Local Identity Key to Success in Disrupted Marketplace

Whitepaper from Bona Design Lab and HFA Architects and Engineers shares best practices
convenience store design
Photograph: Shutterstock

NEW YORK and BOSTON — Ramping up local identity is a smart play for c-stores as they adapt to today’s disrupted marketplace, according to a whitepaper by Bona Design Lab and HFA Architects and Engineers. The 33-page report offers advice for companies seeking to grow market share and cement customer loyalty in the convenience retailing industry. 

Amid challenges such as channel-blurring and ecommerce commoditization, “many c-store leaders are now refocusing on giving customers the social interaction they’ve been missing, and on making sure their stores convey a strong sense of local identity,” said Joseph Bona, founder and president of Bona Design Lab, and HFA’s James Owens, a licensed architect based in Boston with two decades of experience in c-store, retail and other sectors. The two firms announced a strategic alliance on Sept. 9.

In the whitepaper, Reimagining Sites & Stores: Perspectives on the Future of Convenience Retail, Bona and Owens dive into five specific areas of opportunity for the global industry:

  • Returning to the Corner Store
  • Integrating Omnichannel Offerings
  • Revolutionizing Convenience Foodservice
  • Anticipating Cultural Shifts
  • Capitalizing on Electrification

For example, in the section titled “Returning to the Corner Store,” they offer tips for giving individual stores more of “that neighborhood feel.”

These include:

  • Using products and their names, ingredients and flavor profiles to add a local touch. “That could be branded shrimp-and-grits at a store in South Georgia or a locally made, contest-winning cheesesteak in suburban Philly,” the authors said. 
  • Offering opportunities to touch and feel the merchandise. A significant percentage of shoppers will continue to prefer handling products. “Even as you add the likes of contactless vending machines,” they said, “make sure you also have more traditional options such as open chillers filled with fresh-made sandwiches.”
  • Leveraging interior design. Basic building blocks here include lighting, materials, colors and graphics, all of which can be used to emphasize human connection and that local touch. “The key is to ‘keep it real’ and strive for a unified and authentic experience,” they said.
  • Getting more creative with outdoor spaces. In select markets with larger sites and lower real estate costs, c-stores could use picnic tables, free Wi-Fi, food trucks or other amenities to enliven the experience. “For example,” said Bona and Owens, “the store’s location next to a popular, multi-use trail could create an opportunity to offer customers a bike repair station, water fountains for dogs and an outdoor gourmet coffee stand.”

The whitepaper also covers the role of micro-fulfillment centers in the industry; the need to harmonize site and store design with digital ads, “gamified” rewards programs and other marketing initiatives; and how to reopen food programs with a stronger emphasis on qualities such as “healthy,” “fresh,” “creatively packaged and merchandised,” “customizable,” “novel” and “surprising.”

They also take on site and store considerations around electric vehicles and energy-system decarbonization and mull the potential effects on c-stores of federal legalization of recreational cannabis.

Based in New York, Bona Design Lab is a global retail and design firm known for its work in c-store, food and fuel retailing. Its suite of services includes brand strategy development, consumer insights, naming and logo development, site planning, store layout, exterior and interior design and graphic design. Its capabilities in business analysis and consulting run the gamut from menu and communications strategies to equipment layout and workflow analysis, to financial metrics and operational consulting.

HFA, based in Bentonville, Ark., offers integrated design, architecture and engineering services that have been deployed on more than 10,000 projects in all 50 states. Its integrated disciplines include architecture, interior design, landscape architecture, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, plumbing engineering, fire protection engineering, structural engineering, civil engineering, refrigeration and fueling design. HFA handles a range of projects across multiple industries.

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