C-stores can make a good impression on patrons by maintaining clean and well-equipped facilities.
By Traci Dawn Carneal, Contributing Editor
Will the state of your restrooms put you out of business? Probably not, but why give consumers a reason not to buy? With competition for sales dollars on the rise and foodservice a common offering, c-stores that spruce up their facilities often reap the benefits in more sales and loyalty.
“Bathrooms likely have a larger impact on inside store sales than some retailers realize,” said David Bishop, managing partner at Balvor LLC, a Chicago-based consulting firm. Working with a convenience retailer this past fall, he learned than one out of every 10 customers walking into the store visited the bathroom during that trip. However, none of these customers indicated that using the bathroom was the primary reason for their visit.
“In other words, having great bathrooms isn’t pulling customers into the store like a good promotion does,” Bishop said. “However, having a dirty bathroom can “push customers right back out the door—especially if the customer had interest in prepared foods where both your hands and a stranger share a sandwich through touch.”
Often, customers associate clean bathrooms with the overall quality of a store and its ability to deliver food safely.
It pays to have a well-maintained bathroom.
“Clean bathrooms help protect your base business by not giving customers a reason not to buy, and can help keep customers open to the foodservice purchase,” Bishop said. “It can be a differentiator as many customers place value in this area depending on their individual need state.”
Dave Carpenter, president of JD Carpenter Cos. and a franchisee of almost a dozen 7-Eleven locations in greater Denver, asked Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Bradley Corp. to help enhance its restrooms with contemporary fixtures that could reduce maintenance and create an upscale image at some locations.
JD Carpenter Cos. installed one double-unit Bradley Advocate Lavatory System in each restroom to reduce the number of scheduled cleanings and eliminate the paper towel waste. The system combines a low-flow faucet, soap dispenser and high-efficiency hand dryer in a single unit.
“Customers don’t expect to see them in a convenience store,” Carpenter said. “The Advocate makes our washrooms easier to maintain, while providing a convenient handwashing experience.”
While c-store restrooms don’t often make an immediate impression, some have received more attention, including the Buc-ees and Jungle Jim’s chains, which recently topped Cintas’ America’s Best Restroom Contest, held every year.
“We love when convenience stores are part of our contests in the U.S. and Canada,” said Danny Rubin, survey editor of Cintas’ annual contest. “It’s smart business for a convenience store to have an exceptional restroom in terms of cleanliness and design. It creates buzz and a positive reputation for the store.”
Restroom cleanliness is a huge priority for Pilot Flying J, the largest operator of travel centers and travel plazas in the U.S. Daily, 1.4 million travelers, truckers and RVers who visit the company’s 650 Pilot and Flying J locations use the restrooms.
“We and our general managers are committed to taking care of every customer, and the customer restroom experience is a very important part of that,” said Anne LeZotte, communications manager for Pilot. “We clean the restrooms frequently and sanitize the showers after every single use, using a cleaning solution with up to 1.5 times more sanitizing capability than required by law. We understand it is the little things that really do make the difference.”
In the past three years, Pilot Flying J has put $50 million into restroom upgrades at locations across the country, including new lighting and interior design projects.
The goal was to create a comfortable, clean and welcoming stop for customers at a level not usually associated with the average truck stop and convenience store. For example, the company imported tile from Italy to use as accents on the vanity walls—the same tiles found in luxury hotels.
“We think adding this luxurious touch makes all the difference and sets us apart from any other travel center on the road,” LeZotte said. Other notable upgrades include state-of-the-art LED lighting, low-water consumption toilets and eco-friendly hand dryers.
Showers also are getting a facelift. According to LeZotte, the shower upgrades are almost complete and have received positive reviews from drivers coast-to-coast.
“We strive to make the shower experience as comfortable as possible for all our guests when traveling, especially the professional drivers who are often away from home for several days at a time,” Ken Parent, chief operating officer for Pilot Flying J, said in a prepared statement. “For these drivers, our showers are a welcome and needed place for them to refresh, relax and recharge after long hours on the road. Taking good care of professional drivers as well as our customers is part of our DNA and that will never change.”
At Roadrunner Markets, owned by Mountain Empire Oil Co., Johnson City, Tenn., smells matter. The company has tested and standardized its bathroom scent, according to David Hite, manager of training and development. “We also added non-scratch tiles to stores that are being upgraded, and more air-dry options,” he said.
It’s one thing to upgrade restrooms with nicer amenities, but it doesn’t matter if they aren’t clean. How do you motivate employees to tend to the restrooms consistently, and ensure their idea of clean matches yours?
According to Lance Davis, director of human resources and risk management, Kwik Chek Food Stores, Bonham, Texas, “Motivation to clean a restroom is much less about actually cleaning the bathrooms than it is the purpose behind why we would all want a clean restroom and how that ties into the overall purpose of why we do what we do.”
According to Ryan Broyles, president of Roadrunner Markets, restrooms must be cleaned at least once a shift, but are inspected hourly (a timer is used as a reminder). “Employees are trained to our standard of clean,” he said. “We train them to understand the importance of a clean restroom to customers and to strive for 100% of the standard, 100% of the time.”
The chain, which has 92 stores—many by interstates—provides its employees guidance for restroom maintenance.
Broyles said the key is to define what a “clean” restroom means so employees can uphold the company standards. First, employees receive a fact sheet with a bullet-point list of clean restroom qualities. Workers also follow a 21-point checklist when their shift calls for restroom duty.
Roadrunner Markets developed a custom mobile application—referred to as the “bathroom app”—which upper level management uses when visiting stores. They can access the checklist on their mobile device and make comments on the condition of a store’s restrooms. When a manager submits the feedback, the app scores the bathroom. The score goes directly to the store’s manager and the office where upper management monitors restroom scores.
It is precisely this kind of commitment that ensures restrooms will be clean and actually help attract customers, rather than turn them away.
“The restroom is an opportunity to create an impression with your customers,” Bishop said. “Paying attention to the needs of those who visit your restrooms will pay off when they make a purchase from your foodservice counter or come back again. It’s worth the effort.”