CHICAGO -- Stack some stones, invest in a pallet of distressed wood and put foodservice on a pedestal: That’s the mantra of today’s c-store design. Of course, one must execute it well in order to reap the rewards of a next-generation prototype.
The editors of CSP pored over five years’ worth of Grand Openings to identify the key themes driving new-store design and the three areas in which retailers have successfully elevated the experience: a modernized forecourt, differentiated décor with unique fixtures and materials, and a heavy emphasis on foodservice.
We explored each Grand Opening for examples of these themes, devising a playbook for modernizing c-store design—be it a total overhaul or a small tweak, one gooseneck barn light at a time.
Pictured above: Space Age Fuel, Clackamas, Ore.
The streamlined forecourt
Sweeping canopies, on-brand materials and hints at the instore offer are all big trends driving forecourt design forward. Many retailers are emphasizing foodservice outside via signage on the storefront and at the pump, while others invite guests to stay awhile with appealing outdoor seating areas. Stacked stone, brick and timber have become forecourt fixtures, while lighting gravitates away from standard options and toward designs that fit the retailer’s theme. The fuel canopy itself is evolving from a mere respite from the weather and toward an extension of the brand’s aesthetic.
Rutter's Farm Stores
Rutter's Farm Stores, York Springs, Pa.
In 2015, York, Pa.-based Rutter’s Farm Stores shook things up in the c-store industry with its biggest store yet: a 9,100-square-foot “monument to convenience” in York Springs, Pa., featured in CSP in 2016. The store introduced branding and design changes to the company’s high-rising, monument sign and gas canopy. The curved canopy creates a signature design element unique to Rutter’s.
Lone Star Food Stores
Lone Star Food Stores, Denison, Texas
When Sherman, Texas-based Douglass Distributing remodeled one of its Lone Star Food Stores, featured in 2016, the company focused exterior signage on its foodservice concept, Mi Taco. “Although we wanted to have a drive-thru, it would have had to be hidden behind the store, so we opted instead for additional parking and a store size that accommodates a full kitchen,” said Lone Star CEO Diane McCarty.
Maverik, Draper, Utah
Salt Lake City-based Maverik’s brand positioning, as “Adventure’s First Stop,” announces itself as customers drive onto the lot, especially at its new format, featured in 2016. Pumps are emblazoned with adventure-sports photography; the new stores include outdoor seating as well.
Warmth: It’s an elusive design attribute for most retail spaces. C-stores, drug chains and grocers have all struggled to soften the in-store shopping experience. But many leading c-store retailers are making headway by focusing on unique building materials and accessories that also help differentiate their stores from others. Reclaimed wood, subway tiles, mosaics and stained concrete have all been added to the industry’s design palate, along with a broader spectrum of colors. These accents also serve as functional tools, guiding the customer through the store and to their destination.
Alon Brands, Rio Rancho, N.M.
The grand opening of Dallas-based Alon Brands’ 7-Eleven site in Rio Rancho, N.M., spotlighted in 2015, features “destination zones” accented by bold colors, catchy graphics and custom signage. The foodservice and wine areas are set apart with floor tiles different from those in the center store. And there is a drive aisle straight to the full-service food offerings.
Coen Oil/Ruff Creek Markets
Ruff Creek Markets, Weirton, W.Va.
Featured in 2015, Coen Oil’s Ruff Creek Markets features design materials that set it apart from a traditional c-store. The exterior features HardiPlank clapboard painted red to match the logo emblem, barn lights to highlight the logo, corrugated aluminum for the window awnings and stacked stone around the base of the building and pillars. Together, these materials evoke the rural, agrarian elements of the region’s history and culture, according to the Washington, Pa.-based company.
Ricker Oil Co.
Anderson, Ind.-based Ricker’s aims for an upscale atmosphere to help differentiate its stores. This site, featured in 2014, includes a French-inspired atrium clad in stone. Inside, “our store-within-a-store coffee area makes use of glass mosaic tile,” Ricker Oil President and CEO Quinn Ricker said at the time.
If modern c-store design reflects in-store sales, then retailers are right to put more emphasis on foodservice. Most new-store prototypes expand the square footage dedicated to the category, making space for touchscreen ordering, dine-in seating and a mix of grab-and-go and made-to-order offerings. Open-air coolers laden with meal options are often the first thing to greet guests as they walk through the doors, while strategic signage and pathways lead them straight to the highest profit center in the store. Beverage stations, meanwhile, are only getting bigger, with strong proprietary branding, high-end accents and freshness cues.
Space Age Fuel
Space Age Fuel, Hemiston, Ore.
Branding, placement and accessories all play a part in putting foodservice front and center at Space Age Fuel’s travel-center design, featured in 2015. One of its key objectives was to establish a quality coffee program with a strong brand identity. Clakamas, Ore.-based Space Age developed the Coffee Planet brand and outfitted it with new graphics, countertops, equipment and concept lighting that have an industrial, futuristic feel.
Spinx, Greenville, S.C.
Spinx opened a 6,800-square-foot convenience store in South Carolina in 2016 that was built for the chain’s foodservice expansion. The store features its Fresh on the Go program, dine-in seating, a made-to-order smoothie station and touchscreen kiosk ordering. “We wanted to allow our associates the right amount of space, based on industry best practices, to prepare our expanding menu of meal and snack choices,” Rick Glay, company operations excellence manager, told CSP when the store opened.
CST Brands/Corner Store
Corner Store, Floresville, Texas
In 2015, San Antonio-based CST Brands’ 5,900-square-foot store was a prime example of the large format, new-to-industry sites “that will help fuel the future of our company,” Tony Bartys, the chain’s COO, said at the time. As customers walk through the door, they see lunch-counter seating and a colorful interior in an easy-to-navigate design.