CSP Magazine

Grand Opening: Loop Neighborhood

Five questions about AU Energy's latest new build

AU Energy LLC and Vintners Distributors have created one of the industry’s most innovative retail concepts, Loop Neighborhood. This network of 23 stores in California, launched in 2013, features a modernized aesthetic and an emphasis on fresh, trend-driven products. We recently interviewed COO Pervez Pir about the company’s latest new build.

Q: AU Energy is a sizable fuel distributor. What propelled the company to create Loop, and were there other concepts that inspired yours?

A: First and foremost, we have great locations but didn’t have a brand name to leverage the scale. Second, we believed there was a need in California to redefine the convenience business. The task wasn’t to just put a brand name up but to determine what we would stand for.

As for other concepts: No, we didn’t replicate anything out in the marketplace. Of course, in all our travels we have gotten great ideas and seen unique concepts that inspired us, but nothing that was similar to Loop.

Q: Because of California’s land costs and available space, there are several Loop concepts with different footprints and plan-o-grams. What are the key anchors that unify them, and what are some of the differentiating features?

A: All Loops are unified by offering great-tasting food and an exceptional customer experience. All have indulgent offerings such as hot foods (e.g., chicken wings, waffle fries, chicken tenders, etc.) and a healthy selection of better-for-you chips and snacks.

Furthermore, all Loops are part of the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), so they offer fresh fruit, meals under 500 calories and healthier drinks and snacks.

Lastly, all Loops offer espresso and other specialty coffee drinks, a full selection of pastries and a full-serve frozen-yogurt offering. The offerings that separate Loops based on space and demographics would be a full salad bar and soup.

Q: What distinguishes your latest design from some of the earlier rollouts?

A: Our stores range from 2,000 to 3,200 square feet, so based on the location, our offerings can vary. To maximize space, we started to build basements and training rooms on top of the store. This gave us the sellable space we needed and storage space.

Also, we have value-engineered the gondolas, floors and other equipment to lower costs and improve durability. Our lighting is much more efficient and brighter than before, showcasing products to greater effect. From an operations standpoint, we have shortened the space from refrigerators or freezers to cooking equipment so that employee movement is more efficient. These may sound like small steps, but they greatly improve productivity and labor efficiency.

Q: In addition to your offering, the store itself really stands out architecturally. Can you elaborate on what inspired the design, from the glass exterior to the interior lighting?

A: We built the store around the customers we wanted to target as well as the core customer that helped build the c-store business. Our store is divided into two sections. One side is focused on our core customer who has been visiting us for years. Their section has the grill, energy drinks, snacks, candy and the restrooms.

The other side is for the new customer who is looking for fresh, healthy, good-for-you

items. From the time they enter, the freshness cues are all around them. We have a deli case front and center with fruit offerings around it and a pastry case that is filled with Danish, muffins, madeleine cookies, etc.

As you continue to go deeper into the store, you come across a salad bar, soup, wine display and a self-serve espresso machine. Both sides of the store connect where we have coffee, frozen yogurt, fountain and other proprietary items. We added white subway tiles to again shout fresh, and all foodservice items are set up as full-serve vs. self-serve.

We built the sales counter in the center of the store vs. a corner. The intent is to be able to serve our customers no matter where they are shopping around the store and to shout fresh. We placed all of our foodservice offerings around this sales island. You can see exactly what the employee is doing, from cooking or warming up your food to wearing gloves to serve you.

Q: In our industry, we’re seeing more companies embrace sustainability and heathier-for-you food choices. Loop has embraced both. Why are these core values so important to the company?

A: We are invested in better-for-you and sustainability. Some of the things we have done and continue to try and do are grass lawn on the rooftop, bike racks for our employees and patrons, three different types of trash cans (recycling, trash and compost) and parking spots for electric vehicles in the front.

We started with who our current customer was and who we wanted to target. We wanted to add to our base with Gen Y and female audiences. In order to do that, we had to know more about them and what they are looking for.

Our future customers are looking for healthy grab-and-go options, and companies that are socially conscious and invest in the community. Whether we are opening in an urban market, rural market or industrial market, we believe everyone deserves to have healthy options available to them at a reasonable price. We want to break the stigma that convenience stores can’t be healthy or only offer junk food. If someone wants to indulge, we have what they need; and if they want to eat something healthy, we have the perfect salad for them.


STORE STATS

Store: Loop Neighborhood convenience store

Location: 2876 El Portal Drive, San Pablo, Calif.

Population: 129,139

Square footage: 3,200

Pump count: 4

Designer: MSA Architecture and Design

Key attributes:

  • Three trash bins for waste, recycling and compost
  • Parking spots for electric cars
  • Salad bars at select locations
  • Member of Partnership for a Healthier America

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