Feel the Squeeze

University of Northern Colorado operator turns a “shoebox” into a c-store

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A few years ago, Hal Brown was given quite the challenge: Create a convenience store within a 750-square-foot space that once housed a FedEx/Kinko’s at the University of Northern Colorado.

Since then, Brown, director of UNC Dining Services on the Greeley, Colo., campus, has gained a precious extra 500 square feet, and worked with architects, vendors and student groups to create the Munchy Mart brand.

When the campus university center was looking to make a few upgrades, dining services was trying to decide how to best serve customers’ needs, says Brown. One of those needs was for a c-store, which the campus didn’t have elsewhere. When the copy center moved out, Brown was asked what he thought about putting a c-store in the location, and his first concern was the size.

“We were able to negotiate some space behind that location that used to be storage area,” Brown says. “We got an extra 300 or 400 [square] feet to put in a walk-in cooler and a little bit of dry storage.”

Brown then brought in Bakergroup, a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based design consultancy, to give the space its retail atmosphere.

 “I wanted it to be much more modern and an upbeat space,” he says. “If you feel good about the space, it’s my opinion that [customers will] buy more.”

A lot of the retail feel of the space is created by the lighting and bright colors. “I kept saying I wanted a fun and funky feel,” Brown says. “I think the green really highlights a lot of the fresh product that we have in the store. We wanted curves because the room itself was such a shoebox.”

The space was stuck with three columns, as well as a huge, perpendicular security gate that separates the university center (where the store is located) in half.

“One of the strategies that [Bakergroup] came up with was taking out the wall next to [the gate], and we put a gelato case there,” says Brown. “That way people could see into the store from the other side of the gate, and it also gave us a different type of concept where we could utilize a walk-up type of service.”

With retail, Brown says, you really want open spaces and natural light. This space had neither. In addition to using bright lighting to make the space look more open, the team turned two shelving gondolas sideways to save space. The department also carved out space for coolers for its self-branded grab-and-go items.

“As a narrower room without a lot of windows or space to work with, coming up with a great design that allows us to have a good customer flow in and out of the store was key,” Brown says. “But we still needed the ability to stock our shelves. We originally wanted three gondolas, but it was just too tight.”

One of Brown’s biggest takeaways is to always make sure floor plans translate accurately. His equipment vendor supplied cardboard cutouts of the gondolas for Brown to see what they’d look like in the space itself.


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