Long hailed for cutting-edge technology and a pioneering foodservice program, Rutter’s Farm Stores is shaking things up in the c-store industry with its biggest store yet: a 9,100-square-foot “monument to convenience” in York Springs, Pa. CSP recently chatted with Rutter’s president and CEO Scott Hartman and chief customer officer Derek Gaskins, along with Tim Rutter, president of Rutter’s real-estate development company M&G Realty, who gave us a verbal tour of this magnificent new central Pennsylvania store.
Q: Can you share a brief history of the company and how long it has been operating convenience stores?
A: Our roots go back to pre-Revolutionary times, to 1747, making Rutter’s the oldest vertically integrated U.S. food company. Starting in 1921, Rutter’s Dairy began selling milk products door to door in a horse-drawn wagon. Less than a half-century later, in 1968, we opened our first convenience store. By 1986, Rutter’s had opened more than 50 locations in central Pennsylvania.
What’s nice is we’re a true family business. Entering the new millennium, the third generation of family leadership assumed the day-to-day management responsibilities. Three cousins each serve as president of a different Rutter’s company: Hartman as president and CEO of Rutter’s Farm Stores, Todd Rutter as president of Rutter’s Dairy and Tim Rutter as president of M&G Realty.
Q: Your latest design creates a whole new definition of a convenience store. At roughly 9,100 square feet, does it qualify as a convenience store in your mind? And why so large?
A: With the new store being our largest, it definitely qualifies as a convenience store in our minds. As with all of our stores, this one was built with the customer in mind. During the drafting phases, we thought about the direct area as well as the surrounding area to build the store to fit all customer needs. This store is larger than our others because we see it as a destination along a highly traveled thoroughfare. We focused on the needs of Gettysburg, Pa., as a tourist destination for families and sightseers, as well as for professional drivers. The store has approximately 2,000 square feet dedicated to professional driving accessories.
What makes this store distinctive is what we consider to be “a monument to convenience.” We pay tribute to the historical importance of Gettysburg and, likewise, we seek a blend that ties to our industry’s heritage of fast and friendly service while also giving tourists and travelers a needed break to rest, stretch, refuel and recharge.
Q: Rutter’s has earned a reputation of being cutting edge, whether in foodservice, technology or store design. Other than size, what stands out in your latest prototype?
A: This store is noteworthy because we also are introducing new brand-design changes to our fuel high-rise, monument sign and gas canopy. Our freshened exterior design delivers contrasting looks that appeal to different customer needs and trip missions during the day and at night. The canopy is unique, and we feel it will create a strong element of our branding that customers will gravitate toward.
This is important because our location is directly off Route 15 at the Heidlersburg exit north of Gettysburg. To become a truck and bus destination, we opened a dedicated truck diesel island, a separate store entrance and larger parking areas to cater to these groups. Also, our restrooms were built for heavy traffic, have quick cleaning systems in place to avoid long lines, and separate large sinks available for travelers.
Some of the other unique features revolve around the store being built for a high volume of customers:
- Foodservice: We have a robust food menu available through our touchscreen kiosks: premium meats such as first-cut pastrami and 100% Angus beef for burgers, wraps or sandwiches; and healthy and fresh food choices such as fruit parfaits and handmade salads. All of our menu options are fully customizable and available 24/7. This store also offers an expanded dining area with free Wi-Fi so customers can enjoy their meals at their own pace.
- Dispensed Beverages: We’ve added Cornelius touch-screen units, which provide a broad variety of beverages. Similar to the Coke Freestyle or Pepsi Spire touch-screen units, the new equipment lets customers select their favorite beverage brand and add flavor shots to create their own blend.
- Coffee: Our Curtis IntelliFresh brewers are now even broader and placed on an island with refrigerated cold wells for our extensive Rutter’s milk and creamer options, syrups, condiments and toppings.
Innovation is part of the Rutter’s legacy. Our VIP rewards program promises our most loyal customers special offers, use of membership benefits without using a card, and even allows them a chance to give back to their community via our Rutter’s Rewards Schools and Vote with Your Dollars programs. VIPs simply choose a school or nonprofit that has been selected for our program, and every dollar spent at any Rutter’s location counts as a vote towards a customer’s selected charity. The top three charities with the most votes receive a $25,000 donation.
Q: What were some of the challenges in developing your newest model? Were local zoning boards and other officials supportive?
A: The site was a former staging area for the Pennsylvania State Highway Department during the construction of Interstate 15. There were lots of site-work challenges. We had to get utilities to the location, including public sewer, three-phase electric and a water well permitted by the State Department of Environmental Protection office. We know across the country there are horror stories when it comes to opening a convenience store. Fortunately, that was not the case here. Local officials were very cooperative in getting the site approved. With zoning changes, variances and the different utility companies, they helped us navigate the process and create economic opportunity in the Gettysburg region.
Q: Rutter’s has certainly stood out as one of the premier players in attracting soccer moms and also millennials. Can you talk about some of the key drivers in doing this?
A: Key segments include millennials, baby boomers, soccer moms, blue-collar workers, road warriors, seniors, etc. But the real strength is that virtually everyone needs a convenience store at some point during their routines.
We like to segment by lifestyle, life stage and product category needs. By catering to people on the go, coffee connoisseurs or foodies looking for robust food options, it allows us to capture wide demographics that can encompass all ages, races, genders and ethnicities. We strive to deliver numerous options; that way people can “mass customize” and find what they want. Personalization and one-to-one marketing are the holy grail for consumers, and we are committed to meeting that objective. Whether the need is premium fuel for your vehicle, surcharge-free ATMs, healthy fresh food options, gourmet coffee, energy drinks or indulgent foods, we have products to meet every one of those consumer need states.
Q: Do you see this store as a one-off or a true prototype? We’ve already seen the c-store channel embrace larger formats; do you believe this will further raise the bar?
A: This represents the latest evolution of our brand. We see it as a prototype for highway and high-volume diesel locations with dedicated separate islands for truckers, buses and professional drivers. All of our stores won’t necessarily be this large; however, the strong components of the design, image and store layout will certainly manifest themselves as we go forward.
We cater to local needs, so some locations may be more urban, suburban or rural based on geography. We will morph elements of the design and layout to best meet those geographies. An urban or small-town, Main Street-type store may have a footprint that’s denser and, instead of dedicated truck diesel islands, it may offer expanded seating for food customers. We are versatile and look to adapt to surrounding areas. That truly is the best way to deliver “convenience at the speed of life” in a consistent but curated manner to consumers in each market region where we have stores.
Q: Who were the key partners in this project?
A: The new image and store design were developed by our internal staff. Through our internal strategic planning process, we identified the need to evolve our brand identity and store design to meet the needs of the ever-changing consumer. Ideas were vetted at meetings until the ultimate design was determined.
The gas price and high-rise gas signs were fabricated and provided by Landmark Sign Alliance. The civil engineers along with the architect were from LSC Design, a firm based in York, Pa. S&W Petroleum oversaw the fuel installation and R.L. Livingston Excavating completed the sewer extension and site work. The general contractor for the building was Massaro Building Co., and Clark Service and Parts supplied and installed the store equipment.