Careful planning of convenience-store design can enhance customer service and help drive traffic and sales volumes, operators say. Design begins with the decor package—which should reflect the personality of the c-store brand and create a level of comfort among guests—and it extends all the way from the front entrance, through the aisles, to the checkout area. In addition, the increasing emphasis on foodservice in the c-store channel has reinforced the importance of good design. Customers need to feel as comfortable buying prepared foods in the store as they do in their favorite restaurant or supermarket. Here are four ways operators can enhance customer service through store design.
1) Make it easy for customers to access the store
When Weikel’s Bakery expanded to Brenham, Texas, for its second location, operations manager Nick Hensley wanted to make sure the outlet was easily accessible to customers. The company was well-established as a combination bakery/deli/gift shop/c-store in its original location in La Grange, Texas, but it was venturing into a new market, with a smaller, bakery-focused store, in Brenham. With the help of Paragon Solutions, Weikel’s decided to create three entrances to make it as easy as possible for customers to access the store. “If you don’t have a brand reputation built up already, customers don’t go there looking for you—you have to make yourself available to them,” says Hensley.
2) Offer the right mix of self-service and counter service
Consumers have become accustomed to a degree of self-service in foodservice, whether from beverage stations or grab-and-go cases. At Weikel’s Bakery in Brenham, the company prides itself on its counter service, but also provides self-serve beverages and grab-and-go pastries. Similarly, at the Big Horn Travel Center in Fort Worth, Texas, customers can choose among several counter-service foodservice concepts but can also grab a coffee themselves at the Dunkin’ Donuts Express island. Some c-store shoppers seem to appreciate customer service more than self-service, however. Slovacek’s in West, Texas, for example, has been selling more sandwiches from behind the deli counter than it did when it was offering them in grab-and-go cases, says owner Tim Rabroker.
3) Consider creating storage areas to ensure aisles stay clear
Customers need to be able to move freely about the store in order to have a relaxing shopping experience. At Big Horn Travel Center, owner Lisa Hodgkins said the company wanted to make sure the store aisles were uncluttered for customers, so the design includes an upstairs storage area, as well as storage in the office area. “We don’t have any back stock on the floor—it’s all upstairs,” she says. In addition to ensuring adequate storage space, operators can also facilitate customer traffic flow by optimizing the aisle width. At Hat Six Travel Center in Evansville, Wyo., the company paid close attention to the space between the aisles during a recent remodel of the store, says Tiffany Gamble, business advisor for the location, which offers a mix of services for local shoppers, travelers and truck drivers. “The aisles are just right—not too wide where you feel like there's wasted space,” she says, but wide enough for two people to walk down at once.
4) Rethink cash register placement
While c-stores have traditionally placed cash registers near the front of the store to keep an eye on the fuel pumps, that may no longer be necessary in the modern environment where most fuel is pre-paid by credit or debit card at the pump. At Hat Six Travel Center, Gamble said the company opted for a centrally located checkout station, where all five cash registers are placed. “Every customer from every angle can get to us, easily, quickly and efficiently,” she says. The checkout area design can also enhance the customer experience by reflecting the store’s personality. At Big Horn Travel Center, where the decor includes a variety of mounted big-game trophies, a chandelier made of deer antlers hangs overhead, illuminating one of Hodgkins’ favorite area of the store and ensuring that that customers experience the personality of the brand right to the end of their visit.
Design considerations such as these help operators deliver optimal customer service in an environment that invites customers to shop and spend—and to come back again and again.