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    A Fresh Face

    The year's best new store designs place emphasis on fresh food and elevating the customer experience

    By Don Longo, Convenience Store News

    From new builds to low-budget remodels, the winners of Convenience Store News' second annual Store Design Contest provide ample "wow" factor. This year, a common theme was upgrading the customer experience and emphasizing fresh-food offerings.

    Best Original Store Design
    Atlas Oil Co. (WOW!)

    This category -- Best Original Store Design (new construction) -- was the most hotly contested in this year's awards program. We received dozens of examples of innovative and effective new prototypes and remodels, from a cool-looking drive-thru mini-mart (Fresh Lane, a privately held, family-owned regional grocery store chain in Texas) to an urban, fresh-food concept featuring high-end bathrooms and flat-screen TVs in the heart of Brooklyn. (Bolla Market, the first of its kind in a 40-store network of ExxonMobil and BP franchises operated by Bolla Management Group).

    But the winner in this category really knocked out our judges. WOW!, a metro-Detroit convenience store and gas station owned by Atlas Oil Co., based in Taylor, Mich., offers shoppers a unique and memorable experience. According to Nadine McLearon, creative and marketing director for D-Fab Design, the objective of the new prototype was to communicate that WOW! is a "fresh" and reliable retailer among the competition by providing special customer amenities that make small life choices simple and fun. Atlas also wanted to develop brand awareness of E85 fuel and offer a convenient location for its alternative fuel customers.

    Our judges were impressed with the custom "sunflower" icon at the Fraser, Mich., store and we liked the "We Offer Wonderful" tagline, which is used prominently on the building facade, pumps and gas canopy. The brand image is then carried throughout the interior in a fun way. For example, "sun" icons float in a ceiling cloud above prepared foods. Contemporary, custom-illustrated line art printed on wall covering adds interest to walls and cooler panels. A warm color palette infuses the interior with fiery energy, including sun-baked hues of red, yellow and orange, with accents of sage green and sky blue.

    Flooring patterns in rich hues of textured porcelain tiles emphasize fresh foods, coffee and fountain drink stations. Brushed, metallic-finished, curved CoreLite baffles surround checkout areas and the fountain wall. Zig-zag babble graphics above the cooler and freezer wall create 3-D imagery with unique messages from opposite entrance points.

    Some other highlights of the winning design:
    -- The WOW! store is part of a larger development, including gas, diesel and E85 fuel, as well as a separate building with Starbucks and a restaurant.

    -- Two separate entrances into the building serve gas customers and diesel customers.

    -- A recessed fountain drink center provides a clean, attractive presentation.

    -- A bright red ceiling adds energy and fun to the interior. The zig-zag cooler wall application creates a trick-of-the-eye with different messages reading from either side. Small category signage over the cooler doors help identify product within.

    -- The brand image is reiterated, right down to the restroom signage with playful graphics and paint-stenciled logos on the wall in a random pattern.

    -- A curved checkout counter helps ease traffic flow and mimics curvilinear shapes throughout the space, and decorative lighting and a hanging baffle delineate the checkout area. Free food samples are added as a friendly, tempting offering near the checkouts.

    Honorable Mention
    MAPCO Mart

    Extensively covered by CSNews (see cover story, Aug. 7, 2006), MAPCO Mart is the result of rigorous brainstorming and research to elevate the consumer experience and deliver beyond customer expectations. Brentwood, Tenn.-based MAPCO Express, working with Shikatani Lacroix, a Toronto-based designer, developed an integrated environment that communicates the new store concept's emphasis on fresh, made-to-order foodservice, an expanded proprietary coffee and cold beverage program, and fresh grab-n-go items. According to Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the new MAPCO Mart design reinforces the brand's fresh approach and positions MAPCO to speak to the aspirational consumer who expects more than traditional convenience. Sales at the new units are 15 to 20 percent higher than the company's older format.

    Best Interior Design
    The Spinx Co.

    Just as impressive as our Best Original Design winner, this Spinx Co. remodel in Anderson, S.C., provides plenty of its own "wow" factor. This high-volume gas site needed more fueling positions and a better in-store offer. The Greenville, S.C.-based c-store chain doubled the size of the store from its original 1,800 square feet to 3,636 square feet. The new building allows Spinx to showcase its proprietary foodservice program and provides double the cooler capacity. One innovation is an ice-down beverage cart that drains into the floor, eliminating the labor and mess of typical vendor ice-down barrels.

    Our judges also gave Spinx high marks for incorporating lessons from a NACS/Coca-Cola Leadership Council teen market research project that it has been involved with for the past two years. The retailer also conducted its own teen focus groups, which found -- among other things -- that teens are adamant about clean and modern restrooms with bigger mirrors. Spinx gave them what they asked for.

    The retailer worked with Greenville-based design firm McKay Zorn and Associates.

    Honorable Mention
    Verona Depot

    This nostalgic depot concept was developed after conversations between owner Marc Jones and Madison, Wis.-based designers, C-Store Systems. Jones, whose family roots intertwine with the history of the local community, wanted to pay respect to travelers of days past through the store's railroad depot theme.

    An interesting element is that the design promotes areas of the store by profit levels. Thus, the main emphasis is on the coffee presentation. The designer uses shapes and materials reminiscent of the railroad culture. Laser-cut brackets supporting the canopy mimic the signage, and the corrugated awning theme carries across the foodservice with retro industrial-style light fixtures above and below the awning.

    Best Low-Cost Remodel (Less than $100,000)
    Thorntons Inc.

    One look at Thorntons' new Quick Cafe & Market and it's difficult to believe that this "fresh" new strategy cost less than $100,000 to execute.

    Headquartered in Louisville, Ky., Thorntons Oil currently operates more than 150 convenience stores throughout five states, and serves major communities, such as Louisville, Chicago, Indianapolis and Evansville, Ind., Cincinnati, Ohio and Columbus and New Haven, Conn.

    Working with design firm Chute Gerdeman, Thorntons' goal was to eliminate the "gas station" feel once customers move past the fuel pumps.

    "We added color and large graphics to create a fun, fresh market feeling inside the store," said Alison Short of Chute Gerdeman. Key food and order points were highlighted at the location with vibrant colors and motion graphics to help draw attention to the location's fresh-food offerings.

    Large photo panels and a brand promise from company president Matt Thornton make customers feel like they are stepping into an inviting corner market.

    With the integration of mosaic tiles, layered graphics and color banding, the interior of the store was transformed.

    Honorable Mention
    Kum & Go

    As part of its re-imaging initiative, Kum & Go, the 450-plus store convenience chain based in West Des Moines, Iowa, recently remodeled a 2,021-square-foot store in Polk City, Iowa. The re-imaging, aimed to differentiate itself and remain competitive, gives the store a fresh, new look. With the help of GFX International, the retailer was able to execute a new look without abandoning its current brand equity. GFX created an improved, rich, saturated color palette that complemented the core red of Kum & Go and distributed the colors throughout the store by zones.

    The new look features exterior canopy, pump and fascia treatments and interior wall coverings and textures, counter laminates, in-store displays, window treatments and promotional materials with a singular, focused theme.

    Best Midbudget Remodel ($100,000 to $250,000)
    Circle K, Gulf Coast Region

    "It became clear that updating our business models again and again wasn't providing the necessary means to hit sales goals, and that a real change was needed," said Ari Rothman, manager of brand marketing for the Gulf Coast region of Circle K stores. Thus, Circle K set out to design an environment that was conducive to c-store shoppers and would attract potential new consumers.

    The remodeled stores consist of dozens of contemporary and user-friendly improvements, many of those upgrades based on input directly from consumers. With research in hand, the retailer developed a progressive model that has been implemented across the Circle K Gulf Coast Region. Key features include easier access to fueling lanes from the street level, an uncluttered store front, an expanded coffee bar inclusive of warm lighting and Corian countertops, a revolutionary walk-in beer cooler, a display-free store floor and staging area, and most importantly, an overall brighter, cleaner environment.

    The remodeled stores have not only shown increases in traffic counts and continued sales gains, but they also enjoy improved employee morale.

    Honorable Mention
    Minit Stop

    The Minit Stop store located at the foot of the Haleakala Volcano on the Island of Maui, Hawaii, had been operating at the same location for more than 20 years. Like many older stores, it was starting to look run down and dated on the inside and had become cluttered from numerous counter additions and display pieces. More importantly, the musty image was beginning to impact the store's foodservice business.

    "Our remodel and design objectives were to improve the flow and visual aspects of the store by updating the graphics and colors and developing a path to the foodservice component of the store," said Larry Broadstone, construction project manager.

    A store-within-a-store feel was developed that gave the company's Maui Fried Chicken component a franchise feel. The remodel also increased cooler doors to allow Minit Stop to take advantage of emerging trends in the cold beverage category, and created a destination for both the hot coffee offer and its post mix and frozen beverage offer.

    Minit Stop partnered with Duke Convenience/RMD group on the design phase and received additional support from Identity Services of California for graphics and color. Joslin Group of Maui brought the project from start to finish in just 15 days.

    "Overall, the remodel has proved itself correct in the short term and is something we plan to take to our 11 other sites in the future and our new store on the Big Island," Broadstone concluded.

    By Don Longo, Convenience Store News
    • About Don Longo Don Longo is editorial director of EnsembleIQ's Convenience Store News, Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner and Hispanic Retail 360 media brands. He has covered retailing for more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. Previously, he spearheaded the editorial efforts at a variety of business publications focused on mass, drug, grocery and specialty store retailing. Convenience Store News won American Business Media‚Äôs Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Issue of the Year in 2008 and 2012. Longo has won numerous other editorial awards over his career and is frequently quoted in the national and local news media on the subjects of retailing and consumer trends.
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