LED lighting is quickly becoming the norm at convenience stores across the nation, especially at locations owned by the larger chains. The Cenex brand has begun an LED upgrade program designed to brighten its affiliated stores outside and in.
“Consumers are evolving regarding their expectations of convenience stores,” said Akhtar Hussain, director of refined fuels marketing for CHS, the parent company of the Cenex energy brand that owns 30 Zip Trip convenience stores, primarily in Montana. “We thought the time was right to transform the brand and modernize and elevate that brand in the eyes of the consumer.”
Cenex also owns another couple of dozen c-stores under other flags. The overwhelming majority of Cenex-branded stores, though, are independently owned — and there are a lot of them. In total there are 1,450 Cenex-affiliated stores throughout 19 states in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest, including Cubby’s in Nebraska and Eagle Stop in Missouri.
Cenex has embarked on an enormous effort to spruce up all of its sites. Hussain outlined the four-year initiative Cenex is calling LIFT — Lighting Image and Facility Transformation — designed to update Cenex-owned and affiliated c-stores to compete with its regional counterparts. He said the plan is to revamp about 350 sites per year.
The new look brings a cleaner profile to forecourt elements like the canopy wraparound, a large LED Cenex logo and arch sign with the company’s signature red and blue colors.
“In addition to those elements, we’ll still be doing a forecourt remodel in terms of painting, reconditioning islands and redoing our price signs,” Hussain said. “A very robust plan there to address the forecourt.”
And the makeover isn’t just about a sharp, colorful look. Cenex knows the LED lighting upgrades will also mean the stores will be more financially competitive, too.
“What we’ve seen is, there’s a 30-40% energy reduction,” said Hussain. “The return on investment (ROI) is about two years. So if it pays for itself, and the cost over time has come down, this makes it a really attractive time to be making those upgrades and really capturing those energy savings into the future.”
Small Chain, Big Savings
Contrasting the large footprint of Cenex’s operation, Viral Patel is president of the seven-store Speed Mart chain with locations scattered across central Tennessee.
Four of those fly the Speed Mart brand, two are branded Miller Mart and another is a Jackson Mart. It didn’t take much to convince him of the value of energy efficiency. (See the Speed Mart profile on page 12 for more on the chain.)
Patel said that, as the chain purchased new locations, the first thing Speed Mart would do is upgrade to outside LEDs. The exterior improvements, he said, get results. “If they’re usually run down, we get them up in shape, and business usually follows.”
But when the company decides to do interior upgrades, those are LED-based as well. If the company adds a new a walk-in cooler, it adds LED lighting inside. If it adds a new counter unit or shelving, it ensures there are LEDs to illuminate it.
“We usually take a store and remodel it and get it up and going — so it’s good for the next 10, 15 years,” Patel said. And with a long lifespan, LEDs are a great addition to those remodels.
Take it Inside
While exterior lighting seems to be the place where the biggest savings can be had through LED upgrades, there are plenty of potential savings inside the store. That’s why Cenex wants to give its affiliates an opportunity to invest in interior improvements.
For independently owned stores, Cenex is offering interest-free financing through its CHS Capital Group. Cenex has lined up a network of consultants and vendors to make the interior upgrade program work in tandem with the required forecourt improvements.
That applies to foodservice concepts through the digital menu boards all the way to the back-office software and programs, Hussain said. “All of those items are really what our retail consultants specialize in and help our network on a daily basis.”
The interior remodel program will also be available to operators who are looking for a new brand and choose Cenex. The program, Cenex is hoping, will tip the scales in its favor and raise its affiliate numbers.
Solar’s Sunny Outlook
For Speed Mart’s Patel, energy efficiency doesn’t stop with LED lighting, either. He has installed solar power units on the roof of one of his stores in Crossville, Tenn.
It took eight years to recoup the cost of the system. The solar system was possible with the benefit of a generous federal tax credit as well as a 25% grant.
“Solar, it’s a zero-maintenance investment. If you have the cash, if you can get a loan, do it,” said Patel. “It sits on top of the building and makes money after it’s paid off.”
Patel said that without the tax and grant benefits, the time frame for the system to pay for itself extends to 12 years. That’s enough for Speed Mart to think twice about installing solar energy at more stores.
For Cenex’s independently owned affiliates, that’s the very financial help the company is offering should those store owners opt in on the interior remodels. That’s an investment opportunity that can help improve the bottom line for years to come.