NEW YORK -- The aesthetic divining rod in the design of the Hat Six Travel Center is Wyoming and its pioneering, Wild West spirit.
Her family’s travel center has a retro-cowboy vibe. “The whole design is meant to be about Wyoming, the Western way, the cowboy way,” she says. “Everyone here loves their state.”
The enthusiasm she uses to describe the 18,000-square-foot Hat Six Travel Center illustrates a quality needed for a successful store design in 2018: authenticity.
Designer Joseph Bona, president of Bona Design Lab, New York, cites Salt Lake City-based Maverik as another retailer who has embraced authenticity in store design. 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.
Westborough, Mass.-based Cumberland Farms, which combines its warm, New England charm with a corresponding cottage-style architecture and cool, green color palette inside, is another retailer whose authenticity is reflected in its store design, he says.
For Brian McKee, vice president of finance and new-store construction for the 22-store Pak-A-Sak (pictured above) chain based in Amarillo, Texas, the competition for authenticity 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.”
While channeling regional flair won’t necessarily sell more corn dogs or cups of coffee, it can address the larger goal of connecting with customers.
“As we see the industry moving toward robust food and beverage offerings, customizable drinks and higher-quality, healthier options, it’s visual cues that help give credibility and, again, authenticity around the offer,” Bona says.
In a recent trip to Chicago, Bona visited the three-store Foxtrot chain. High ceilings; a dark, polished cement floor; gourmet cheeses and wines; and an eclectic seating area with cushy sofas, a long community table and furry circular chairs all exude a hip, urban vibe.
Cross-channel competitors such as fast-casual restaurants and local markets are designing their spaces with such high aesthetic standards that c-stores have no choice but to up their game, he says.
The job is difficult, Bona acknowledges. Big price signs, canopies and fuel pumps are c-store staples. But design can 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,” Bona says. “Customers think, ‘They get me, they know what I want and it feels right.’ ”
Photograph by Brandon Ball