10 C-Store Design Tips for 2018
CHICAGO -- Tiffany Gamble loves Wyoming.
Her family’s Hat Six Travel Center in Evansville, Wyo., has a retro-cowboy vibe, embracing an independent, Western mindset. “The whole design is meant to be Wyoming,” she says. “Everyone here loves their state.”
The enthusiasm she uses to describe the 18,000-square-foot travel center illustrates a quality needed for a successful store design in 2018: authenticity.
“Authenticity is about what the menu board looks like, what tile is on the wall, merchandising, touch points, all of that has to work together,” says Joseph Bona, president of Bona Design Lab, New York. “Together it curates that story, makes it believable.”
To help retailers stay ahead of the pack, CSP offers 10 design tips from both chains and independents, and people succeeding in both digital and brick-and-mortar.
Tip 1: Authenticity
Today’s consumer wants a space that’s genuine and unique, such as Hat Six Travel Center in Evansville, Wyo. Murals of prairie farm homes, mountains and vintage pickup trucks are mounted above cooler doors, while cowboy boots and rancher’s rope are on sale at the counter. At Hooch’s Bar and Drive-Thru within the complex, guitars and other country-themed elements continue the Western theme.
Photograph courtesy of Hat Six Travel Center
Tip 2: Everything works together
No specific tile or lighting fixture will work everywhere, but the goal is harmony, says Bona of Bona Design Lab. With Salt Lake City-based Maverik, its “Adventure’s First Stop” mantra manifests itself in store murals and suspended mannequins dressed in ski gear. Employees, many of whom bike to work, talk about their outdoorsy lifestyles, says Bona.
Photograph by David Newkirk
Tip 3: Visual cues are crucial
Elements such as menu boards that convey depth of the food offer or signage saying “Beer” or “Quench” over coolers help the retail space become intuitive, says Bona.
Design can also help build customer rapport. If it’s a city setting, for instance, “design has to deliver that floor tile, the open ceilings, the barista area that makes it feel like an urban space,” he says. “Customers think, ‘They get me, they know what I want and it feels right.’ ” Chicago-based Foxtrot, with its high ceilings, eclectic seating and gourmet offerings, does just that.
Photograph courtesy of Foxtrot
Tip 4: Raise the bar
Cross-channel competitors are raising customer expectations for how good a store looks and feels, pushing c-store operators to go on the offensive. For Brian McKee, vice president of finance and new-store construction for the 22-store Pak-A-Sak chain based in Amarillo, Texas, the competition is at a fever pitch. “We are saturated in this local region with, for lack of a better word, really ‘nice’ stores,” McKee says. “Customers in this area are used to having nice stores. So we have to continue to up our game to stand out.”
Photograph courtesy of Pak-A-Sak
Tip 5: Think Interactive
Technology is bringing interactivity into more areas of the store, expanding the customer experience. For Alan Meyer, CEO of Meyer Oil and their Mach 1 stores based in Teutopolis, Ill., touchscreen pads on frozen-treat and bean-to-cup-coffee dispensers play up the experiential elements of the store.
Photograph courtesy of Meyer Oil
Tip 6: Push variety and customization
Retailers use both digital and physical options to offer variety and the ability for customers to have it their way, as with the food-ordering kiosks at this Dash In store in La Plata, Md. “Experience is everything,” says Michael Lawshe, president and chief customer experience officer of Paragon Solutions, Fort Worth, Texas. “If you create a memorable experience, people will come back.”
Photograph by Hammond Photography
Tip 7: Nurture connection
Welcoming spaces can engender connection and affinity for a store among area residents. For Kelli Jackson, owner of Hank’s Mini Market in Los Angeles, the reinvention of her father’s corner store and bringing healthier foods into an urban food desert combined to create community. “That’s what works for us,” she says.
Photograph courtesy of Sweetgreen
Tip 8: Make space
For retailers like TriStar Energy in Nashville, seating areas are a strong visual cue for burgeoning foodservice programs. “Again, it’s about the experience,” Lawshe of Paragon says. “It’s not just landscaping, but seating, environmental efforts, specialty lighting, whether [customers] are eating or just resting.”
Photograph by Brian Bruzewski
Tip 9: Drive-thru momentum
Drive-thrus could be gaining traction beyond fast feeders such as Seattle-based Starbucks. McKee of Pak-A-Sak says his chain has 11 years of experience with drive-thrus, which today contribute 30% of in-store sales. “People like to stay in their cars rather than wait in line in the store,” he says.
Photograph by Bob Phillips
Tip 10: Digital transformation
The digital age is reinventing the retail landscape, with Seattle-based Amazon starting its own retail empire with Amazon Go. Now expanding into Chicago and San Francisco, Amazon Go, with its no-check-out, just-walk-out technology, has kept the store visit but eliminated the need to physically pay for goods.
Next: Creating Authenticity
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