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When BJ's Auto Spa co-owner Chris Bjurlin purchased his property in Phoenix in February 1999, he also inherited an auto garage. "Actually, the space was a combination auto garage and gas station with 1,000 square feet devoted to the c-store section," he said. "We left the exterior walls standing, took down a wall, ripped down the tire area and widened the space for the c-store. We also didn't keep any of the in-store equipment."
One of the first decisions was to move the entranceway and install oversized push doors. "We looked at the traffic flow because we wanted to make it easier for customers to get in and out," he said.
Early on Bjurlin realized that old maxim: The devil is in the details. "It is critical to find a foreman or general contractor who gives great attention to detail, because in a redesign, things change," he pointed out. "For instance, because the building was 15 years old, there were parts of the floor that weren't level. Now that's not something you see in the floor plans. Or, let's say you order counter tops and you find they won't fit in your cabinets because the cabinets are old. It's a million little things."
Among those "little things" were building codes. "In order to get your redesign done, all electrical installations, for instance, must be brought up to code," he said. "Then the building inspector has to approve everything. That was the biggest expense we hadn't planned on, and it set us back a few weeks."
Bjurlin ran through some of the basic elements of the redesign: "The exterior of the building is made of decorative concrete blocks. We also added about 20 floor-to-ceiling 10-foot windows," he said. "Exterior lighting was also installed on top of the canopies, shining down into the store. We wanted to emphasize having a bright and clean store. That was a big expense." A black-and-white ceramic tiling pattern was also added, as were beer and wine sections, which Bjurlin was counting on to be a whole new profit center.
The front sales counter and the cooler were also critical elements of BJ's redesign, according to Jay Long, western regional sales manager of Shopco U.S.A. Inc., a Houston-based shelf merchandising company that was hired by Bjurlin. "We looked at the configuration of the sales counter, which is a top priority because every customer visits that point," said Long. "We moved it to one of the corners and redesigned the counter to accommodate two cashiers. Gondola sets were also changed for a better traffic flow. Finally, the coolers were overhauled to incorporate larger doors, which went from 24 inches to 30 inches. That was a fairly significant change."
The fuel islands were also overhauled. "The gas brand was Chevron and the company financed the capitalization for the overhaul and offered us a branding proposal," he said. "We were fortunate we didn't have to do a soil analysis because we were just upgrading. Ten new MPDs were installed and we put in a vapor-back system that gathers up the vapors emitted from the car's tank. Chevron helped us throughout the design process."
The result of all his efforts was a dramatic in-store sales increase. "The previous figures were tallying in at $35,000 a month — now they're up close to $60,000," Bjurlin said. He had one bit of advice for owners doing a redesign: "Have a huge grand opening after a redesign," he said. "It's the best thing you can do."