EL PASO, Texas — When Alon Brands LLC bought West Convenience in 2001, the site that is now its newest 7-Eleven prototype store was included in the deal. However, Alon tried to unload the El Paso location because it didn’t think it was “c-store material,” recalled Jonathan Ketchum, senior vice president of Dallas-based Alon Brands, the largest U.S. 7-Eleven licensee.
That was until the state built an international bridge and loop from Mexico into El Paso, and the area became increasingly busy. Alon soon switched gears and instead of unloading the site, it purchased two adjacent parcels in 2015, totaling two acres of land to build upon.
Just last month, the retailer opened a new store on the site that ushers in a fresh look for Alon’s 7-Eleven stores. The El Paso prototype is the second of this concept, but the first truck stop to sport the design. The El Paso store opened for business Oct. 19, just four months after Alon debuted its very first new 7-Eleven prototype in Rio Rancho, N.M.
While Alon’s legacy store network features sites that are typically 2,400 square feet, the company had launched a larger format measuring 3,500 square feet. Still, Alon felt that square footage didn’t provide sufficient capacity for a foodservice area with in-store seating. Thus, the retailer decided its first prototype store in Rio Rancho would be 4,503 square feet.
As they say, though, everything is bigger in Texas. And so when it came to the El Paso prototype, Alon added even more square footage, taking it to a hefty 5,200 square feet.
The newest site differs from Rio Rancho because it is more commercial than residential. “We wanted to replicate what we did in Rio Rancho, but this site was a unique opportunity,” Ketchum said.
Appealing to El Paso’s blue-collar demographic, the store targets OTR (over-the-road) drivers who travel between the United States and Mexico, as well as long- and short-haul commercial and professional drivers. While the store incorporates much of the Rio Rancho décor, Alon substituted more traditional quick-service restaurant (QSR) hot foods to appeal to this demographic, rather than the bakery and smoothie offerings of Rio Rancho.
El Paso also does not feature a wine wall like Rio Rancho does. But the location does offer a beer cave, due to El Paso being a strong market for beer sales, according to Ketchum. In fact, he noted that beer performs better than cigarettes in this market.
The El Paso 7-Eleven store additionally differs from Rio Rancho in that its customized foodservice offering includes a Chester’s Chicken restaurant. “We hoped to put in a local Mexican QSR, but they were reluctant. So, we went with a Chester’s that is bilingual to give us a Tex-Mex customized foodservice program,” said Ketchum. Alon wanted a foodservice program here that included chicken because it has universal appeal.
Using the El Paso and Rio Rancho stores as a design template, the retailer intends to expand this new concept. Alon already has plans for three other interstate travel stops. The targeted sites are in El Paso and Midland/Odessa, Texas, and Albuquerque, N.M.
“We hope to procure capital to build new or raze/rebuild up to 10 sites next year,” Ketchum said.
Alon operates more than 300 c-stores in Texas and New Mexico.
For more on Alon’s newest prototype store, look in the December issue of Convenience Store News.