C-Store Retailers Show Brick-and-Mortar's Edge

Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Fuels, CSP

nacs and ideas2go logo

LAS VEGAS -- The rise of online retail has given traditional brick-and-mortar retailers cause for concern, especially as operators such as Amazon attempt to redefine convenience through cashierless concepts. But as the latest collection of concepts in NACS’ Ideas 2 Go program shows, convenience-store retailers still have a few tricks up their sleeves to deliver a shopping experience that cannot be replicated online ...


Community support

the hub exterior

The Hub Convenience Stores chain has shared its retail capabilities with local community groups to build upon its branding. The Dickinson, N.D.-based retailer has partnered with three high schools and a college to brand its private-label bottled water with their logos and team mascots. “It’s a good margin and branding play,” said Jared Scheeler, CEO of The Hub Convenience Stores Inc., which has three sites. “And it helps with the objective of looking bigger than we are.”

The Hub also partnered with local college Dickinson State University to operate a pop-up concession stand and c-store at the school’s football games and track meets. The retailer provides the food and beverages, while the college provides the workers. Here too, The Hub gets a branding boost, attracting the interest of students who are looking for a job. “It’s the fourth Hub location,” says Scheeler. “The Hub is exactly that: the hub of the community. 

Photograph courtesy of The Hub

One-stop shop

maxol logo

Based in Dublin, The Maxol Group has shown how overseas retailers are delivering on the convenience promise with its Ballycoolin c-store concept. The store, located on a highway, is designed to be the ultimate convenient stop for travelers. Its food hall offers up a variety of branded concepts, including bagels, sandwiches, salads and coffee. Ballycoolin has a drive-thru where customers can pick up coffee beverages from its Insomnia branded cafe. Or they can order food and beverages through the Ballycoolin app, and pick it up in the store.

For those who need to clean up, the store has a car wash that accepts a unique form of payment: an RFID-equipped toll transponder. After selecting their preferred wash at the kiosks, customers pay through the Easytrip transponder—similar to E-ZPass in the United States.

“If you make life convenient for customers, they’ll come back time and time again,” said Des Duffy, head of retail development for The Maxol Group.

Tech tools

loop market

AU Energy’s Loop Neighborhood Markets has harnessed technology to deliver a memorable, convenient shopping alternative for its customers. For example, shoppers have the option of building a salad at the store’s salad bar, located on the “fresh” side of the store dedicated to healthful options. Or, for locations without room for a salad bar or those where sales need an assist, AU Energy has installed Sally the Salad Robot, a machine that will prepare salads to order. “If we’re able to sell salad at a c-store, I think Loop has made it and proven it’s successful in the market,” said Varish Goyal, president of AU Energy, Fremont, Calif. 

Photograph courtesy of Loop Neighborhood Markets

Local goods

paul allen farm 2 counter

“It’s like a farmer’s market seven days a week but with air conditioning”: That’s how chef Paul Allen describes his Farm 2 Counter c-store in Springfield, Mo. Allen, a former yacht chef, is committed to bringing fresh, gourmet food with local ingredients to his customers. The store is an offshoot of an online local food delivery service, farm2counter.com. It sources as many products from Missouri as it can, whether it’s local honey, craft beer or fresh produce.

“When there was that first convenience store, I think there was only local products,” said Allen. “We’re bringing the c-store back to what it used to be.”

Photograph courtesy of Paul Allen

Food focus

dash in

Dash In, the c-store chain of The Wills Group Inc., La Plata, Md., makes foodservice its main event. The stores feature communal tables where customers can connect with each other and plug in their mobile devices for charging. While there, they can watch food from Dash In’s highly craveable and customizable menu being prepared in the open kitchen.

To keep customers surprised and delighted, Dash In changes out its beer and wine selection regularly, including on-tap options. The retailer frequently offers limited-time-only, seasonal craft beers and markets their availability through the social media. The buzz for one beer was so great that Dash In sold out of an entire keg of it within less than an hour.

Photograph courtesy of Dash In

Creative retail

fresh the good food market

Another Ireland-based retailer has dedicated itself to providing a truly memorable customer experience with its Fresh The Good Market concept. The store features what is said to be Ireland’s biggest salad bar, where all 60 varieties of salad are freshly prepared in the store’s open kitchen. Fresh produce also gets play, with a banana “waterfall” fixture that holds cascading bunches of bananas. The retailer also has fun with its foodservice: Employees are encouraged to create fun displays with food, such as a “hot dog dog” formed out of hotdogs and other meats. 

Event space

quick chek

QuickChek Corp. is famous for its sponsorship of the New Jersey Festival of Ballooning, an annual event that brings in more than 165,000 people to watch more than 100 hot-air balloons take flight, and enjoy music concerts and other entertainment. As part of the event, QuickChek erects a 4,425-square-foot pop-up c-store, complete with touchscreen ordering of sandwiches and subs, frozen carbonated beverages and coffee.

CEO Dean Durling says the ballooning festival has many wins for the Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based chain: it matches its employee-focused mission, gives QuickChek a chance to sample its products for thousands of people, and garners millions of media impressions. In fact, the pop-up c-store is so successful that in only three days, it rings up the same amount of sales as a typical QuickChek store does in an entire week. 

Photograph courtesy of QuickChek

Clean machine

timber falls logo

TimberFalls, a c-store and auto spa in Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada, uses its car wash as a sales and traffic driver for the shop. The car wash sees 200 customers a day, some of whom stay in the car to enjoy a fun light show, and some who choose to sit in a waiting area complete with massage chairs. TimberFalls also offers full-service fueling as an extra incentive for customers to choose the store for their shopping needs.

For more on the retailers from Ideas 2 Go presented at the 2018 NACS Show in Las Vegas, click here.