Each month, CSP is excited to spotlight the coolest designs on the convenience-store landscape. In this issue, we feature a futuristic, contemporary prototype by Clackamas, Ore.-based Space Age Fuel. Don Nelson, general manager of Space Age’s travel center, shares insights into the company’s new concept and how it takes more than just a shiny new veneer to build a great brand.
Photo by Steven Haning. See more below.
Q: Many in our industry may not be familiar with Space Age Fuel. Can you share a brief history of the company and how long it has been operating convenience stores?
A: Space Age Fuel Inc. was started in 1982 by father and son Hal and Jim Pliska. It began when they purchased an ARCO distributorship. The company slowly moved away from the ARCO brand and started its own in an effort to expand its business. Over the past 33 years, Hal and Jim have expanded their retail stores from two to more than 20 locations through acquisition and new construction, including our travel center in Hermiston, Ore. The Space Age Fuel business consists of retail petroleum, c-stores, wholesale marketing, transportation and—something totally unrelated—hotel operations.
Q: Space Age is a neat name. Where did you come up with the name and concept?
A: We didn’t want to go with the standard last-name oil company. We were looking for something that would establish our brand name and differentiate ourselves from the competition.
Q: Your latest design features a number of interesting details. Tell us about the key differentiators. What makes your concept unique?
A: We wanted to update the look and also increase the functionality of the store, all in hopes of increasing sales and profit. We had a “feel-good experience” in mind when we redesigned our store. We expanded our aisle widths and broadened our offerings by eliminating unproductive space.
We also wanted to foster an environment that lets customers stay as long as they’d like. For that, we designed bar seating areas with charging stations and free Wi-Fi that invite our traveling customers to stay a while. We believe that when customers feel good while in our stores, which includes offering them inviting shopping areas and good selections, they are likely to buy more products.
Most of our customers are on the go and need to make a quick stop for food and refreshments. Our concept features both hot and cold ready-to-eat foods such as our Bob Evans biscuits and gravy dispensers, a self-serve hot case that offers a selection of both breakfast and lunch items, a self-serve roller grill, and our featured item: giant-sized, freshly made pastries. Fresh sandwiches, fruits and desserts items complement our quick-grab offerings.
While we are a travel center and our truck traffic is very important to us, we wanted to make sure we shed any stereotypical images travelers may have of a truckstop. Lighting, signage and safety were key items in helping us make our design decisions. So we designed easy-to-locate, large, multiple-customer restrooms with clean new tile, modern fixtures and lighting that travelers, including women and families, look for when choosing the location at which to stop.
Improving the image and appeal of our point-of-sale checkout area was another key element of our redesign. We have eliminated the clutter and enhanced our countertop displays and impulse items. Having families in mind, our objective was to de-emphasize the tobacco marketing. We installed new low-profile racks, which help us keep the tobacco products below the customers’ focus point.
To differentiate ourselves from other convenience stores, we have designed areas for fun novelty items and souvenirs that customers will remember and find both amusing and unique. Our goal is to make our store a true destination for travelers and local customers alike, whether they are traveling long or short distances.
One more thing: Our A&W restaurant was refreshed with new graphics and finishes, and it offers friendly choices for the entire family. A&W carries a certain nostalgia for customers who remember their old local A&W drive-thru back when they were young. We capitalize on that nostalgia by offering traditional soda-fountain-style frosty-mug draft root beer, ice-cream treats, famous burgers and more.
Q: How does your newest prototype advance your brand and existing models?
A: One of our key objectives was to establish a quality coffee program with a brand identity that customers could relate to. After considering several options, we chose Coffee Planet as our preferred concept. The name plays well with our Space Age name and design concept. Coffee Planet not only has new graphics, but we also installed new countertops, new equipment and concept lighting that has a modern industrial and futuristic feel. We have reimaged and installed the Coffee Planet concept and design in our other stores.
But establishing a brand means more than just cool design and graphics. We wanted to deliver a high-quality offer. To accomplish this, we chose the Douwe Egberts on-demand coffee system, which offers excellent coffee without any brewing. This not only saves our employees time but also makes a consistent cup of coffee with each pull of the handle.
Q: Who are your core customers, and how will your newest design grow or differentiate your base?
A:Our customer base is very diverse, consisting of freeway travelers, locals and long-distance truck drivers. All share some common needs but also have slightly different needs. Such a diverse group of customers can be challenging, to say the least. At Space Age, we believe that our stores should look like a grand opening every day. We accomplish this by counting on the strength of our employees’ expertise. We value their ideas and encourage them to contribute to the overall success of our business. We strive to hire employees who have great personalities to make our customers want to return.