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Picture perfect: At Green Lake Station, nestled among the mountains in Whistler, B.C., even the bathrooms are beautiful

It’s been a whirlwind four years for Adam Naundorf and his parents, Anna and Gregory. In 2016, they opened Green Lake Station Café and Fuel in Whistler, B.C. First though, they had to design and oversee the building of the 2,400-sq.-ft. store. 

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Photos by David Buzzard

“We tried to make it as nice as possible for customers,” says Naundorf [Adam]. “People do a double take when they walk in.” 

GreenLakeStation_bathroom.jpegCustom wood shelving, warm white light, and cedar and tile backsplashes are cornerstones of the store’s contemporary design. Even the bathrooms are noteworthy. They have a clean, modern look. The space is backlit, and the use of cedar makes the facility seem relaxed and cozy. “It feels like you’re in a spa,” says Naundorf. 

Attaining that feel inside and outside the bathrooms comes at an additional cost, he notes. “But it is paying off. People remember us because we have a clean store, a great gift selection and wonderful washrooms. They tell their friends.”

The gifts the store sells include everything from mugs to espresso cups, toys and stuffed animals. A theme that runs throughout many of the items: a West Coast vibe. Among the standouts are items featuring Indigenous art. “We try to go as local as possible,” says Naundorf. 

Standing out is both a business approach and a geographical necessity, Naundorf adds. 

“Whistler is a massive ski resort destination, but we are on the northern side of the village. People have to want to come to us.”

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In addition to décor drawing customers in, there are the meals made on premise. One hot seller is the store’s breakfast sandwich—bacon, turkey or veggies on a toasted pretzel bun with cheese and savoury sauce. Freshness is key, says Naundorf. “The egg gets cracked in front of you.”

GreenLakeStation_food prepOther standouts on the menu include, a pear and blue cheese pizza, brie and fig panini, smashed avocado toast and a vegan burger.  For customers looking to sip rather than dig in, there is a large coffee selection featuring lattes, macchiatos and cappuccinos. “If you can find the type of food people like and find your niche, it differentiates you,” says Naundorf.

In the wake of COVID-19, that differentiation is helping the store do a brisk business. Before the pandemic initially locked down much of British Columbia, 50% of Green Lake Station’s business was tourists, with locals and work crews making up the rest. 

Screen Shot 2021-02-09 at 11.55.43 AMOver the summer, visitors from Vancouver kept the store busy, says Naundorf. Stil, with restrictions, seating inside the café dropped to four from 16, while space on the popular outdoor patio was cut in half to 10. As winter settles in, more local residents and work crews are coming for a hot drink and a fresh breakfast sandwich. (In late 2020, they were also doing some holiday shopping.)

What hasn’t changed in the wake of COVID-19, is a commitment to outstanding customer service. “We want [customers] to feel they are walking into a warm, welcoming place,” says Naundorf.

Green Lake Station’s dedicated staff play a key role in creating that comfortable atmosphere: “People stick around. We make [employees] feel appreciated. In turn, they appreciate the customer.” 

This article originally appeared in the January/February issue of Convenience Store News Canada. 

 


The forgotten bathroom zone

bathroom-TEASER_0Convenience store operators don’t lack for difficult decisions these days. Add delivery? Mobile apps? How about a drive-thru? What do Millennials really want? And now, what to do about rising gas prices?

But none of those choices will influence the consumer as much as the operator’s ability to keep their bathrooms clean. That’s a fact that doesn’t change over time.

A 2004 study listed “cleanliness of restaurant” as the most important attribute for people selecting a quick-service restaurant (QSR) venue. A 2010 survey found that 14% would stop visiting a restaurant that was not as clean as they would like, and another 29% would only visit places that don’t measure up “if absolutely necessary.” A 2013 study ranked “cleanliness” (96%) ahead of “menu selection” (94%) as an important factor in restaurant choice.

Despite the fact that crumbs under a table and unpolished windows are drawbacks, we all know where the cleanliness rubber hits the road — the bathroom. You can be spotless everywhere else, but if your bathroom doesn’t pass muster, you’re done.

With c-stores moving increasingly into foodservice, this is a critical point. Still, the bathroom is the one “zone” in a restaurant that seldom receives the same business scrutiny as others. That’s why King-Casey conducted a pilot study among 100 restaurant consumers to find out what value customers put on clean restrooms and the specific qualities they look for in restaurant restrooms. The same thinking can be applied to c-stores, which increasingly offer foodservice.

CLEAN RESTROOM = CLEAN KITCHEN

Of those surveyed, 78% agreed that a clean restroom is a strong indicator of a clean kitchen. Perhaps even more interesting was the fact that 94% felt that restroom cleanliness is more important today than ever before.

The reasons they cited come as no surprise. The media is full of stories about diseases (SARS, West Nile virus, hepatitis) and the associated emphasis on washing hands as the best disease preventative.

The leading quality indicator among all customers came as no surprise: “clean toilet.” This was followed by “clean area around toilet,” “no sticky floors” and “no trash.” These attributes held up for all types of restaurants and were equally important to both men and women.

Another important quality indicator was the posting of a written “guarantee” signed by management and underscoring its belief in providing customers with clean bathrooms. These managers may have been channeling their inner Ray Kroc, who famously made clean bathrooms a McDonald’s mantra from that chain’s inception.

Customers also put value on “soft absorbent toilet paper,” as opposed to the industrial variety that is often thin and waxy. They also told us that hooks on stall doors were important in providing a place to hang coats, pocketbooks and shopping bags.

Ranked at the bottom of the list were “vending machines” and “advertising/promotion.” In fact, customers felt these features were equated with non-quality restrooms. Something to keep in mind for those c-stores favoring such a practice.

TEST YOUR BATHROOM APTITUDE

Based on the survey results, we developed a quick quiz to enable c-store operators to evaluate their bathroom best practices:

  1. Do you have regular toilet cleaning and quality checks throughout the day?
  2. Do you check for trash on the floor regularly?
  3. Have you posted a restroom guarantee?
  4. Does it include your asking the customer to report non-compliant restrooms?
  5. Does it include the date/time of the most recent cleaning?
  6. Do you offer extra toilet tissue and paper towel dispensers?
  7. Do you offer soft, absorbent toilet tissue?
  8. Do you have hooks on the stalls?
  9. Do you have privacy panels between urinals?

How did you do? Your answer may tell you more about how to make your customers happy than the addition of any new mobile app or delivery service.

By: Tom Cook is a principal of King-Casey, a premier consulting and branding firm serving the convenience store and restaurant industries. The firm’s c-store clients include American Natural, Pilot Flying J and Parker’s.

Originally published at Convenience Store News. 

 


Easily overlooked operational efficiencies costing c-stores money

Convenience stores are one of the few areas of retail that e-commerce hasn’t dramatically transformed, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t been changed by technology and recent shifts in the marketplace.

Screen Shot 2019-05-07 at 9.46.22 AMIn my years of partnering with convenience store brands, I’ve uncovered three common operational inefficiencies that are costing convenience stores money — and they’re surprisingly easy to fix.

1. CLEAN THE BATHROOMS MORE OFTEN

We spend millions of dollars on brand positioning and advertising to portray our convenience store brands in ways that appeal to our target customers. Yet one of the most frequent brand experiences our customers have with our stores is largely untouched by these efforts: our store bathrooms.

The experience customers have with our bathrooms has a halo effect on their overall experience in our stores. We promote the freshness and quality of our food and beverage offerings, but if the bathroom is filthy, how can a customer trust that the food and beverages aren’t contaminated, too?

Studies show that 85 percent of people would not patronize a business with negative online reviews about the cleanliness of its facilities. Yet the reality is that even the busiest convenience store bathrooms often only get cleaned about once an hour.

So, make it clear to store managers how critical it is for employees to clean the bathrooms early and often — ideally every 15 minutes. Of course, before long, we’ll be able to have robots do it.

2. UPGRADE COMMUNICATIONS FOR STORE & FIELD TEAMS

Most convenience store brands have gotten onboard with digitizing store schematics, promotional guides and training assets. Maybe you’ve already moved on to an intranet or enterprise-grade file-sharing service to distribute those documents. But how much thought have you given to the day-to-day experience of the end user?

Many retail chains are taking once-printed materials and transferring them to new digital portals, but that doesn’t always make them any more accessible by the employees that need to use them. Often, those files are only usable on the back-office desktop — leaving store managers once again printing the material for their staff or trying to email large files.

Today, there are better tools for getting large documents into the hands of the right people. Tools that give our business development managers, franchise business consultants and store managers the content they need to do their jobs on the devices they’re already attached to, from the locations they’re actually spending time at. It’s the same technology allowing them to check the weather, map a drive or check social media.

The best of these tools are fast to onboard with, easy to use and inexpensive. If your store and field teams are having trouble quickly accessing the information they need to do their jobs, it’s time for a communications upgrade.

3. RETHINK CUSTOMER LOYALTY PROGRAMS

For the past few decades, loyalty programs have largely followed the same formula: reward the customer based on either the amount they spend with us or the frequency at which they visit our stores.

Many brands forget that customers can do the math. They know that if they spend $20 on 10 cups of coffee, they’ll get a free cup of coffee — making their value as a customer a whopping $2.

Does this make them come back to our convenience store when they could go to the store across the street and get their ninth cup or sixth cup of coffee free? At that point, it ceases to be a loyalty program and becomes a way for customers to game our stores.

Let’s take note from the brands that have learned this lesson and run with it to great success. They’ve taken the “game” system and used it to create a customer experience that draws customers back again and again because it’s fun and exciting.

A great convenience store example of this is ampm’s Scratch Power app, which uses geolocation technology to give customers scratch cards (to scratch on their phone) when they are in-store at ampm.

The rewards are mostly small, but they have gamified and enhanced the in-store experience so that customers are eager to return. With millions of downloads and a 4-out-of-5-star ratings from more than 5,500 reviews, it’s clear this loyalty program is creating a lot of happy ampm customers.

Think about how you can reconfigure your loyalty programs to create an experience for your customers. Today’s customers enjoy the game aspect and the chance to win prizes with every visit more than they appreciate a free coffee after 10 visits.

By focusing your efforts on solving inefficiencies in these three areas — bathroom cleanliness, store communications and loyalty programs — you can create a better store experience for your customers and employees alike.

Millie Blackwell is chief executive of Showcase Workshop, a digital toolkit for franchisees and store managers that contains planograms, schematics and promotional information, replacing old-fashioned ring binders and printed guides. Request a demo at www.showcaseworkshop.com/csnews. Originally published at Convenience Store News