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Musings on this year’s Mystery Shop winner’s new format stores

AUBURN, Mass. -- During a recent excursion to interview the leadership team of this year’s CSP/Service Intelligence Mystery Shop winner, Cumberland Farms Convenience Stores, it was suggested that I meet vice president of retail operations Paul Freeman at Cumby’s newest store in Auburn, Mass. It wasn’t difficult to find, even for this directionally challenged, driving-phobic New Yorker; I could spot the tell-tale bright, white structure from a half-mile away, beaming across the suburban sprawl. Cumberland Farms coffee

From the outside, the location was everything you’d expect from a new-format convenience store: clean, impressively spacious forecourt, plenty of parking despite a nice morning-rush crowd and plenty of attractive signage beckoning drivers to check out the inside of the store.

At first glance, the inside of the store was reminiscent of newer-format stores I’ve seen elsewhere. Like the expansive downtown Manhattan location 7-Eleven opened last summer, Cumberland Farms’ Auburn location features a stylish look with concrete floors, wider aisles and shorter merchandising shelves. There is ample space for made-to-order foodservice and a focus on the high-tech, including digital signage and touchscreen kiosks for custom sandwiches and coffee.

But it didn’t take long to notice some great perks that were clearly unique to Cumberland Farms. Some of the more notable takeaways for this reporter included:

Private Label Reigns Supreme: Perhaps not surprising for a company with roots in the dairy business, there was no shortage of private-label treats. Yes, there was the expected milk and ice cream, but Cumberland Farms has taken its private-label business far beyond dairy and other traditional c-store staples. How about Cumberland Farms-branded coffee K-cups? Or trail mix in more than five different flavors? Looking for something sweet? Cumberland Farms has got an entire line of gourmet-looking chocolates that I can testify taste fantastic. (Their dark-chocolate, mint-cookie combo was my personal favorite; I’d tell you the exact name, but that wrapper is long-gone!)

Customization Is Key: Freeman joked that no two customers make their coffee the same way. Perhaps that’s because Cumberland Farms offers literally thousands of combinations, whether you’re mixing different coffee blends, creamers or flavor shots. This customization extends beyond coffee: There’s an entire bar of proprietary sauces for various foodservice offerings (many Cumberland Farms customers and employees use them as pretzel dips), a massive condiment bar for hot dogs and nachos, as well as Cumberland Farms’ signature Chill Zone beverage center, where many consumers concoct their own blends of soda and frozen beverages.

A Consumer-First Experience: The Auburn location is apparently the first to feature back-loading coffee urns. This little detail allows Cumberland Farm team members to refill the coffee from behind the counter, staying out of consumers’ way. Throughout the store, there’s ample little details that might go unnoticed, but help improve the overall experience:

  • Large, expansive bathrooms
  • A seating counter adjacent to a magazine rack that seems to call out for patrons to sit and stay a while
  • The foodservice side separated from the “traditional” c-store merchandise side so that those on the go can get in-and-out while those consumers looking for a more QSR-type experience can enjoy it

Quite A Crowd: Perhaps these little touches explain the wonderfully diverse crowd patronizing this particular Cumberland Farms location when I visited: old and young (and in-between), male and female, white collar, blue collar and stay-at-home moms. I’d be hard pressed to peg just one group as the predominant “crowd.” We talk a lot in this industry about appealing to women, appealing to millennials, appealing to other groups outside of “bubba” (and without isolating bubba); Cumberland Farms seems to have found the magic touch.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name: Cumberland Farms puts a huge emphasis on its team members in the stores, and this may sound a little cheesy, but my time in the store showed it’s more than just talk. Freeman and his corporate counterparts were on a first-name basis with every associate working that day, bragging on their various successes during the store’s brief lifespan. More than that, several customers were also on a first-name basis with the folks behind the counter. It’s one thing to say a company puts its employees first; it’s one thing to name-drop in front of “the media,” but the camaraderie I witnessed between the store team, corporate team and consumers that day? Well that’s something that just can’t be faked.

Read more about Cumberland Farms’ Mystery Shop success in the August issue of CSP Magazine.

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