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Introducing the 2020 C-store Solutions Directory

Screen Shot 2020-06-04 at 3.04.03 PMThe inaugural C-store Solutions Directory is positioned as a valuable resource for convenience operators across Canada.

The focus is on essential equipment—from security to refrigeration, signage, displays and safety shields—necessary in the day-to-day running of a c-store.

In creating the directory, our goal is to bridge the gap between operators and suppliers; saving everyone valuable time and ensuring you have the information you need, when you need it, at your fingertips.

Bookmark the May/June issue of Convenience Store News Canada magazine.

The C-store Solutions Directory starts on p. 21. 

To be added to future directories, please click here and fill out the form. 

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C-store design for a modern world: Q&A with CTM’s Devin Mahaffey

Screen Shot 2020-06-04 at 10.41.46 AMDevin Mahaffey, president of the CTM Design, has seen a lot of changes first hand in the c-store space. Back when his Calgary-based company first began 30 years ago, it was a different landscape. Convenience stores had limited offerings and few amenities. He and his firm have been able to lead the way in reimagining c-stores to meet the evolving needs of modern consumers, operators and franchisees. We caught up with him for a peek back—and forward—about what’s in store.

CSNC:  How have convenience stores changed over the years?

DM: There’s definitely much more competition now. Back then, they were often small spaces with limited offerings. Now c-stores are quite expansive with various profit centres. There’s a big push right now to offer hot food, like we’re seeing with operators like 7-Eleven and Circle K. They’ve expanded to provide more opportunities for their customers to get the things they need.


CSNC: What’s influencing your decisions now about design?

DM: We consider a lot more things, especially those related to customer interaction. Our clients are spending money on washrooms, for example. They used to be afterthoughts and the aim was to spend as little as you could. Now, convenience stores are investing to retain the client in store much longer.

Flow is important—how to move customers within the space to get them to key areas where they can invest their dollars while they’re there. The thought process includes what you put front and centre and how to catch their eye to drive them through the whole space. The worst thing for customers to come in and go straight to the pay point or sales counter, then avoid 90% of the rest of the store. 

Our interior designers are talking with our clients about current design trends. They’re engaged in discussions about revamping stores on a much more frequent basis. Those discussions are about revisiting those profit centres and the touch-and-feel aspect of stores. It’s a much more common topic than it used to be.

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CSNC: Can you talk more about those touch and feel aspects?

DM: They are really important—lighting, for example. There was a time when we did store design and wouldn’t give lighting a second thought. Nowadays, we’re running lighting analysis, and following retail space guidelines to ensure products are lit in a way that grabs a customer’s attention. It also includes the aesthetics around coffee and food—clean design, a wide variety of options, including the addition of health foods and fresh food products. They need to be presented in a manner that really pops.


CSNC: What have you seen that’s new and notable in design?

 Screen Shot 2020-06-04 at 10.45.28 AMDM: We did a recent project in Banff. The client really thought about why visitors were coming to that destination—not just the building’s architecture. They had a higher-end coffee offering and a free bottled water fill-up station. They had top-end washrooms, toilets with heated seats and everything was hands-free. They focused on what they knew those particular clients were looking for. They really went out of the box.


CNSC: What will we be seeing more of in the future?

DM: There’s more attention being paid to picking materials and finishes that can make a store look newer and cleaner longer with less effort from an operational standpoint. There has been a lot of focus on picking those, especially more premium finishes, than we’ve seen in the past.

There’s also lots of talk about automation and less necessity for the interaction with someone that’s working at the pay point counter as an example. But, I mean, I think to some degree some of that’s going to be limited as well. We’re always going to need, from a safety standpoint, somebody physically there.

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A customer pays at a Rabba store – the day the company began the installation of protective glass separators in all of its 34 local markets.

Rabba installs glass barriers at checkout

A customer pays at a Rabba store – the day the company began the installation of protective glass separators in all of its 34 local markets.

A customer pays at a Rabba store – the day the company began the installation of protective glass separators in all of its 34 local markets.

Rabba Fine Foods is installing countertop glass barriers that aim to offer maximum protection for both cashiers and customers.

Rabba. which operates local market and convenience stores in more than 34 neighbourhoods in the central and western parts of the GTA, began installing the protective barrier on Sunday and aims to have installation complete across the chain by Wednesday. Its store are open year-round, 24 hours a day.

“We are doing everything we can to stay open for our customers and, at the same time, to increase their safety and comfort while in our stores,” says Rick Rabba, president of Rabba Fine Foods, a family-run business with roots that go back to 1967.

The chain is posting in its stores educational signs and messages from local health authorities.

These latest initiatives are part of a broader pandemic-defence campaign  that has included an increase in disinfecting and sanitization of stores, introduction of gloves and hand-sanitizers for staff and education for staff and customers about proper hygiene, social distancing and staying at home when experiencing any symptoms.

“We have been working 24/7 in an effort to source quality products, bring them to our stores quickly and to keep them fairly priced,” says Rabba. “I could not be more proud of the Rabba team and express my gratitude to them, as well as our store managers, for their resilience during these times.”

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Expert tips for gas site planning

shutterstock_53294923-768x512You want drivers to come to your gas station to fuel up… without getting fed up by confusing traffic flow and congestion. That is why it is important to understand what is possible on a site and to have realistic expectations as you plan your design or expansion.

Fortunately, design and engineering firms that specialize in the site and facility planning for the retail fuel sector are great problem solvers! They are professionals who bring decades of experience to your project. And they have worked with various shaped and sized lots. If there is a way to meet your vision, they will find it. At the same time, if something is simply not feasible, your design firm will be frank and upfront with you.

What will your site allow?

Three primary factors will determine what can be done on a site: the lot size, site access, and site configuration. (Municipal zoning and bylaws are a whole other conversation)

Lot size: The size and layout of a lot will determine how many structures and services you can safely fit on the lot. Parking, vehicle stacking, tanker and delivery vehicle access, number of pumps, desired facilities (eg. c-store, drive-thru, car wash) will all influence what is possible.

Site access: The proximity of the site to adjacent roadways will affect the layout. Ingress (the ability for vehicles to enter the site) and egress (the ability for vehicles to leave the site) are of primary importance. Planning will vary between a site on a highway versus one in an urban setting.

Site configuration: Your site plan will also be impacted by factors such as setbacks, utilities and right of ways.

Planning starts with vehicular access

The first thing the design team must consider is how vehicles will enter the site, navigate the site, and leave the site. Careful thought must be given to the placement of underground tanks for fueling, to ensure tanker trucks cause minimal disruption to customer traffic.

Today’s leading design firms use advanced animation software to model traffic flow. This software is integrated with the site design plans to simulate traffic movement. The design team can actually see how vehicles will move on-site: from the smallest compact car to the biggest pickup truck. Even RVs…and of course, tanker, garbage and delivery trucks! If problems or concerns are identified, the design team can revisit the drawings to come up with a solution.

This software is not only used to ensure the safe, easy flow of traffic at the pumps. It can be used to evaluate drive-thru’s, car washes and parking areas. For example, this software can determine if a two-lane drive-thru is feasible, or if the site will only allow for a single lane.

Your design team is on your side!

Well-designed sites ensure a better, safer, more stress-free customer experience – while poorly designed sites leave customers feeling frustrated and apprehensive, and can actually turn traffic away.

Your design and engineering team is committed to planning a site that balances the public need for safety with your desire for efficiency and profitability.

Click here to learn more from CTM Design Services Ltd. 

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What does your bathroom say about your business?

Screen Shot 2020-02-05 at 6.12.32 PMWhen it comes to service station satisfaction restrooms have been a source of customer appreciation since the invention of the automobile.

Back in 2016 the Whitecourt Esso Superstation won Canada’s Bathroom of the Year Award from Cintas and helped to showcase the power of a great gas station restroom. The site is located on Highway 43 between Edmonton and Grande Prairie on a route popular with tourists heading up to Alaska.

“We can have as many as 1500 customers a day pass through here and many people comment on how surprised they are by the quality of the bathrooms,” says Whitecourt ESSO GM Shelby Rondeau. She remarks that the extra effort in decor made by site owners, the Hommy family, has paid off with benefits being seen in returning trade.

Shelby reports that they receive constant comments on the quality of the site. “We have a lot of customers who are driving through from places like Texas. The marble and the chandeliers in the women’s restroom have earned a lot of positive attention from these folks, of whom many have told us they look to the Whitecourt Superstation as a stopping place each year on their holiday drive. They see other facilities on the way and their comments tell us they see us as the best in bathrooms.”

The Whitecourt Esso opened in 2015. The site offers eight gas and two diesel dispensers under the canopy as well as a substantial foodservice component that relies on a scratch kitchen. The manager tells OCTANE that they have staff perform a 45 minute deep clean twice a day and staff check the three (handicapped, men’s and women’s)10-foot by 15-foot (approx) bathrooms every hour to look for cleanliness challenges.

Screen Shot 2020-02-05 at 6.12.56 PMIn Red Deer, the ESSO Sweet Market is another example of how operators can use restroom facilities to create a positive guest experience. This station, located in Red Deer’s Gasoline Alley, is also operated by the Hommy family and opened only last Christmas (2018).  According to Sweet Market Manager Tim Anderson, the owners are serious about bathrooms. “The family has traveled a lot and they saw how important clean, comfortable and well-decorated facilities can be. I’d say they did this for their moms who saw lots of restroom horrors when they were traveling.”

Tim comments that what they have found is that a well-tended bathroom is respected by customers. “When the facilities are clean and maintained people don’t throw things on the floor or leave a mess. They treat it like home.”

Inside the Sweet Market site, they use both paper towels and air hand dryers to provide a choice for guests. Decor includes fully tiled walls and floors, hand-carved doors, chandelier lighting, and even smart glass doors that frost over for privacy when in use. Facilities are deep cleaned every 12 hours and checked routinely during the day to make sure everything is in tip-top condition.

Pilot Flying J is spending more than $100 million to enhance the bathroom experience for its customer base at some 650 locations throughout the US and Canada. Improvements include new Italian tile, state-of-the-art LED lighting, low water consumption toilets and eco-friendly dryers not to mention extra thick towels.

According to Pilot Flying J spokesperson Stephanie Myers, the company strives to make the restroom and shower experience as comfortable as possible. “Our new locations include clean, bright restrooms and spacious, private shower rooms with premium towels and quality shower heads with body wash dispensers. This year, as part of our effort to enhance the restroom and shower experience for our guests, we plan to upgrade our shower facilities and bathrooms at two locations in Canada including Winnipeg-Brookside, MB, and Kapuskasing, ON,” she says, adding that drivers can save time waiting for a freshly cleaned shower by reserving their shower with the Pilot Flying J app.

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Elevated c-store design delivers the ‘wow factor’

Does your current store concept include a “wow factor?” If not, it should.

Customer expectations are continuously elevating thanks to the proliferation of great retail experiences — think Nike Town, Apple Store, and Eataly food markets, to name a few.

“Since convenience is a common thread, design is becoming the catalyst for differentiation,” said Joseph Bona, president of Bona Design Lab, based in New York. “Design will get more sophisticated and will be an important line item in establishing budgets, as opposed to thinking whatever paint is the cheapest.”

Good design should neither be created in a vacuum nor based on individual personal tastes or current trends. Rather, according to Bona, “it should be focused on a firm understanding of what your brand stands for and the storytelling that you deliver through an enhanced store experience.”

To discuss the ins and outs of merchandising with “wow,” Convenience Store News tapped Bona, who has extensive retail design experience across all sectors, from convenience and mass market to drug and luxury, as well as Jennifer Hatton, senior vice president of retail operations for Follett Corp., an expert in the world of campus retail stores. Here are their insights:


Hatton: The in-store experience is more important than ever in the c-store landscape because the consumer is more sophisticated than ever before. Options are endless, and the expectations are higher for companies to not only deliver an aesthetically appealing environment that is clean and bright, with fresh offerings and breadth of assortment, but also friendly and engaged associates that provide consistent and exceptional customer service.

Bona: In today’s highly competitive retail landscape, where all channels of trade are competing on convenience, consumers are faced with many options and choices in meeting their daily needs. Convenience is no longer a differentiator, but rather a table stake. Experience is how best-in-class retailers are winning customer loyalty and distancing themselves from the competition. An enhanced retail experience enables them to establish a unique position in the marketplace and separate themselves from the sea of sameness that is often found across many retail chains.


Hatton: Start with the basics: Convenience customers are looking for efficient, high-quality service with in-stock and well-merchandised products. Food should be fresh, and planograms should be current at all times. The overall environment should be clean, from the front windows to the exit, and throughout the entire store, from floor to ceiling. It is important to reduce sign pollution in the windows and to be consistent with fixture height. Training for team members is also critically important to effectively meet the needs of the on-the-go customer who expects an experience that is fast and efficient.

Bona: Most importantly, it must start with each company and its unique individual stories and positioning. Experience is not only about what color to paint the walls, the type of lighting that is used in the environment or the style of graphics that deliver your messaging. Rather, it needs to begin with what makes your brand different from those of your competitors. It’s all about storytelling — delivering your message in your own way. All successful brands stand for something specific. Experience is how they curate that message throughout their built environment.

So, the simplest approach (remember, simple and easy are not necessarily synonyms) is to begin with defining what you stand for. In this regard, I love to visit Maverik markets because their stores truly reflect the company’s culture. The adventurous store environment at Maverik is a testament to how both employees and customers embrace the great outdoors. The store experience is their “signature.”


Hatton: I believe it’s through innovation that uses technology, such as Coca-Cola’s Freestyle machines or Pepsi’s Spire beverage machines, and robots that are making salads. Another way is through new products, including new on-trend bakery items and fresh-baked cookies in-store, as well as fresh sandwiches, salads and sushi from local, respected restaurants. We are even piloting an edible fresh scoop cookie dough program with a company that was recently featured on “Shark Tank.”

Bona: Today’s shoppers are savvy, and authenticity is important to them. If you try to push “outrageous” gimmicks on them, they will call you out — and they have no shortage of social media channels with which to do that. None of this is to suggest, though, that you must be timid. I have always believed creating that engaging experience starts with the exterior. Curb appeal is what customers see every day, even when they don’t stop into the store. So, being a bit disruptive or a little outrageous can get customers’ attention and help you stand out from the crowd. However, you risk disappointing customers if the promise made on the outside is not carried through on the inside. Retailers must commit to delivering a 360-degree customer experience.


Hatton: Top practices that are sure to create a “wow” experience are the continued introduction of contemporary design elements, such as stones, woods and luxury vinyl tile. Also, LED energy-saving lighting and spotlights surgically placed to highlight product, along with sleek fixtures at the point-of-sale that elevate the brand. Offering organic, gluten-free products and premium coffees are just a few examples of products that can not only create a “wow” factor, but also add credibility and trust to your assortment.

Bona: First and foremost, create experiences that are authentic and built around giving meaning to your offer. If, for example, you have a robust food program, take cues from the restaurant industry, where higher-end establishments use open kitchens to show off how clean, precise and proud they are of how they prepare and deliver their food. Why not incorporate open kitchens in a c-store environment to help establish your food program as being first-class?

In addition, lighting is always the most misunderstood and most underutilized tool to create “wow” moments throughout the retail environment. Too often, retailers look to use uniform light levels to light their spaces, but highlights and contrasts are what creates drama. They enable you to feature key products or offers and make the shopping experience more enjoyable.

Originally published at Convenience Store News.

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Psyched to Succeed: How Customer Loyalty Drives Profit

CTM Design Services Ltd: The "Car Wash Study" provides curious insights into consumer behaviour. Read more