Smart Money 'Idea Lab'

Marketer details visit to CITGO's Retail Concept Center

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

A coffee barista maintains the coffee bar in CITGO’s
concept store.

CARY, N.C. -- After visiting CITGO's new retail "laboratory" in Houston, Paul Stephenson felt his advisory role to his network of dealers and independent retailers had gotten that much stronger.

A distributor with Cary Oil Co., Cary, N.C., Stephenson saw the 4,500 square-foot site--which opened last spring--as a way for his network of retailers to better understand up-and-coming concepts and technologies without having to commit anything up front.

"For many [retailers], it's time to spend money… but smart money," Stephenson told CSP Daily News. "This is a way to show what is and what isn't proven."

CSP magazine featured Houston-based CITGO's recently opened Retail Concept Center in its July issue , covering the refiner's ongoing fuel-only approach to retail while still challenging its network of operators to continually innovate.

Stephenson provided a question-and-answer session with CSP Daily News to offer his fresh perspective:

Q: So what were your initial impressions of the CITGO lab store?

A: I was very impressed. Being a concept center, it was very versatile in how they could move things around. Gondolas had wheels, so everything was very movable. That makes sense not only for cleaning purposes but to quickly adjust merchandising.

I liked the tracks above the cooler doors for signage. If you reset the cooler, you could simply move the signs rather than [redo] a full implementation for signage.

Q: What in-store programs stood out for you?

A: I was interested in their condiment bar, in that they had a nice selection, but they left room for growth. It was actually a good balance. They didn't overdo it.

I liked the coffee area and their use of urns instead of decanters. I also liked how it was next to the pastries, which made a lot of sense. And the coolest thing was a [rating device] so customers could tell them how fresh their coffee was. That was something unique and allowed the customer to communicate [to managers] without involving personnel.

Q: Store designers really had innovation in mind. What else did you see that spoke to that?

A: They were developing the store for technologies to come. For example, they had extra wiring and conduits running to the fueling island because you don't know what kind of payment technology you'll have in three, five or seven years.

And they had the LIFT (or new "upselling") technology, which is getting popular now. And again, it provides us feedback on new technology without us having to spend a fortune.

Q: So how will the concept store help you?

A: I'm looking forward to getting feedback that we can give to our retailers. I can say, CITGO has tested this interactive, LIFT communication with the consumer and it works. But it's also important that [CITGO] make sure they run tests long enough to see if [retailers] can make a profit by utilizing the program.

Q: How important is it for retailers to continue to innovate and reinvest in their businesses?

A: If they want to make money, they have to be open to new ideas, new concepts, the next thing coming down the road. If you stay in one place, you're not going forward with profit. You're going negative.

For more on the Retail Concept Center located near the CITGO headquarter building in Houston, see the July 2013 issue of CSP magazine.

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