Tuesday morning at the National Advisory Group (NAG) Conference attendees gathered for educational sessions on the dinner daypart and store design and layout.
By Erin Del Conte, Senior Editor
The NAG Conference is underway at Ponte Vedra Inn & Club in Jacksonville, Fla., Sept. 9-12. C-store retailer attendees from more than 65 chains are participating in educational sessions, information exchanges and networking events to better their business.
Doing Dinner Right
In a session titled “Foodservice: Reigniting the Dinner Daypart” attendees learned how other c-store chains are thinking about the dinner daypart.
Carlos Acevedo, culinary innovation and research chef for Des Moines, Iowa-based Yesway, with 150 stores in the Midwest, talked about Yesway’s strategies for driving foodservice sales.
The chain currently has a 1,600-square-foot test kitchen under construction and is working on recipe development. Yesway is looking to simplify yet amplify its food products, for example, reducing roller grill SKUs to three, but then amplifying those products with promotions. Yesway is also exploring disruptive innovation, such as delivery, drive through, meal kits, customization, food trucks, kiosks and more.
“For as long as c-stores have been around breakfast has been the most critical daypart for c-stores. Own breakfast own the day. It’s an important part of the c-store model,” he noted. Dinner, however, brings new challenges to the industry, as c-stores look for ways to provide dinner in a dashboard dining format. But thinking about dinner in new ways, might be a better strategy.
Acevedo proposed meal kits as a solution, offering meal prep for a hot, fresh meal, but at a better price point than a traditional meal kit. Yesway is looking at hybrid meal kits. For example, offering a core protein such as rotisserie chicken, plus several different microwaveable ‘meal kit’ side packages to customize the meal.
Brad Chivington, senior vice president for Highs of Baltimore, showed attendees the company’s new store design that offers expanded space for foodservice. He outlined the company’s foodservice offering, as well as its signature items, which are core products with a twist.
He agreed that meal kits, recipe kits and prepared food to go are ways c-stores can capture the dinner daypart.
Older facilities can offer challenges to providing an upgraded food offering that customers will consider for dinner. High’s examined every store, and improved the look from the outside in, moving some center store categories to make room for foodservice in the center of the store.
He stressed that having the proper people, i.e. talented employees that adapt and get behind foodservice paired with proper training in food safety are keys to success. Staying relevant with technology that complements foodservice is important to customers. Consider looking into online ordering, mobile apps, delivery and/or curbside pickup.
Jerry Weiner, president, Weiner Consulting Co., pointed out that dinner is the one meal occasion of the day where customers are usually not constrained by proximity to their place of work or time limits.
Weiner, was formerly the foodservice director for Rutter’s and retired from the company in 2015. Before he retired, he tried several times to capture the dinner daypart. What finally succeeded was combining SKUs the chain already sold into one take-home offering.
“I took items we already sold, so short ribs, crab cakes, fried shrimp, chicken wings, and I created a dinner plate in this ‘basket’ (or box) with choice of entrée, nine different sides to pick from, coleslaw and a fresh baked dinner roll. It took off like a rocket,” he explained.
He noted that succeeding with dinner requires navigating operational issues. The program can’t be too complex or consistency will suffer.
In a morning session titled, “Store Design and Layout: Identifying the Best Concepts Your Customers Will Find Appealing,” retailers discussed how their store designs are helping to drive sales.
Jacque Hager, retail operations, Molo Oil, spoke about the design of Big 10 Mart stores. Molo Oil is a family-owned business headquartered in Dubuque, Iowa, with 15 corporate-owned stores in Iowa and Illinois.
The chain partnered with Paragon Solutions to develop a welcoming store design for its Big 10 Mart locations.
Some stand out features include:
- tall glass windows on the building that provide an aquarium-like effect,
- sliding glass doors to create a welcome entry way,
- enticing food graphics such as of coffee and ice cream to entice customers,
- restrooms that resemble those of luxury hotels with cherry doors and granite countertops
- matching stone on the exterior of the building and canopy columns for a cohesive look
- a proprietary food and beverage program that take center stage and draw focus
- a double-sided stone fireplace near the entry way, right next to the chain’s logo
Danielle Mattiussi, vice president of retail adventures for Maverik, which operates 320 stores in 11 states, walked attendees through Maverik’s store evolution.
The chain’s stores consist of its Maverik Country Stores that were designed 30 years ago to its more recent Adventure Stores, which measure 3,600-4,200 square feet; to its New Adventure Stores, which measure 4,600-5,200 square feet and first debuted four years ago.
Mattiussi outlined the differences between the store concepts, including an inside look at its New Adventure Stores today and how design is helping maximize sales.
Today, the chain uses flash remodels to update structurally sound Adventure Stores that need a refresh to the New Adventure design. This involves updating the red rock flooring to wood-looking tile, updating graphics, expanding restrooms and upgrading the cash wrap.
Her advice to other chains? “Decide who you are—go all in.”
Spencer Thomas, brand manager, Southwest Georgia Oil, spoke about the chain’s Sun Stop convenience store design. Southwest Georgia Oil operates 80 stores in southern Alabama, Georgia and Florida under the Sun Stop c-store name, and features Inland proprietary fuel.
Its next generation Sun Stop concept began with a logo upgrade for both Sun Stop and Inland after 21 years. The chain recently opened six new stores, and implements three different c-store concepts under the Sun Stop umbrella: Sun Stop, Sun Stop Market and Sun Stop Urban Market. All of the stores feature ample foodservice options.
Sun Stop Market: The chain acquired three former Walmart Neighborhood Markets and created its own one-stop-shop grocery concept that includes c-store items, fresh prepared food and fuel. The 12,000-square-foot footprint is much larger than the chain’s usual 3,000-6,000-square feet. Among other features, the chain offers a Garden stop—with fresh produce and meals to go, a dairy stop and a butcher shop complete with a beef & pork and poultry section. One of the stores features a butcher and meat is then delivered daily to the other stores.
Sun Stop Urban Market: This concept is located on Florida State’s campus on the first floor of a dorm. The concept debuted two months ago and does not feature fuel. This 3,500-square-foot concept features a red brick exterior with black awnings. Its massive Eat’s deli first polled a student study group before creating its offering, among other items it added Tex-Mex items at the request of students.
Thomas walked attendees through the stores many foodservice offerings and programs. The chain is crafting its offering to better appeal to Millennials, Gen Z and women.
Thomas encouraged attendees to look at how their store exteriors are illuminated at night. “Our sun (graphic) is illuminated as well as our Sun Stop market banner, and it looks clean and friendly. Our Inland canopy also lights up. It looks safe and welcoming. As you consider your next generation image, make sure you’re looking at your illumination at night.”
Following the morning educational sessions, retail attendees participated in round two of information exchanges with non-competing chains.