With nearly 40,000 “owners,” Columbia, Mo.-based cooperative MFA Oil Co. has a lot riding on the new prototype for its Break Time retail concept. The 5,000-square-foot site in Lee’s Summit, Mo., features a new logo and fresh exterior that unites the fuel island and store. Curtis Chaney, senior vice president of retail operations, shared insights into the company’s spacious, food-forward new store.
Q: What’s the history of MFA Oil and the Break Time brand?
A: MFA Oil Co. is a farmer-owned cooperative that concentrates on the energy needs of farmers in 11 states where we operate. Break Time convenience stores began in 1985 with the acquisition of a small local chain and has generally served rural areas in Missouri. We operate 74 locations in Missouri and Arkansas.
Q: Your new location has an open, customer-centered interior. How did your design enhance previous iterations, and what are your major drivers?
A: With this design we wanted to create a store that is open and inviting to customers, where upon entry, they could see all of our offerings, from the typical convenience items to the Smokestack Bar.B.Q.
In the past, our foodservice offerings were tucked away in the corner and the consumer had to navigate around sandwich cases and cabinets with roller grills and food warmers to get to our fresh offering. In this location, the first thing you see as you come through the automatic doors is our Smokestack Bar.B.Q. The path is direct to this area, but the sight lines allow customers to see other food offerings. This is also the second location where we have installed automatic doors to our beer cave, making it easier for our customers to haul cases. The removal of all bulkheads from previous designs, raising the ceiling height to 11 feet and painting it black, really opens the store and gives the customer the feel that they are walking into a much larger facility.
The use of stained concrete floors with a high-sheen finish also allows for the lights to reflect off the floor, making for a brighter atmosphere. In the past we used a floor tile, which is durable but can be a maintenance nightmare.
We also moved the checkout from the store center to the side, once again creating more space and inviting the customer to peruse without feeling pressure to make an immediate transaction.
Q: You also have a car wash on this lot. What role do you see it playing?
A: I feel that not only are the washes a separate profit center, but they are a marketing tool that can help influence someone to shop your location. We offer a 20-cent discount per fuel gallon when you purchase a wash. Fuel purchasing is sometimes emotional, especially when prices are volatile, so customers who purchase a wash get the satisfaction of a clean car and a savings on their fuel purchase.
Q: If a customer were coming to your new store for the first time and wanted to know what makes Break Time unique, how would you respond?
A: The most obvious thing is the use of our new Break Time logo. We have worked with (advertising agency) GS&F out of Nashville on a new branding concept, and this is the first location where we have used our new logo and mark. We are exploring further ways to use the logo across the chain.
I know that other c-stores and gas stations offer barbecue. However, our Smokestack Bar.B.Q program is simple and easy to train, which enhances the quality and consistency of the product. Being close to Kansas City, we know the quality has to be great. We have been pleased with our sales so far and will be
extending this program to other newly built stores, as well as identifying locations we will remodel to add Smokestack.
With our latest design, I believe we’ve created a truly open space for customers to feel welcome, where there’s a “wow” factor—as in, “Wow, this isn’t like other convenience stores.”
Another thing that makes us unique is being part of MFA Oil. Most of our locations are in rural Missouri and many of our customers are members of our cooperative. In essence, many of our customers are also our owners. With over 40,000 members in our co-op, that is a lot of owners.
Q: A lot of thought went into your blueprint. Who were the key players involved?
A: Our ultimate goal was to build a store that was aesthetically pleasing to the eye but also functional and easy to maintain.
We looked at the concept that we were using and deciding what we wanted to keep. It was pretty easy to stay with the external box, but once we started looking at the inside of the store, we made significant changes. Several of the ideas originated from concepts I had used in new stores prior to coming to Break Time (side checkouts, floor-to-ceiling glass at the front, higher ceilings, automatic doors, etc.) but we combined those with items from our previous Break Time designs and spent lots of time discussing how these ideas would mesh.
We used Simon Associates from Columbia, Mo., to draw our plans, but the majority of the ideas and direction came from our staff and what we had used in the past, plus what we had seen and liked in other retailers, not just convenience stores.
Q: What are your retail plans going forward?
A: We actually had completed a store remodel that mimicked the open concept while we were working on the drawings for this location. We liked the way that they turned out so we decided that we would take those features and add the taller ceiling and more glass to the front of our stores.
We just reopened a location in Clinton, Mo., that is a mirror image of the location in Lee’s Summit—same square footage and same offerings minus the car wash. We are working on a 6,000-square-foot location that will have truck fueling, showers and Smokestack Bar.B.Q with seating for 30 and a drive-thru window.
Across our retail network, we are completing an upgrade to our fountain and coffee offerings in May. The upgrade not only includes new equipment, but also updated graphics. The enhancements have breathed new life into some tired locations.
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