David Miller renovates his flagship Chevron store in 45 days. He is expecting a 20% sales lift from his investment.
When David Miller, president of Chandler Oil Chevron, decided to remodel his 3,000–square-foot Chandler, Ariz., store last year, he knew it was crucial to his customers, as well as to his business, that he keep the store open and running smoothly despite the renovation activities.
“Our stores are 24-hour stores, and it’s very important to me to get things taken care of without too much interruption to my customers or business,” said Miller, who has two stores and plans to open more this year. Instead of shutting down, he decided to keep his Chandler store open and work the renovations around his business.
The Chandler Chevron is the second store that Miller, a 20-year retail veteran, opened during the early days of his career. He built it from the ground up in 1996, while he was an ARCO ampm franchisee. When he converted his allegiance to the Chevron brand in 2000, Miller kept the Chandler store and rebranded to Chevron’s iconic blue and red design.
But nearly 15 years after its construction the location had started looking “tired, old and dated,” Miller said. “It still had the old ARCO metal white cap cabinets inside the store and 12-inch gray tile.” he said, adding it sent a mixed message to consumers.
In renovating the unit, Miller knew he wanted a more upscale store appearance. “What I really wanted to do was differentiate myself from the normal convenience store we’re competing with,” he said. “I went with a real high-end boutique-style image. And I did that for a reason. What I wanted to do was give customers a ‘wow’ factor. I wanted them to come in and look at the store and think, ‘This is the nicest convenience store I’ve ever been in.’”
Finding the Right Fit
Miller reached out to design firm C7 Works to help craft the new store’s design and graphics complete with a new color scheme that included warm browns and earth tones.
His biggest challenge, however, was keeping the store open during the remodeling phase. Working with C7 he developed a plan to divide the remodel into phases, while keeping the store open the whole time.
Phase one included removing the floor tiles and replacing them with new ones, which Miller accomplished over the course of two nights. “We’d take all the gondolas and shove them to one side of the store and chip up the tile, while keeping everything protected with plastic, and then we’d clean that area and shove all the gondolas back onto that area while we chipped up the tile at the front of the store,” he said.
In phase two, which took just one night, Miller had the coffee bar overhauled with a new granite countertop and laminate cherrywood cabinets in place of the old metal cabinets, and added new granite countertops in the foodservice area.
Phase three involved laminating the cashier island and giving it a new granite countertop, as well as laminating the fountain area and the cabinets in and around that section.
In the final phase, new gondolas were brought in to replace the old ones. “That was a one-night deal where they came in, stripped the old gondolas down and hauled them away and put in the new slot wall cherrywood shelving and new cherrywood gondolas,” Miller said.
With all the shelving in place, new graphic panels were added and the inside of the store received a fresh coat of paint. The entire process took only 45 days. “During the entire remodel we only closed for about 20 hours, and the closure time was between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.,” Miller said.
With a convenience store focused on providing multiple destination points for consumers, the Chandler restroom also received a facelift, complete with a porcelain pedestal sink, hanging mirrors, artwork, floor-to-ceiling tiles and a little wooden table with a silk orchid on it.
For his efforts, Miller gained the customer reaction he set out to achieve.
“Every day we have customers tell us their bathroom at home isn’t half as nice as the bathroom in our convenience store. There is not one customer who walks out of our bathroom who doesn’t come up and say ‘wow,’” Miller said. “The store itself gets much the same reaction from new
visitors. People walk in and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe this is so nice,’ so we pretty much hit them with that ‘wow’ factor we were seeking.”
The remodel cost Miller $60,000, and he expects to achieve a 20% increase in sales as well as an uptick in traffic.
Six months after the remodel, same store sales are up although Miller noted that the increase may be partially due to the recovering economy and an increase in consumer confidence.
Eye on Expansion
With the remodel behind him, Miller has turned his attention to once again growing the business, this time under the Chevron brand. “We are planning on building a couple more stores and our new stores will be around 4,000 feet, so a little bit bigger than our current stores. We’re looking at 2-3 sites, with plans to hopefully buy and open 1-2 stores in Arizona this year.”
The stores would feature the same new high-end look as the Chandler, Ariz. store.
“Our goal is to offer customers something different than they are typically used to getting,” Miller said. “What we want to do is elevate their expectations of what a c-store business is like, and we want to do it better than everyone else and provide superior service and a superior look.”
If there is one thing Miller understands best, it’s the convenience store business. He leaped into the industry two decades ago, after graduating from college with a degree in business accounting. He had plans to go into business for himself, but began learning about the c-store industry through a friend whose family owned a local gas station.
Miller was inspired to research c-store franchise opportunities and put his dream into action by becoming an ARCO ampm franchise in 1991. Within four years of opening his first ampm, Miller went on to build five more stores. When he later switched to Chevron, he sold four of the six stores and converted two.
Now as Miller prepares to expand again, he has a clear focus. “No. 1 is customer service, No. 2 is cleanliness and No. 3 is having what the customer wants at all times,” he said.
To capitalize on the demand for foodservice, stores offer grab-and-go hot and cold sandwiches hamburgers and Chevron’s roller grill program, which features burritos, hot dogs and an assortment of ethnic foods. All items are supported by a Van Houtte coffee program and an assortment of cold and frozen dispensed beverages.