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The new pandemic planogram

From capitalizing on emerging opportunities to accommodating queuing systems and adjusting to category upheaval, making every square foot count is more important than ever

Screen Shot 2020-08-25 at 1.02.30 PMTo say that this year has been challenging would be an understatement. With everything that we’re now expected to do (and not do), how do we plan for our future business, while keeping customers, staff and ourselves safe?

Layouts that feature proper category allocation are even more important, in part because you need to allow more space for safer movement, which ultimately reduces sales space. This means making every square foot even more productive, but not to the point of impeding customer movement or safety. The days of jammed isles with cases of pop, weekenders and promo packs are gone. A crowded and cluttered location does not reflect well on the operator and their dedication to customer safety. Prior to this, it was the bathroom that offered a glimpse into the dealer’s commitment level, or perceived level. It often turned out badly.

The key categories have always been dynamic, forcing retailers to pay close attention to them, or at least the good ones, but nowadays you really do need a plan. Some categories have been completely reworked, while others are showing growth that has been unheard of for years. The healthy and beauty aids/over the counter (HBA/OTC), household and dairy categories are in the forefront. While perhaps unlikely six months ago, now these make sense because customers want to “one-stop-shop” for their milk, Advil and Lysol Wipes, at the same place they buy their gas and cigarettes. We continue to have tobacco, lottery and some very low gas prices bringing customers in store, and with a few product and layout changes, we can have them leaving with a little more. These days, people want to be efficient shoppers so if you didn’t offer tap and pay, a website or provide online or pre-ordering before the pandemic, you should now.  

There have been some serious product surges in recent months, including toilet paper, disinfectant sprays and cleaning supplies, which caused supply rushes. This prompted customers to look at sources and suppliers that they normally wouldn’t, for products they normally wouldn’t. As the Shoppers Drug Marts get more into groceries, maybe convenience operators should consider more HBA/OTC business? Everyone seems eager to pick up those little hand sanitizers at check out. Specialty category products have become even more important to help give your customers greater choices when they shop with you. A trend can develop as simply as an everyday item that has found a secondary purpose.

Screen Shot 2020-08-25 at 1.02.50 PMCustomer and staff safety are the top priorities. Retailers are taking a second look at how they allocate space for customer movement and flow. Plexiglass barriers for the operators are now common, while the use of queuing systems at the cash gives customers and staff a sense of distance and order. Consider fixtures that create a “queuing structure” (Winners and HomeSense do this) to stream, direct and space out customers, while waiting to pay, as well as floor clings (footprints) to help determine distance and direction. These fixtures also offer a last POP opportunity to display products as the customer waits to pay. 

Now, more than ever, it’s important to have a PLAN. The fixtures, service counters and cash-desk need to be designed for maximum product sales, and the product featured needs to be current and in demand. There needs to be room to move and shop, while distancing from others. We call this “social distancing” now, but some have referred to it as “frictionless” in the past. The key to the safety of your staff, customers and you is a PLAN. 

This article originally appeared in the June/July issue of Convenience Store News Canada.

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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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