Let me start by saying that no amount of architecture, materials, store layout or color pallet can make up for an environment in which employees are unhappy.
At Ricker’s, our main focus is on providing a great work environment for our family. That being said, a component of having a great work environment for our people, and a place that attracts our customers, is a great-looking store. Our upscale atmosphere is a differentiator that we spend a lot of energy focusing on.
This is evident at our latest store design in Indianapolis. When Ricker’s builds a new store, we focus on the right store for the property. We choose from four basic designs, depending on where the store is and what it has inside it. Is it urban/ suburban or is it a rural store? Will it have foodservice? Our new store fell into urban/ suburban with foodservice, but there’s a catch. We’ll get back to that in a minute.
The Power of Brand
When you first pull onto our store’s lot, you notice the two-story, French-inspired atrium that is clad in stone. We like to use not just brick but stone in our stores, because we really feel this gives us an upscale look. Once you walk inside the store, you are treated to the same level of materials. What you encounter is a warm, modern feel where all the colors are tied together. We use a rich wood laminate to cover all our cabinets, walls are covered in subway tile, and our store-within-a-store coffee area makes use of glass mosaic tile. This all sounds expensive, and it definitely adds cost. We have been very thoughtful about the cost of the materials we use and where we use them in store.
At the same time that our customers subconsciously notice how nice the store feels, they also notice the branding. Design and materials alone don’t make a store upscale. Ricker’s competes with very large operators, such as Circle K and Speedway. We are a 50-store operator, and it’s important we look bigger than we are to compete effectively.
This is particularly important because our rewards program requires a lot of trust from our members. They provide us access to their checking accounts to get a discount at the pump. To earn this kind of trust, we have to look like and be a professional organization. What we can’t have is a great-looking site with in-store marketing that appears as if it was printed from a Windows 98 computer with 1993 clip art.
Ricker’s started this in-store branding initiative about three years ago. One of our most important relationships is with Indianapolis company Three Sixty Group, which has helped us tie all the branding together.
The first facet that will catch a customer’s eye is most likely the Magna-Mount graphics system, which we can print on, that wraps the store. We use this system to convey our brand and the placement of products throughout the store. Everything from the top of the store down to the bottom of the newspaper stand and everything in between is branded Ricker’s wherever possible. Every font is the same and so are the colors. Consistency is critical; I see too many stores in our industry that have messages from multiple vendors and from the operator that are all dissimilar. There’s so much going on in some stores, it may make customers feel as if they’re on the verge of a seizure.
Let’s get back to the store layout and foodservice. Our new store is pretty typical of what you see in our industry. It has a nice fountain offering, FUB, FCB, etc. We have a really great store-within-a-store coffee offer and deli sandwiches. Indiana is not allowed to have cold beer, but we have built this store to have a beer cave if the laws change.
The bathrooms have touchless Bradley sinks. The soap, water and hand dryer are all built into the sink, so we’ll have no more walls with mold on them because the dryer sprays all the water from hands onto the floor and wall. Restrooms are very important to us because we didn’t want to get our foodservice offer ahead of our bathrooms.
This store was also built with the capacity to expand into other offers when they are ready. At the moment, this store does not offer foodservice. Ricker’s is in the final stages of finishing our proprietary foodservice offer. It is called AhhBurritos, and it will offer burritos, quesadillas and salads customized to the customer’s preference.
Take the best of Chipotle, Subway, Taco Bell and mix them together, and you have AhhBurritos. We decided to test this offer in a food truck that we have traveling all over Indianapolis. We are using the food truck to nail down flavor profiles, processes, customer desires and future store sites where the offer may work. We are close, but it is too early to place it in the stores. We would rather give the customer the experience that we know is right instead of trying to force an offer that may not be completely ready.
We built this store to have options. We know we are going to get our food program right; as a result, the store is designed so that the current checkout area can become foodservice. To free up the space, we will install an island checkout. This isn’t the perfect scenario. But our newest designs will have foodservice from the beginning, with the offer in line with the checkout area for operational efficiency.
I want every store Ricker’s builds to be the perfect store for its market. This quest at times drives me crazy. What keeps me from checking into a mental institution is knowing that it is not ultimately about the design, marketing, merchandising, etc. The perfect store is about the people inside it. How we take care of our people and what opportunities we provide them will directly correlate to how our customers do business with us. Our people make the perfect store.
Quinn Ricker is president and CEO of Ricker Oil Co. (Ricker’s). Reach him at email@example.com.
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