It’s no secret to convenience retailers that saving on costs is crucial to succeeding in an increasingly competitive landscape. Energy efficiency upgrades can turn those pennies saved into pennies earned.
The energy savings hype is definitely focused on LED lighting — and with good reason. As the technology evolves and those fixtures become more efficient, it is even more important for operators to take advantage of those improvements.
“We’ve continued to focus on changing out most of the interior lighting on our remaining sites,” said Dan Soltis, vice president of real estate for Cima Developers, the construction arm of The PRIDE Stores, which operates 15 stores in the Chicagoland area and one in Indiana. “We’ve got, maybe, two left that we’re just going to wrap up before the end of the year here.”
Retrofitting newly acquired stores is at the top of the list for Charleston, S.C.-based
Charleston, S.C.-based Refuel Market has grown to 160 stores since 2018 through multiple acquisitions. Once Refuel buys a store, energy efficiency is one of the first priorities.
“What we do, absolutely, is any fluorescent tube lights that are in cooler doors, we replace them with LED strips,” said Mark Jordan, president and CEO of Refuel. “And any cooler door seals that aren’t perfect — literally, perfect — we replaced those seals. Those are two things that go without saying.”
But using more efficient LEDs in the cooler does more than save on costs. It can help move product, too, Jordan explained. The updated lighting makes for a more appealing product. He recalled a side-by-side cooler display at a trade show comparing fluorescents to LED lighting.
“It was like night and day,” he said.
The same result applies to a store’s exterior. Soltis said that The PRIDE Stores has begun converting its outside signage to LED. “So that’s been a pretty, fairly seamless process,” he said. “The contractors are taking care of all the ComEd rebate programs for us and then giving us the reduction in our invoicing. So that’s been easy to do.”
From Solar to HVAC
For its new builds, Refuel is all-in on LED lighting, converting “every single thing that is a light, even the parking lot lights,” to LEDs, Jordan explained. “We don’t do that deal that a lot of people do with the power company, like lease the parking lot lights from them over the years and all that. We put in the nicest, brightest LED lights we can — day one.”
To make its older convenience stores more energy efficient, Refuel has begun installing solar panels, starting with the least-efficient buildings. That’s where solar will save more in costs. To determine where to prioritize placing the solar panels, Refuel looks at the kilowatt-hours per store. “We would never install solar panels at the first (new build) store, it being the cheapest in kilowatt-hour costs.”
Don’t overlook replacing a store’s big power users, either. Older air conditioning rooftop units or other HVAC equipment can be big power consumers, which has been especially true at the older stores Refuel has acquired. Jordan explained that previous owners don’t always maintain them well, especially if they anticipate selling the store.
Soltis echoed that. “A lot of our sites are 20 years old,” he said. “Especially the ones that we purchased from BP years ago. So, as we change out the HVAC units, we’re obviously finding the most efficient HVAC units that we can change out.” The new units are also high-efficiency, he said. “So just by default, we’re getting the (savings) bumps in the efficiency.”
Affording those big-ticket items is easier for larger chains, but what can smaller operators and independents do to start tackling efficiency? Start small. The little things matter.
“When I was a smaller operator, starting with one store and all that, I didn’t really think about (energy efficiency) because cash was always a concern,” Jordan said. “But if you’ve got the ability to do it, you have to do it.”
Soltis noted that The PRIDE Stores continues with smaller savings efforts, like installing hand dryers and motion detectors in the bathrooms.
“I would start with the cooler,” Jordan advised. “If your cooler isn’t LED lit, and if your seals are not literally perfect, you’re just throwing away money.”