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Since Flash Foods Inc.'s birth nearly 30 years ago, when founder J.C. Jones Jr. consolidated 30 stores into one corporation, the company's image has been a work in progress. While customers across Georgia and north Florida have grown familiar with the 175-unit chain's vibrant blue and green gasoline canopies and its signature thunderbolt logo, the stores' interiors have been far less uniform and not as effective as they could be at encouraging customers to shop.
Now, as the Flash Foods name becomes the face of The Jones Co. -- the trucks and tankers belonging to its Fuel South gasoline distributorship and Distribution South warehouse operation now advertise the c-stores -- the Waycross, Ga.-based retailer has unveiled a new look for customers stepping inside its locations.
"We are committed to building a brand that offers more than convenience," said Jeannie Amerson, Flash Foods' advertising and loyalty manager who was instrumental in developing the new interior design. "We wanted a fresh look that would elevate our brand -- take it to the next level."
For the past couple of years, Flash Foods' executive team has focused on perfecting an interior image. The design will be found in 15, 4,000-square-foot ground-ups and raze-and-rebuilds planned over the next 12 to 24 months.
"We wanted upscale, but still a warm and inviting look," she said. "We have created an environment that is comfortable, one that entices our customers to spend more time browsing and shopping in our stores."
Four locations currently sport the fresh look, which supports the chain's desire to be a destination for beverages and more immediate consumables. The more colorful stores, all in up-and-coming towns near larger Flash Foods markets, feature improved wall graphics, textured metallic finishes and shorter gondola runs.
In the past, various shades of gray were offset by bold graphics "that were almost too busy" around the perimeter of the ceiling, Amerson said. "The look was almost industrial."
Now, the stores feature a warmer wall color accented by wood tones and metallic finishes, including one that looks like brush-stroked copper above the customer service area, and another with a clear aluminum finish that evokes ice cubes near the fountain. The metallic finishes are used in key areas of the store and in the departmental signage ("Beverages," "Dairy," "Beer," etc.).
The new wall graphics and shorter gondola runs should help customers see quickly where they want to go, Amerson noted. "We wanted a very open floor plan so that customers didn't feel like the merchandise hits them when they walk in the door. We didn't want them to have to go up and down aisles searching for what they want. With smaller gondolas set at angles, customers can head directly to their desired destination."
The checkout area hosts at least two registers and is positioned to give associates a clear view of the store and gas pumps outside. Counter displays are kept to a minimum to help maintain the store's clutter-free feel. Manufacturer shippers only go into larger stores, and they are strictly limited.
The floor is made of textured vinyl tiles and highlighted by randomly placed blue accents. "A blue wave runs from the entrance of the store past the customer service area, guiding customers to the beverage center, which is the most profitable area in our stores," Amerson said.
The flooring in the stores' Beverage Center is a vinyl plank that resembles weathered wood. "This works well with our proprietary Cumberland Island Coffee Co. motif," she explained. "The coffee, fountain and frozen beverages in our new locations are our main focal point."
Upgrades in those areas include built-in trashcans, hard-surface countertops, tile backsplashes and a preparation/condiment bar.
Flash Foods also has invested in new Beverage Center equipment. A Bunn system of soft-heat brewers with attached grinders allows the stores to brew more coffee at one time, and hold it at recommended temperatures for a longer period.
The chain's whole-bean coffee is ground at the time of brewing, ensuring a better-tasting cup. Four to six blends -- including a house blend, a 100-percent Colombian blend, a dark roast and a decaf -- are available in each store.
"We brought in larger, insulated paper cups this year and the new higher-volume locations are selling more cups, so we needed a new coffee system to keep up with demand," Amerson explained.
In the fountain area, the chain has a dual-cola offering, presented with 16 valves. New equipment cuts in half the space needed for the fountain, but the use of a silver and blue, icy-looking metallic background and the "Refreshments in a Flash" signage create a huge visual impact.
Newly designed fountain cups are also displayed in the area. The clear cups feature Flash Foods' signature colors.
The stores' beer vaults are easier to see, too. They're tagged "The Beer Keg" and surrounded by a woodlike wall covering that simulates a keg.
As part of Flash Food's new positioning strategy, the stores have been remerchandised to include more snacks and other immediate consumables, and fewer groceries, pet foods and motor oil. Still, the overall SKU count remains nearly the same.
"We have increased the number of products that come through our warehouse, including crackers, chips and nuts, putting them in first positions and moving Frito-Lay and other direct-store-delivery vendors to other areas of the store," Amerson explained.
Select locations have a sandwich and biscuit program that offers a variety of fresh, hot-grilled sandwiches around the clock. Some stores also sell Krispy Kreme doughnuts.
"We have been able to integrate these foodservice elements into our new design by using freestanding units near our fountain and coffee area," Amerson said.
By the end of 2007, the new design will incorporate permanent elements relating to the chain's Rewards in a Flash loyalty program, which gives cardholders 2 cents off a gallon of gasoline and 1 percent cash back from most purchases (paid in 50-cent increments). The loyalty card will soon be an ACH payment card, a prepay gas card and a pump-start card. Customers who sign up for the new features will get larger discounts on their fuel purchases, while use of the ACH loyalty card will cut Flash Foods' credit-card transaction costs.