The architectural aspects of a space play a big role in an overall retail experience. For example, higher ceilings help to create a more dramatic sense of place when used in concert with lower ceiling elements that help define and feature specific areas of importance like an open kitchen or seating area.

In addition, more retailers and their design constituents are opting to stay away from cookie-cutter architectural designs. “We tend to avoid thinking about the use of specific materials so that after several years we don’t find multiple chains that have incorporated red brick buildings with red awnings,” Bona says.

Having said that, Bona says the use of natural materials like brick, stone and composite wood-like materials are all part of the kit that he explores when trying to create unique architectural styles that help elevate a brand.

“It’s not about individual materials themselves; rather, it’s how they are used in concert with architectural styling, branding, lighting and how we want to visually stand out from the competition,” Bona says.

Geering adds that there is an overall spirit of innovation in the c-store industry right now. All the challenges that came with being a retailer in 2020 have many viewing their core values and customers in new ways.

“The number of new lab stores or in-store features has increased as customers have engaged the brands through apps, providing feedback and data,” Geering says. “It allows tailers to make data-driven design choices that target in-store experience directly to consumers’ needs. C-stores are also leveraging technology with self-checkouts and cashier-less technology, which increases customer convenience and helps alleviate issues with labor shortage.”