot

Progressive Grocer talks with new President and CFO Liz Williams
Lynn Petrak
Senior Editor
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Mike and Liz - Foxtrot
Foxtrot Founder and CEO Mike La Vitola with new President and CFO Liz Williams.

The hybrid e-commerce and physical store model with potential for a greater foodservice business attracted Liz Williams to Chicago-based Foxtrot. But when the newly minted president and CFO recently worked a shift at a neighborhood location, she realized just how much the retailer that bills itself as an upscale convenience store resonated with people’s wants and needs.

“We have a lot of data on who our customers are, but this was an affirmation of how diverse our customer base really is and how we play throughout the day. I got to see everyone come in, from morning coffee and breakfast tacos to prepared salads for lunch to a smoothie in the middle of the day and, later, drinks to take down to the lake,” Williams told Progressive Grocer. “It also showed the mix of retail, restaurant and technology – a lot of orders came in for delivery through the app and mobile.”

With unique times calling for unique solutions, Foxtrot is continuing on an ambitious expansion path. While several ultrafast delivery services have slowed operations or shut down over the last few months, this retailer is still on track to open 50 stores within the next two years, including its home base of Chicago and newer markets in the Washington, D.C., area and parts of Texas and Massachusetts. In January, the business got a fresh infusion of capital, with $100 million in new funding.

In tapping Williams for the president and CFO role, founders Mike La Vitola and Taylor Bloom sought to take Foxtrot to its next level of growth, from both a footprint and offering perspective. Formerly the CEO at hair styling salon chain Drybar and CFO at Taco Bell, Williams will leverage her background as she oversees several functions, including operations, finance, strategy, real estate, human resources, supply chain and growth. “Mike and Taylor have this amazing vision and built a terrific brand. We now need to scale and go to the next level of operational excellence to put consistent operations in place,” she explained.

“I have a lot of that experience, certainly from prior roles where I have scaled brands, and I have worked in retail and restaurant businesses to operationalize and put standards, systems and processes in place,” she continued. “I’m excited to bring that together with the development muscle at Foxtrot and working with the team to target which markets we want to go to and thinking about how we do that. We are putting a lot of the groundwork in place so we operate the same in Austin and Chicago.”

One of the early learnings for Williams is the fact that the Foxtrot model works well not just in densely-populated urban areas but in neighborhoods with high foot traffic. For example, the Chicago stores have performed well in those kinds of spots, whether it’s a new location along Michigan Avenue in the recently-revamped Tribune Towner or a store in the younger-skewing Fulton Market community.

Freshly Prepared Foods

Another area of emphasis for Williams and the Foxtrot team is the expansion of the retailer’s prepared foods program. Although Foxtrot started out as an e-commerce business, the addition of more physical stores and now, more foodservice offerings, reflects a consumer need that they have tapped into in an era shaped by the pandemic and, more recently, inflation.

“We have a model that our stores are supported by commissaries that make a lot of our food from scratch. It’s a fabulous way to deliver freshly prepared foods at an affordable price and that are really craveable and delicious,” she declared.

Based on the success of current items and the opportunity to provide more meal solutions, Foxtrot is rolling out a new dinner menu within the next month. “We’re targeting the dinner occasion with things like grilled chicken breast, roasted salmon, and whitefish dip,” Williams said, adding that the meals hold appeal even as consumers are wary of escalating inflation. “I think we are at a really nice price point on prepared foods. We are cheaper than some of the casual dining (restaurants) and are offering something that is more freshly prepared than quick service.”

Foxtrot In Action

A recent visit to a Foxtrot location in Chicago at the corner of Diversey Parkway and Broadway (see pictures below) underscored the ways in which the retailer is effectively meeting daypart needs among an eclectic customer base. As some customers grabbed their digital orders from a dedicated in-store pickup area, dozens of other patrons lingered in the in-store café, eating lunch or sipping cold drinks that they ordered at the service counter.

Shoppers also came in at a regular clip to browse the grocery section featuring everyday basics in addition to several items from niche and startup brands and from Foxtrot’s own store brand. One shelf spotlighted winners of Foxtrot’s 2022 Up and Comers awards that recognized emerging food brands, like Madly Hadley’s Coconut Bacon and Mama Teav’s Mild Hot Garlic Sauce.

The vibe at this store exemplifies the culture that also attracted Williams to Foxtrot. “One of the things that I love seeing is the creative energy from the team members. The theme of the store is vibrant and happy. It’s another piece that I truly enjoy,” she remarked.

Foxtrot, which aims to redefine convenience for the modern consumer, currently operates 21 retail locations in Chicago, Dallas, and Washington, D.C. The retailer offers 30-minute delivery through the Foxtrot app and five-minute pickup in addition to a collection of curated goods and gift boxes available nationwide via its national shipping site.

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