Energizing the Store

Newly opened Power Mart sends upscale jolt to conventional format

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

PALOS HEIGHTS, Ill. -- Sam Odeh is tired of selling pop and candy bars—at least to the degree sold at the average convenience store. With his new, upscale location in a Chicago suburb, he is targeting a new level of clientele, offering a vivid, upscale mix of wines, ethnic-influenced foods and a splash of retail theater with 5-by-20-foot automated signs that use rotating slats to alternate between three images. The new Power Mart store also features a fully automated car wash, an environmentally friendly building design and alternative fuels at the pump.

Click hereto view a slide show of the store.

"I wanted to divorce myself from the conventional c-store categories," Odeh, CEO and chairman of Power Mart, Oak Brook, Ill., told CSP Daily News. "We don't have the traditional cooler and snack set."

To that end, Odeh made distinct choices. He purposely chose not to go with certain standard vendors, opting to for greater flexibility with his cooler and shelf sets. Architecturally, he went with protruding, circular coolers; hardwood floors; and sky lights. The airy feel, along with the rotating signs, are meant to create an upscale impression, all around the theme of movement.

At his grand opening in April, Odeh assembled his employees and area dignitaries, including Palos Heights Mayor Bob Straz, to help inaugurate the $3 million location. "It's a nice setup for retailing—where you used to have service stations, this is retail," Straz told CSP Daily News. "It's clean, crisp and has a variety of foodservice [offers]. It's definitely not your average mini-mart with premade sandwiches."

Part of the reason Odeh, who spent years in the industry working under the Mobil flag, took such a radical departure was the cost of his investment. "If I'm going to spend $3 million on a location, I don't want to be selling [products] that don't have margins," he said. "I want to set up a platform to sustain margins no matter what the economy."

While he won't completely ignore the coffee crowd or the shopper looking for the single-serve bottle of soda, those sets are minimal. He has a strong coffee set to the store's right, and in the center, an open cooler for beverages. To the left as customers enter are two large, wooden shelving units of wine and liquor. He describes the destination as having "adult core products," referring to the alcohol, as well as the hot-and-cold gourmet foods and the ready-to-take-home meals.

One supplier on hand, a maker of boutique soaps, said she was a little concerned when asked to put her products in a c-store. "My soaps sell for $5 to $18, and I wasn't sure it would go over," said Tricia Murphy who runs City Soaps in Chicago. "But Sam said his would be a different concept."

The site also uses technology to deliver promotional messages, offer coupons and manage the car wash. In the dispensers, Odeh has installed in-pump TV screens. The pumps are also equipped to deliver coupons. And at the car wash, the point-of-sale device can take cash, credit and even scan coupons.

Odeh has also stepped into the realm of "going green," having installed skylights in the facility's buildings, a centralized utility system for energy efficiency and an oil separator so that oil used in the kitchen's ovens can be recycled into biodiesel. At the pumps, he sells alternative fuels.

"He really has 'green' on his mind," said Joan Patricia Murphy, a Cook County, Ill., commissioner. "He's doing great things to help the environment."

All in all, Odeh's concept takes the financial challenges of running a modern c-store and reworks the economics, investing big in foodservice and technology to make the 2,150-square-foot box deliver a solid return. "Bigger does not mean better," he said. "I can have double the SKUs in half the space by eliminating a lot of the traditional c-store products, which tends to take up a lot of space."

Odeh has plans to build more five more sites by 2010, ranging from 3,600 square feet up to 5,000. The larger format store will be a $5 million concept that could include a bakery, deli, standalone restaurant and car wash.

[To read more about Odeh's Power Mart concept, watch for the July issue of CSP magazine.]

Angel Abcede, CSP/Winsight By Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP
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