CRU Awards, Part 2: Branding

U-Gas builds destination for foodservice with Gigi's Fresh Cafe

Steve Holtz, Editor in Chief, CSP Daily News

[EDITOR'S NOTE: In January, CSP presented Convenience Retailing University Awards of Excellence to three retailers. The second of the three winners is 19-store chain U-Gas for branding.]

BARNHART, Mo. -- Drive up from the north, and it's a typical--if sizable--convenience store and gas station. But approach the U-Gas convenience store in Barnhart, Mo., from just about any other direction and what you see is an upscale quick-service restaurant.

Such is the intent of the U-Gas chain, which opened the 5,300-square-foot Barnhart site in 2008.

With foodservice showing success in driving traffic for the c-store industry, U-Gas created a second brand--Gigi's--that set the quick-service restaurant apart from the well-known local c-store brand.

"Gigi is actually a nickname for the maternal grandmother of the founder of the company," said Perry Cheatham, COO of U-Gas. "As he had kids, they couldn't say 'great grandmother' so they called her Gigi. So when we needed a name for this place, we decided to keep it in the family, and it gave it a folksy, homemade feel."

Outside, Gigi's Fresh Cafe stands out for its stone façade and classic restaurant color scheme. Inside, the cafe is set off from the main c-store by a short hallway, providing a separate atmosphere while remaining contiguous with the main store.

"We wanted to do something that was totally different than anything that anyone had ever seen in a gas station," Cheatham said, "something that looked very upscale, that people would want to bring their family to and enjoy themselves."

The food offering itself is a collection of comfort foods and down-home favorites, items like flat-bread pizza, oven-baked sandwiches, fresh salads, paninis and more reflect the "fresh cafe" branding while providing local customers a second reason to stop at the store.

"It's a neighborhood store, so it is the same consumer, but they might get their gas and coffee in the morning and come have dinner in the evening," Cheatham said. "So we get them for two times during the day or different times of the week for different purposes."

To date, only one of the 19 U-Gas locations includes a Gigi's Fresh Cafe, but the separate branding has taken on a second life as Gigi's Fresh Express, the chain's commissary-foodservice offering that brings packaged hoagies, salads, fresh fruit, chicken tenders, burgers and more to the c-stores.

"The commissary provides food to 22 stores," says Cheatham. "It's made fresh daily; it's delivered fresh daily. It's never frozen. It's a superior product for anywhere but especially for a convenience store or gas station."

It's a dual branding that has served U-Gas well, and helped the chain avoid the pitfalls of serving "gas station food."

Click here to view Part 1.

For complete coverage of CSP's Convenience Retailing University, watch for the March issue of CSP magazine.

Steve Holtz, CSP/Winsight By Steve Holtz, Editor in Chief, CSP Daily News
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