Convenience stores and gas stations have traditionally welcomed the public to use their restrooms, with the hope people will purchase snacks, beverages, tobacco and other products as well as fill their tanks on their way out.
That goal still rings true; however, new c-store designs oftentimes turn bathrooms into must-see sights. For example, the Buc-ee’s c-store and gas station chain, with more than 40 locations throughout the South, has long received accolades for its upscale restrooms. Several other companies also have been cited for their restroom designs, including Wally’s, which received CStore Decisions’ Restroom Award last year.
But you don’t have to invest in a major restroom renovation to benefit from a clean reputation. As evidenced by the 2023 Healthy Handwashing Survey by the Bradley Corp., a commercial washroom consulting firm, restroom conditions play a distinguishing role in today’s c-store marketplace.
According to the 2022 National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS)/NielsenIQ Convenience Industry Store Count, the number of convenience stores in the U.S. last year totaled slightly more than 148,000. Even if each retailer only housed two single-stall, gender-specific restrooms, that’s 296,000 bathrooms across the country. Of course, a growing percentage of larger sites offer customers multistall restrooms as well as separate family and/or gender-neutral facilities, thereby accommodating exponentially larger numbers of customers. Such heavy traffic emphasizes the demand for managers and employees to maintain clean and inviting restrooms.
Beyond the logistics and regulatory issues related to keeping a healthy environment, users’ impressions of restrooms can drive up or depress in-store sales. More than half of the respondents to the handwashing survey confirmed an untidy facility would influence whether or not they would revisit a specific business. Conversely, 60% agreed they would be more inclined to give repeat business to an establishment that offered clean and well-maintained restrooms. The same percentage said they would probably spend more money in stores with well-kept restrooms.
At Simon Xpress in Warren, Mich., staff are required to clean the restrooms every 15 minutes.
“With COVID-19, people are more curious about restrooms. If you don’t have clean bathrooms, people might question the cleanliness of where food is prepared, for example,” said Faiz Simon, president of Island Lane Capital, which owns the store and 14 other sites under a different banner name.
When designing Simon Xpress, which won the CStore Decisions 2023 Best New Store Design Award, he chose restroom fixtures that minimize contact.
“Everything is touchless. Customers have the option to use towels or blower — both are touchless. The faucet and toilet are touchless. Even the doors are touchless and can be opened with your foot,” he said.
According to the Bradley Corp. survey, 82% of adults think touchless fixtures and towel dispensers or dryers are important contributors to handwashing hygiene.
Last summer, Nouria Energy Corp. deployed a customer-feedback initiative by posting placards with a QR code on the back of restroom doors. When scanned, people are prompted to answer three questions: Were you satisfied? If not, what was the issue? Would you refer us to a friend?
“It’s a quick way to get feedback with people using their own devices and lets guests know we care about them. We’ve had comments like, ‘We will buy something from your foodservice because the restroom was so clean.’ It also lets us know when we fail and where we can be better,” said John Pszeniczny, director of operations for the Massachusetts-based company that operates 170 stores in six states.
What’s more, other people are talking about your restrooms on much more public forums. Bloggers and influencers opine about the restrooms they encounter. Customers may lodge complaints on social media networks. Smartphone apps guide customers to — or away from — restrooms open to the public.
For example, Sit or Squat, developed by toilet paper manufacturer Charmin, contains 100,000 map listings of restrooms available to the public. Users can assign a “sit” for a clean experience or “squat” for a less-than-clean experience. Such outlets show why keeping a clean reputation is more important, and potentially more profitable, than ever before.