Rebranding The C-Store
March 7, 2017
For decades, convenience stores have been the champions of their own demise. Known for walls stocked with smokes, sodas kept cold behind frosty glass doors, and pre-packaged snacks, C-stores needed some help. Good for emergencies and not much else, the no-frills retail environments were OKAY for a quick stop while pumping gas. But, in this retail recession, they need to rethink their customer experience. Some are betting on health and wellness food service options, inside their stores. Showing significant traffic growth, the numbers say, the bets are paying off.
The old model looked a little like this: You stop to fill up your car’s gas tank, and then maybe you pick up a pack of smokes and a soda. Occasionally, the coffee, ice cream or doughnut case might catch your eye, and ends up in your bag. But probably not, because the coffee tasted terrible, the ice cream had freezer burn, and the doughnuts had a suspicious stale crunch, trademark of the C-store meal. And for a very long time, this quality of service has been acceptable. Not ideal, but certainly on-par with competition and their customer’s expectations.
To transition away from this image, a handful of C-stores started to offer fresh-made (sometimes nutritious) meals, as an alternative to near-by fast food chains and quick serve restaurants. Part of making that change involved taking a hard look at the reality of their business. Grabbing a full meal inside a C-Store feels wrong, and unappealing.
To capture food service traffic from the pumps, C-stores had to involve already popular name brands to beef-up their food service offerings. No more skeezy hot dogs rotating for hours at a time. Now it’s common to see a variety of restaurant brands setting up shop inside the traditional convenience store model. As this market continues to grow, C-Store operators are noticing the missed opportunity. What are they really gaining from taking on another brand name?
Sheetz was the first convenience store of its kind. For nearly 30 years they’ve been pioneers in the fresh-made food arena. Their full-service kitchens changed the game for C-Stores, and now other brands are catching on to the customizable and high-quality food trend. Don’t be surprised if your local gas station starts looking more like a Starbucks. That’s very intentional. Many companies are now in their first wave of debuting more elegant dining spaces, community tables, charging ports and Wi-Fi for your mobile devices.
Does it Work?
Once upon a time, the convenience factor could be a key differentiator for C-store brands. Now, with technology totally redefining what convenience means, they’ve had to find offerings outside of the “it’s fast and easy,” marketing pitch. Taking on health and wellness missions can be difficult, considering the price point and margins associated with C-stores. However, with thousands of distribution points, and a genuine need from the market, it appears they’re moving in the right direction.
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