Convenience Cubed

Many convenience stores today have added a drive-thru option for customers in an effort to become even more convenient, but what about a store that is a drive-thru and nothing more? That is the concept behind The Cube.

The 2,500-square-foot store opened Dec. 6 in Norman, Okla., and rather than call it a convenience store, the owners have dubbed it a “neighborhood concierge.”

“We looked at c-stores that offer a drive-thru and many seemed inconvenient,” Jake Sharp, one of the owners of The Cube, told Convenience Store News. “Often the same person working inside the store is also working the drive-thru, and that isn’t offering good customer service inside or outside. Also, the few that offered the option were limited in terms of products you could get through the drive-thru.”

At The Cube, customers can pull up to the window and get a white mocha latte, fresh-squeezed lemonade, a French toast breakfast sandwich, a turkey BLT wrap for lunch, diapers for their child and cat food for their pet without ever getting out of the car.

If stopping on the way home from work, they can pick up a fresh pizza for dinner, stock up on eggs, bread and deodorant, and be on their way. Products available include a variety of fresh foods, health and beauty care, household products, cold and flu medicine, vitamins, gum, candy, chips, coffee, cold beverage’s and fountain drinks.

The idea sparked when Sharp, who opened two drive-thru tobacco shops five years ago, began adding convenience items to the mix as his shops were seeing between 800 and 1,000 people per day. The shops added fountain drinks, coffee, beer, chips and snacks, and the demand continued to grow with customers asking them to stock more products.

“We started as just tobacco and saw the customer base changing and wanting more convenience items,” he explained. “Then, we had beer companies telling us how much of the beer business we were taking over compared to convenience stores in the area.”

Sharp decided to partner with Joe Lawrence, now CEO, and another owner to “reinvent convenience” and create a new drive-thru concept with The Cube, which is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

Customers can pull up to any one of The Cube’s four windows and order what they need, or they can place an order ahead of time via the company’s website or app and just drive up to the front door and have someone bring their order to their car.

“Our technology is proprietary and we have perpetual inventory, so someone won’t order something that is out of stock,” Sharp said. “We want to incorporate RFID technology next where we will give customers a tag to put into their car so we will know when they are outside, and we can bring their order right to the car when they pull up. It will also help us track what you buy, so if you want your usual — maybe a mocha and a breakfast parfait — we can see you four cars back and have it ready for you.”

Making it Fresh

In deciding what they wanted to offer at The Cube, the partners started with where they think many convenience stores are lacking.

The first item that came to mind was coffee, as traditionally c-store customers are limited to “prepackaged coffee or powdered cappuccino,” according to Sharp.

Lawrence did the research, sourced coffee beans from overseas, and had a roast created exclusively for The Cube so it can’t be found anywhere else in the country.

“We have a barista just like you would find at your neighborhood coffee shop,” Sharp said. “The next important thing after coffee was food offerings.”

When they originally came up with the concept for The Cube, the owners didn’t think they would offer food because they doubted they could keep the quality high while making items quickly to support the drive-thru concept. But after hiring an executive chef who trained in France and owned restaurants in the past, the owners realized they would be able to get the window time customers expected, without compromising the food quality.

“Now, our food is what our concept is centered around,” Sharp said. “Our barista and our food will become our anchor. People come for coffee and food and while they are there, they can get tobacco, beer and groceries.”

The kitchen is small, but utilizes two turbo convection ovens to cook more quickly, and everything is made on the premises. While the menu is limited because they couldn’t maintain the timeframe for service if the menu became too large, all menu items — breakfast, lunch and dinner — can be purchased at any time of day so someone can pull up and pick up both breakfast and lunch before work, Sharp noted.

“Everything is made fresh, even the pizza. We cut the meats and cook the sausage at the store,” he explained. “We don’t have fryers, microwaves or grease, and we can take the pizza dough, Boar’s Head cheese and Italian sausages, and have it ready for you in four minutes.”

Expansion plans

The first store in Norman will serve as the company’s prototype, and the owners have a plan in place to open 25 more stores in Oklahoma.

They may even look into franchising at some point. One of the advantages of not needing such a large space is that the company has more real estate options open to them, according to Lawrence.

“There are a lot of old-fashioned gas stations going under, and with c-stores getting bigger and bigger today, they find the lots are too small. But we can take [those lots] and use them for our concept,” he said.

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