Communities are unique, from how they gather to what businesses best suit their needs. Residents crave local conveniences, and the best spots are built specifically with their community in mind. In Roseau, Minn., the local Cenex c-store is just that.
Through an upgrade financing program, independent c-store owners under the Cenex retail brand have been able to take advantage of favorable financing through Cenex’s LIFT program, part of a chainwide brand upgrade that includes store exteriors and interiors.
Cenex is part of the CHS global agribusiness corporation owned by farmers, ranchers and cooperatives across the United States, with diversified interests in energy, agronomy, grains and foods.
The Cenex energy brand owns 30 Zip Trip convenience stores primarily in Montana. 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.
Kelly Christianson, general manager of the Northern Resources Cooperative, which owns and operates the Roseau Cenex, has been running the co-op-owned store for the past 15 years. To him, it’s always been important that the c-store reflect the community and evolve to fit its needs. A few years ago, Christianson began feeling as though the store was outgrowing itself and began thinking of a renovation.
Since then, Christianson has carefully determined what partnerships, investments and upgrades he would make. He knew that the renovation would need to be carefully designed to meet the distinctive needs of the Roseau community and that he couldn’t partner with just any brand to make it happen.
The c-store had previously been land-locked, so Christianson slowly acquired the neighboring land — including building and tenant rights — to enable him to not only renovate the store but expand it. After years of contemplation and preparations, it was time for Christianson to get the job started. The board of directors vowed to go all-in with a full tear-down that allowed them to rebuild from the ground up. This scale of renovation also allowed Christianson to design the store to fit the needs of the Roseau community and to make the location a destination.
As is true with Northern Resources Cooperative’s store, Cenex locations are locally owned and operated. The brand’s new LIFT initiative provides retailers with the freedom and flexibility to renovate their stores how they see fit. Through the exterior portion of the program, Halo, the Cenex brand invests in the forecourt image of branded c-stores. While forecourt upgrades will happen at all locations, supporting the independence of each store is an important aspect of LIFT.
Because LIFT is managed in-house at CHS, store operators are offered resources throughout the process of a renovation. Like Christianson’s experience, Cenex-branded c-stores have a dedicated Cenex representative to help guide them through every step of the renovation process. The initiative also includes an in-store financing program, making hefty renovation expenses a bit easier to manage.
“I was comfortable going into the renovation knowing I was saving on some interest expenses because of my partnership with CHS,” said Christianson. “I saw that CHS had my back by making such a large investment. LIFT was a really thought-out program and it especially benefited people like us that were making a bigger investment.”
Through LIFT, Christianson was able to tap into interior and exterior renovation experts, Chad Wegner, refined fuels district manager, and Darin Tweten, retail consultant.
Christianson certainly took advantage of the flexibility offered through the LIFT initiative and was able to put changes in place that he had been researching for years. He drew inspiration from the grocery and bar industries, and took note of how he wanted to emulate their spaces and operations at his Cenex location. But beyond thinking about how he wanted the space to look and function, Christianson took into consideration the evolving needs of his customer base.
“As we were talking through what changes Kelly would make, we talked about how particularly millennials have changed how a c-store could function,” said Tweten. “Some of the unique items LIFT helps finance meet those evolving needs, like offering financing for self-checkout, a walk-in cooler, a compressor or a bean-to-cup coffee machine. CHS has madeit possible for store operators to cater to their customers withso much flexibility.”
When Christianson said he wanted to go all-in with the renovation, he meant it. As can be imagined with a rebuild, it included many new features and upgrades to enhance the functionality, safety and customer experience of the store.
With a complete rebuild comes functional updates across the board. From a new entryway to new countertops and cabinetry, the functionality of the store was vastly improved with the update. Not to mention the rebuild gave Christianson an opportunity to pull more of the inspiration he gathered from the grocery industry into the layout of the store.
“What I really like about grocery stores are the nice, open layout most have,” said Christianson. “The stores aren’t crowded and have plenty of floor space. So we emulated that with our high ceiling and open, industrial look.”
Especially in a post-COVID world, safety is top of mind. For Christianson, safety was something he was already thinking about, but to make his store reflect evolving consumer expectations, he included additional upgrades after breaking ground. To supplement the typical checkout counter, he added a self-checkout option for customers who prefer to have less contact.
Another upgrade to reflect the latest safety needs was in the bathrooms. “For the men’s and women’s bathrooms, we decided on a walk-in layout without doors,” said Christianson. “We included corners customers need to walk around so that everyone still has privacy. By eliminating the doors, there’s less need to touch surfaces, leading to less contact that can be made person-to-person.”
SUPERIOR CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
Christianson’s top priority with the renovation was always to ensure the end product was something his customers love. In order to make that goal a reality, he added some new features to make his c-store more accessible, including reach-in and walk-in coolers and a new self-serve soda station that was inspired by evolving trends in the bar industry.
“We created our own version of a tap wall and found a supplier of craft soda out of a brewery in Milwaukee,” said Christianson. “Customers can fill their own cups with three different craft soda flavors, or they can make their own old-fashioned floats with hard-serve ice cream we have in a freezer next to the tap wall. It’s one of my favorite elements we added in to make this location a destination.”
In addition to making his store a destination, Christianson wanted to streamline his operations and make the store easier to manage without giving up any sale potential or services to the community. One of the ways to do that was to lease out his foodservice area to Burger King.
“It’s their business and their employees and having them in the space makes running the store much more efficient for me,” said Christianson. “They’ve got their ducks in a row, and now I can concentrate on other ways to set our store apart.”
The renovations weren’t only interior. Christianson also put a lot of thought into designing the forecourt at his store to ensure customers were able to quickly get in and out. Halo had already provided many forecourt updates, including updated canopy branding elements with a 360-degree LED light band, a new Cenex® logo and a three-dimensional backlit blue arch.
While these updates elevated the exterior on their own, Christianson wanted to stay true to his goal of going big and making the location a perfect fit for the Roseau community. Christianson and his team spent a lot of time designing the pumps, the layout and how traffic would flow, especially for diesel pumps. The store is in a major agricultural area, so the diesel island was a focal point to allow semis to get in and out easily.
“We went with a single row of pumps so there was no wait time, and we put them at an angle to make the traffic flow easier,” said Christianson. “We’re also in a touristy area with fishing on Lake of the Woods, snowmobiling and ice fishing in the wintertime. There are a lot of trailers, a lot of campers, a lot of boats being pulled, so putting the pumps at an angle is easier for people pulling units to get in and out of our facility.”
Throughout the renovation process, Christianson has proven his commitment to his community through the upgrades he’s chosen for his c-store. He fulfilled his goal of making the store a destination, one that will serve the community well.