By Brad Perkins, Contributing Editor
Aesthetics. Interior design. Customer flow. Those terms aren’t necessarily the first thoughts that come to mind when discussing convenience stores. But, increasingly, these are items that c-stores are considering when designing new stores.
Whether it’s helping customers get in and out quickly, displaying products or conserving energy and costs, convenience stores must make choices that benefit the bottom line while making stores into desirable destinations for customers.
At Hub Convenience Stores, a North Dakota-based chain that opened its first stores last year, the design of new stores went hand-in-hand with the company’s objectives.
“When it came time to address the interior design of our new convenience concept I felt it was important to accomplish two main objectives,” said Jared Scheeler, president of Hub Convenience Stores. “I wanted our customers to walk in the door the first time and say ‘Wow’; and I wanted the design and the identity it gave us to reflect the quality of our business.”
Scheeler’s vision combined a desire to provide quality, branded food with the desire to create flexible designs tailored to each location’s needs.
“As an establishment that puts a great focus on foodservice, it’s critical that the image of the company and of the building reflects the quality that we want perceived in our food,” he said. “This includes the interior design and branding of the building, the equipment used to serve the food and the merchandising used to help sell the food.”
Designing for customers is important. Whether it’s ensuring a positive experience at the pump or register or building out a store layout that combines safety for the store and employees and efficient customer flow, considering the way customers walk through the store and how easily they can find merchandise is a key objective.
It’s not enough, Scheeler said, to “choose an upscale paint color, a casework laminate, and a countertop and call it a ‘design’.” Instead, c-stores should mull aesthetics: how the store looks and feels to customers. For Scheeler, that meant hiring a design firm to create plans from his ideas.
“Because this was such an important element of our new business, we felt that we’d best be served by hiring someone who specializes in these areas,” Scheeler said. “We chose Paragon Solutions and its designers were able to quickly bring all of my vague ideas to life. I wanted our stores to have an identity and that’s exactly what they gave us.”
In addition to brand identity, many convenience stores consider the environment and energy costs when designing or redesigning.
“We want to be good neighbors and corporate citizens, so we try to look at our new builds and rebuilds holistically—how can we impact each location as little as possible from an environmental standpoint,” said Sara Kurovski, manager of sustainability for Kum & Go. “There are always new opportunities for continuous improvement, with ever changing technology and opportunities.”
Over the past five years, Kum & Go has primarily used LED lighting in new stores and uses a number of tactics to become more energy efficient in both new and existing stores.
“When you think about a convenience store, we have doors opening and shutting all the time and we have lots of equipment plugged in,” Kurovski said. “Those things continue to provide a challenge from an energy standpoint, but also the opportunity to continuously look for ways to improve.”
According to the Electrical Power Research Institute (EPRI), c-stores can increase energy efficiency, by dimming or adjusting lighting, using natural light or passive systems such as window films, low- energy windows and improved insulation.
“Use of high efficiency lighting (like LED and induction) can result in a noticeable reduction in energy used for lighting,” said Frank Sharp, senior technical leader at EPRI. “Further savings can be found by using motion sensors in low- to medium-traffic areas and by installing light-level sensors to dim electric lighting when natural light is present. Energy savings can also be found by using variable speed HVAC systems, and high efficiency refrigeration equipment.”
Kum & Go has embraced energy efficiency, using some of the suggestions that EPRI endorses.
“We continue to work to convert older stores to LED inside and out,” Kurovski said. “We also use high-efficiency refrigeration using the Hussman Protocol system and state-of-the-art HVAC equipment to reduce energy usage. We install anti-sweat controllers to reduce the energy used to heat the glass cooler doors and frames to prevent condensation. We have converted to coffee brewing/dispensing systems that are less energy intensive and we have preventive maintenance processes that reduce energy consumption.”
The chain uses air curtains on entry doors, which reduces energy costs while eliminating insects and dust.
For stores looking to improve energy efficiency, EPRI recommends energy management systems that allow store to monitor and control energy-hungry appliances like HVAC, lighting, water heating and refrigeration—all part of growing design considerations in the industry. CSD