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C-store Curb Appeal: Best front forward

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Photography by Jeff Kirk

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“The most common mistake in store design is to underestimate the importance of the frontage of store. If you’re in a mall or on a street, the customer has a moment to decide if she’s going to come into your store,” says Steve Goldberg, President The Grayson Group, New York-based retail design consultants. “Don’t cover your front windows or displays with large, dense signage, he says, suggesting to focus on simple, well-branded graphics and plenty of interior visibility from outside the store.“Shoppers will come in because they need something or recognize the brand or the merchandise looks exciting. The frontage always has to have open, clear view toward the interior of the store.”

This just what Yogi Salanki is doing at his Orangeville, ON c-store. Salanki has operated RO 9 Convenience for the past couple of years and looks to his curb appeal as well as positive word of mouth to create traffic flow at his site.

“The store has to look professional, clean and attractive if you want to really compete,” says Yogi. He reports that with a new c-store opening very close by, he is continuing to pay attention to the welcoming nature of his operation. “Windows must be clean, the signs must be well lit with no bulbs missing and front door must be visible from the parking lot.”

Yogi remarks that operators must be prepared to keep property managers and owners responsible for their obligations toward upkeep. “Parking lots must be cleaned regularly in both the winter and summer seasons. Chipped concrete should be repaired and parking lines kept fresh,” he says, reminding readers that what people see on the outside suggests much about the interior experience.

YCM04_curb3Grafitti has been a long standing problem across Canada that has impacted c-store appearance. Combatting this are products such as coatings and paints as well as civic programs designed to make wall surfaces less attractive to ‘taggers’.

Sacrificial coatings are among the most popular deterrents to graffiti. These coatings provide clear-coat barriers over wall surfaces. If graffiti appears the protective coating can be removed using a high-pressure washer. This technique sacrifices both clear coat surface and the offending graffito.

Permanent coatings are often a more expensive way to go, but are easier to utilize. Permanent coating products create a protective surface to which aerosol paints cannot bond. The ‘tag’ is simply wiped off with a specified remover, leaving the coating and the surface it protects intact.

In Winnipeg retailers plagued by graffiti can work with a City program to have prominent mural artists paint community-building artworks on the sides of businesses. According to Mandy Van Leeuwen, a local artist that has undertaken a score of these sites, graffiti taggers are not as likely to spray over works they see as art. She suggests that with this in mind it is not so necessary to use coatings and protective paints. Winnipeg is currently home to well over a hundred of these murals that depict community, prominent cultural personalities, and history.

Edmonton has had huge success with its neighbourhood revitalization programs that assist small retailers such as c-stores with curb appeal. Spending upwards of $250,000 per retail hub, the City has transformed derelict sites and underperforming real estate. Like in Winnipeg, Edmonton teams offer business an initial curb appeal audit and then a number of solutions.

“For us the value in curb appeal goes well beyond just picking up litter. We are engaging these sites to help generate more business and contribute more to the communities they serve,” says Jeff Chase, City of Edmonton Director of Small Business and Local Economy. He reports that they assist with streetscaping, retail market analysis, and business supports. Since 2014 they have worked with 30 enterprises to enhance the appearance of commercial centres.

One location is Shelley’s Food and Gas. Located at the Newton Centre shopping mall on 54th st. NW in Edmonton, Shelley’s offers a 3,500 sq. ft. c-store and Fas Gas pump island. The City worked with the landlord of the shopping centre to help refurbish the appearance of the group of retail operations that include a bowling alley, dental centre, hair salon, florists and boot camp training facility as well as  Shelley’s c-store and Fas Gas site. The project assists with up to $250,000 to refresh curb appeal where they pay for things like flower pots, streetscaping, and painting.

At Shelley’s they took it a step further. “We did quite a bit of renovation outside the work the city assisted with,” says operator Dave Agnihotri. He reports they spent some $300,000 on upgrades to the gas tanks as well as a new look for both inside and outside areas. “After 25 years it was time,” he says, noting that even though business is quieter due to the economic slowdown in Alberta, they saw value in an improved appearance. This new appearance included new wood paneling, glass tinting, signage and paint as well as other features. “There is no doubt it has improved business. We are seeing a 1% to 2% increase which is good considering the economy here in Alberta right now,” says Dave, concluding that a good looking site says you respect your customers and you pay attention to the details.

Five Tips for curb appeal

*Paint the exterior every five years and consider anti-graffiti paint products on large street facing walls.

*Keep signs and canopies looking good by replacing bulbs and repair worn areas. make this part of regular maintenance.

*Maintain parking lot with fresh paint on lines and keep debris swept and in the bin.

*Beware of impediments in front of the door. Keep the entrance accessible and safe.

*Remove clutter from windows so customers can see inside.