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HOUSTON -- Times are changing at Timewise Food Stores. Long a fixture in the suburbs and country, the convenience store chain has been moving into cities with a new store design that encompasses an urban vibe.
Over the past year, the company's new builds and acquired stores have started to feature Timewise's new "Urban Prototype," a definite change from the retailer's traditional-style stores. The idea for the concept stemmed from the chain's need to adapt to the new markets it was building stores in, and the idea was so successful that the Urban Prototype has now become the standard design for the company.
Exteriorly, the Urban Prototype stores -- appearing in the Houston and San Antonio areas -- consist of a larger facility on a bigger track of land with expanded fueling capacity, compared to its predecessor. "The buildings are now more architecturally appealing," said Marshall Dujka, general partner with Landmark Industries Inc., parent company to Timewise. "It's a cutting-edge design that utilizes natural stones, stuccos and various other materials to allow the stores to blend in with the locations where we are building stores."
Another way the Urban Prototype stores stand out is via enhanced branding efforts. "When you drive onto our property, you immediately recognize the Timewise brand," said Dujka. (See Photo Gallery below)
Prior to developing this new prototype, Timewise utilized a design it called the "Country Store" for close to 20 years. That design can still be seen on many of the c-store chain's longstanding stores. The Country Store concept came about during a period when Timewise was moving into suburban areas and wanted a design that would blend into those neighborhoods. Those stores feature gabled fronts, large white porches, ceiling fans and more.
In contrast, the Urban Prototype stores present a more posh, glitzy feel -- a better fit for neighborhoods in cities such as Houston and San Antonio.
"Stores there didn't fit in with a country concept," Dujka explained. "So, we were forced to come up with a new design. It was formed out of necessity, but it was also time for a change. We felt it was a natural evolution in our process to move to a more flexible design that we can use in a city and even take it out to [our] country or suburban locations by using a few different architectural treatments."
Timewise has two different Urban Prototype models. According to Dujka, the first is a 5,200-square-foot standalone convenience store. The second model is a combination location that is co-branded with a McDonald's franchise.
"When we combine with McDonald's, we're building an approximate 9,000-square-foot facility," said Dujka. "More than 5,000 square feet goes to the c-store and another roughly 3,500 square feet is utilized by McDonald's."
In both models, the interior of the c-store itself has been increased by 20 percent vs. the Country Store design that features about 4,000 square feet of space. Urban Prototype locations also have several different components than its predecessor. One example is raised ceilings.
"All of our [new] stores now have exposed-beam ceilings," Dujka said. "We also have expanded fast-food offerings within the c-stores, and the coolers have been increased to 20 to 22 doors."
The new Timewise stores feature much wider, open aisles for easier customer access as well. "Also, we now created a larger area for promotional activities and displays to highlight our featured items, a larger tobacco set behind the counter and more impulse items at the checkout counter," he said.
In addition, the Urban Prototype is intended to be more environmentally friendly. Using LED [light-emitting diode] lighting on most of the exterior and in several interior areas is one way Timewise is achieving that goal, along with a low-maintenance exterior landscaping program that conserves water usage.
"We also changed our cleaning agents, incorporated surfaces that don't require as many cleaning solutions, have gone to digital lighting on the price signs and switched to restrooms that use hand dryers as opposed to paper towels," Dujka added.
In the year or so since the Urban Prototype debuted, customer feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
"Customers love it. Many have said we have a first-class operation. We believe this puts us at the top of the heap in the convenience store business," he said. "We haven't seen a lot of new c-stores being built in cities such as Houston and San Antonio. It's been more redevelopment of existing sites. This concept seems to fit all of the major requirements for what you want in a facility."
Based on this response, Timewise has no intention of altering its Urban Prototype, except for the occasional tweak as changing times require. In fact, the retailer has set forth aggressive growth goals to expand the new design. All new builds and redeveloped locations will be Urban Prototype stores.
"In 2011, we opened eight new Urban [Prototype] stores primarily in the Houston market, with some in Austin," Dujka said. "For 2012, we have nine projects under contract and in development now. Two of the stores will open by early April. We project to build approximately eight to 10 ground-up locations per year and [complete] an additional two to three raze-and-rebuilds per year."
As Convenience Store News reported in its March 1 issue, Landmark Industries ranked 11th among all convenience store companies for store growth from December 2010 to December 2011. The company added 70 stores to its stable during that period, for a 45-percent store count increase.
"We're definitely in a growth mode," Dujka said. "I think that's fair to say."