More convenience retailers are turning to outside consultants to create design solutions which address customers’ modern preferences.
By David Bennett, Senior Editor
When expanding convenience store chain Kwik Stop decided last year to revise the footprints of its future stores, it only had to look as far as Madison, Wis.
That’s where company planners—led by Jill Reimer, vice president of Dubuque, Iowa-based Rainbo Oil Co.—parent company of Kwik Stop—met with the convenience store design team of Hussmann Corp.
For days and weeks, Reimer viewed a sophisticated computer-aided design (CAD) layout of Kwik Stop’s newest store, planned from a 3D model crafted on a computer. On the screen, interior walls were placed or removed, coolers were configured and restrooms were first fabricated, and then easily deleted with a touch of a button.
“It’s so cool. When we you are looking at a blueprint, it’s hard to see the visual of the wall, where the colors meet in the corner, and the height of the wall and the different dimensions,” Reimer said. “But, when you are sitting in their office in this 3D experience, you are (simulating) walking through your store.”
Hussmann Corp., a turnkey manufacturer and consultant to the retail industry, has worked with various c-stores, retro-fitting all kinds of spaces to achieve all types of design strategies. There services are in high demand since retailers entice a more diverse customer base of Millennials and females patrons via modern conveniences.
Dean Miller, a manager with Hussmann’s convenience store group, explains the CAD program this way.
“We can give customers a virtual tour of their stores in a video-type view,” Miller said. “We can change wall colors, flooring, cabinetry finishes, shelving and the equipment right on these drawings to specifically pinpoint what the customer wants to build.”
For Kwik Stop, this computer-aided planning kept the second-guessing to a minimum as well as reduced cost overruns. The result was a ground-breaking structure for the c-store chain, which operates 14 locations.
The new, 8,000-square-foot building, which opened last April in Dubuque, features a sit-down Fazoli’s restaurant that seats 84. The c-store and restaurant also has a drive-through service, a new interior lighting system and 22 gas pumps under canopy.
Collectively, Reimer said, the $3.5 million project offers a more holistic and targeted customer experience.
“Our focus was on big, our focus was on bright, our focus was on being very shoppable, so our aisles are wider,” Reimer said. “We have a lot more food choice, deli choice and salads; there’s a larger focus on our coffee area, so I think it’s marketed to the convenience store shopper of today.”
Industry experts are analyzing today’s shopper with a critical eye when it comes to design features, which now include Wi-Fi, higher technology and other amenities.
The store of the future needs to be social, open and captivating—especially when retailers are looking to entice younger and savvier customers,” Miller said.
“With this audience, it’s all about choices, convenience and even technology,” Miller said. “When designing new layouts or even remodels, work to incorporate destination areas that target what this demographic wants. Healthy food options are definitely a priority category with many Millennials and if you merchandise and market this to them appropriately, that will help you to earn this customer.”
More and more, c-stores depend on loyalty programs, fuel perks, breakfast deals and stellar customer service to bolster sales. However, today, it even takes a sophisticated shopping climate to stay ahead of the competition.
“Lately, design has definitely been on the radar,” said Lee Peterson, executive vice president of brand, strategy and design at WD Partners in Dublin, Ohio. “What has happened, you don’t get females and young people aren’t going to (c-stores). So, the brand refresh is a major initiative across the country.”
WD Partners [which created the concept store illustration featured with this story] recently produced a study on what consumers want from bricks-and-mortar retailers. Heading most bucket lists were innovative design, strong merchandising, and clear and compelling messaging combined with unique and consistently delivered sales.
Messaging, Peterson said, can be effective even at its most simplest. He pointed to WD Partners’ work with 7-Eleven’s pilot store locations that were launched last year in New York and other metropolitan cities. One of the most common design elements inside is the use of a bold slab serif text, which carries all the callout messaging and designates the different shopping stations in a lighthearted manner. One example is the ‘Twist. Pop. Go.’ tagline over the packaged beverage coolers. Another is ‘Drip. Drip. Sip.’ used to identify the coffee bar.
“If you’re really trying to attract Millennials, there’s language,” Peterson said. “That’s something everyone can identify with. It’s clarity of offering, use of simple things like color lighting and human language.”
Having room so customers can navigate the aisles is a big deal so Kwik Stop ensured that customers had plenty of space to move around. Design experts cite bottle necks—physical points where customers find their movement stymied—are often caused by aisles that are too narrow and check-outs that are located too close to the entrance/exit.
In other cases, patrons encounter a store that is crammed with merchandise, typical of an overcrowded floor plan.
“As the typical convenience store gets larger, many retailers are using this additional space for better traffic flow rather than just filling the space with more merchandise,” Miller said.