After decades of serving customers, most legacy c-stores need a refresh. When the time came to raze-and-rebuild its Emmett Street C-Store convenience store in Battle Creek, Mich., Jon Davis, co-president of Davis Oil, sought a clean, modern design that incorporated new departments, as well as an updated logo. Embarking on a rebuild can bring challenges in any year, but a full store makeover in the middle of a pandemic brings its own obstacles.
CStore Decisions is recognizing Davis Oil with a “Best Store Design Award” designation for its flagship Emmett Street C-Store, which opened to the public in November 2020 and includes a kitchen area and beer cave, along with a modern industrial design.
Headquartered in Battle Creek, Mich., Davis Oil is a third-generation family-owned company with 20 c-stores in Michigan that operate under the ‘C-Store’ banner. Founder Richard Davis started the company in 1966, and his son James later took the helm. In 1980, Davis Oil was one of the first in its area to convert its gas stations to a convenience store model.
James Davis retired in late 2020. His sons, Jon Davis and Ben Davis, lead the company today as co-presidents. With new leadership steering the ship, it was time to create a new look and feel, allowing the third generation to put their stamp on the business through a modern design.
The Emmett Street location proved an ideal starting point as it was an older, smaller store in need of a refresh.
“This was a location that was a little beaten up, but it was always one that meant a lot to us, so we figured, OK, it’s time for us to start rebuilding this,” said Jon Davis.
From start to finish, the project took 15 months due to disruptions by the COVID-19 pandemic, which halted construction in March. But the unexpected delays ended up being a blessing in disguise.
“The delay due to COVID turned out to be a blessing because I was able to pump the brakes on the project and relook at the entire scope. The overall design just wasn’t sitting well with me, and at the 11th hour, I brought in a design firm, Paragon Solutions.” Davis said.
“I feel like (Paragon) saved the project. The image ended up being exactly what I had envisioned for the store and our brand,” Davis added.
Davis Oil’s biggest goal with the design was to eliminate “in-your-face” graphics and bright colors in favor of a clean, open look and feel that still “popped.”
When the store opened its doors in November, customers were greeted by a modern industrial design that is carried from the exterior to the interior.
Outside, big windows offer an unobstructed view into the store, and silver gooseneck light fixtures along a blue fence offer an added touch. All lighting was converted to LEDs to ensure the store appears bright and open. Wood accents bring warmth and balance the space from the entryway to the cabinets below the dispensed beverage section.
The color scheme includes light blue, blacks and grays. Inside, white painted brick with pops of blue create the desired clean, modern look. Industrial elements like stretched metal and corrugated metal panels, and pops of red in graphics and lighting helped polish the design.
“Every little element pops, but again, it’s not ‘in your face,’ it just seems welcoming,” Davis said.
Rolling With the Changes
The project took on a different shape than originally planned.
In order to expand the store, Davis Oil had purchased the property next door, but was still struggling to incorporate all of the elements.
“Even though I wanted to incorporate a kitchen into the design, I just didn’t think we had the room,” Davis said.
But Paragon Solutions reworked the design in order to fit a kitchen and beer cave, and still achieve the open feel Davis wanted. The new store is 3,500 square feet, compared to the previous 2,000-square-foot store.
The previous store’s layout created space challenges on the sales floor, and customers would often bump into merchandise when they entered the store due to the close quarters.
“It was an old service station, and the majority of the space wasn’t used on the sales floor,” Davis said. “We wanted the feel of just coming in and having freedom to choose where you go and be able to see (the whole store). Now, right when you walk in, the layout is open, and you can see the coolers. You can see where the fountain is. You can locate everything.”
Today, the store features a smoothie machine and a bean-to-cup coffee area that stands out as a destination within the store. The previous site didn’t offer foodservice, so adding the small kitchen proved a welcomed change. The foodservice station features both prepared foods and grab-and-go meals, along with TV menu boards that feature its pizza, chicken and breakfast burrito offering.
Davis Oil removed some cooler doors to better fit the beer cave, as well as an open-air craft beer cooler that sits right outside the beer cave to meet a growing demand for craft beer offerings in the neighborhood.
“We’ve only been open for maybe four weeks, but (beer sales) are picking up quick,” Davis said.
Davis Oil also wanted the design to reflect who it is as a chain and how it’s rooted in the community. The chain used the slogan “your local spot,” even including the phrase on the wall of the c-store in various areas, including above the cooler doors.
“We’ve always been known as that local c-store that the community uses instead of a big highway location, so we embraced who we are, and I think that slogan kind of brought it home for us,” Davis said.
Davis said he made it clear his top priority was “clean, clean, clean” design. As part of that direction, he eliminated labeling above various segments — like the word “beer” above the beer cave. The cooler section received a complete makeover to give it a simplified appearance.
As a self-described “marketing person,” Davis struggled with the decision whether to rebrand the chain under a new banner name or continue to call the convenience stores ‘C-Store.’
“When my grandpa came up with the name ‘C-Store’ 50-some years ago, it was creative,” Davis said. But the Davis brothers wrestled with whether it was too generic a name heading into 2021. In the end, they decided to continue with their tried-and-true banner name.
“In our local towns, when people speak of the c-store, they speak of us. And it’s hard to beat 55 years of established branding; and after all, I embraced it,” he said.
The chain did tweak the logo to give it a modern feel, and it’s now rolling the updated logo out to all 20 of its locations.
“This is the first of hopefully many refreshes that we’re going to continue to do,” Davis said.
Already, Davis Oil is set to open another location using the same prototype design in a 4,000-square-foot space in 2021. It expects to incorporate elements of the design into all stores. The ‘your local spot’ slogan graphics, for example, will roll out to all locations.
Davis Oil plans to do a complete rebuild of one store per year over the next five years. Stores on the list for a rebuild will get an immediate “branding light” refresh as they wait for their full raze-and-rebuild. Newer sites that aren’t scheduled for a raze-and-rebuild will be getting a full rebrand to incorporate the new logo, graphics and design.
As for customers and employees, “They’ve been blown away with the design. It’s night and day from what the store was. It’s been nothing but positive feedback,” Davis said. “The positivity that’s going on around our company as a whole is at an all-time high.”