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NEW YORK -- Every four years or so, the owners of Amarillo, Texas-based Pak-A-Sak Inc. sit down with design firm Paragon Solutions to restrategize the convenience store chain's latest store design, asking what is going to distinguish Pak-A-Sak from its competition.
"Things are always changing. We're having to make our stores bigger and more user-friendly to keep up with the changing times," explained Brian McKee, the retailer's vice president of merchandising, who co-owns the company with his two brothers. "We try to design our stores where we can get as much sales as possible."
Pak-A-Sak's new 5,000-square-foot store design -- unveiled in August 2008 and now sported at two newly built stores in Amarillo -- is unlike anything the c-store chain has done before. The concept is upscale, with touches of Texas flair, as brick and natural-toned materials mix with wrought iron Texas stars and brightly colored graphics.
"We tried to introduce a little west Texas class into the design," said Michael Lawshe, president of Paragon Solutions, based in Fort Worth, Texas. "In the past, Pak-A-Sak's stores had bold graphics and designs with a lot of neon. This time, we wanted to use more natural materials and add just a touch of neon splashes and finishes."
Since Pak-A-Sak is well-known in the region for its fountain offering -- and it is the chain's second most-profitable category behind cigarettes -- the new store design places the fountain area in a high-traffic zone that draws customers throughout the location, according to the design firm. The fountain program is branded "Fizzy's" and detailed with neon lighting and accenting colors. Likewise, the frozen beverage offering is branded "Flurry's" with similar neon lighting and complementary colors.
Without going overboard, the retailer's new stores also incorporate some of the latest in-store technology, such as LCD television screens, which are used for both general programming and promotions. "Sometimes, people will put in LCD TV screens and then beat customers over the head with 'buy this,' 'buy that.' People like the experience of the LCD TVs, but there has to be a balance," Lawshe said.
He also noted new technology is needed to capture the next generation of customers. "Our industry does a bad job of catching Millennials and it's because we keep doing the same things we've always done, so we keep getting the same customers," he added. "Millennials want visual and sensory stimulus."
Driving Up Sales
While Pak-A-Sak's new design ushers in many changes inside the stores, it's what's outside that really sets the chain apart -- a full-service drive-thru window. A first for the company, McKee said the drive-thru is the main feature of the two new builds.
"I go to the fast-feeders and the Sonics of the world all the time, and you see how much business they do through the drive-thru. I thought we could get a lot of business if we had a drive-thru," McKee said. "People are just trained to go through drive-thrus these days. It's a fast-paced world and people like to be able to just stay in their cars."
Drive-thru is not a new concept to west Texas, but it hasn't been successful within the convenience channel, according to Lawshe. To avoid the same fate, he said a critical element in designing Pak-A-Sak's drive-thrus was to make sure customers would understand what's available. "Historically, people have tried to limit what is available, or there's long delays as the clerk runs all over the store looking for an item," he said. "We felt we needed to bring in technology and design to educate customers."
As shoppers pull up to the Pak-A-Sak drive-thru, a mini convenience store, complete with a six-door beverage cooler, is visible through the large windows. McKee said it's "a little sampling of everything we have in our main coolers inside the store."
Customers can get any product in the store at the drive-thru, which is open during all operating hours and always staffed by one employee. To make it more convenient for the clerks who work the drive-thru, the area is set up with its own separate coffee, fountain and tea units, and is positioned in the store so the drive-thru clerks have a 15-foot radius where they can grab anything in the store. "If the clerks have to do sprints all night, they're not going to be happy and customers will see that," Lawshe said.
The biggest drive-thru sellers are cigarettes, fountain drinks and beer. McKee said he sees customers across all demographics use the drive-thrus, with mothers with children and older customers frequenting it most often. Even animals love the new feature. "We have dogs that come through, and they know we give them treats," he said.
The first drive-thru opened now accounts for 33 percent of all grocery sales at that store. Given the positive customer response, all new Pak-A-Sak convenience stores will have a drive-thru. So far, the chain has built two stores in Amarillo with the new design, and a third is under construction in Tampa, Texas. It is slated to open April 1. In addition, the retailer is remodeling its highest-volume store to include a drive-thru window.
"We had a strong store design before, but it's a good thing we changed because we now have an even better store design. That's why we're building another store right now, because our new store design is so good," McKee said. In fact, the newly designed stores have quickly become two of Pak-A-Sak's highest volume locations, which he attributed to the overall increased presence and drive-thru service.
Both McKee and Lawshe agree the new store design delivers "the wow effect."
"I've seen people come in, look around, and say, 'Wow, I've never seen something like this before," Lawshe said. "The stores have a comfortable feeling -- and because customers feel comfortable, they stay a little longer and buy a little more."
For photos and more, see Convenience Store News' December 2009 Issue.
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