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Design Matters

As supermarket operators and mass merchandisers encroach upon traditional convenience territories, c-store operators are forced to explore innovative designs to better define their niche and increase market share, particularly among non-core customer groups.

Branding and marketing specialists are continually developing solutions for clients that will translate across all categories, and will effectively position convenience stores for an increased share of profits. To do this, though, Stuart Berni, president and CEO of Greenwich, Conn.-based Berni Marketing & Design, suggests retailers keep an open mind and be willing to experiment with new ideas.

"Color is an extremely important element in convenience store design because it adds energy to the retail environment," Berni said. "The use of color can be particularly helpful in segmenting the different sections of a store and articulating categories such as foodservice, beverages and health and beauty care."

Retail chains are catching on. Big Oil powerhouse BP plc, for example, designed its new Connect c-store concept with a heavy emphasis on color and category segmentation. Connect uses interesting and modern colors that not only flow together, but also direct customers to the different sections of the store.

The Wild Bean Café, which includes gourmet coffee, fresh-baked breads and pastries, and custom-made sandwiches and salads, is adorned with bright red and yellow colors. The Arctic Avenue fountain and cooler areas are white and blue, while the dairy section is orange, white and yellow.

These colors were chosen specifically because of the image each color connotes. "The white and blue Arctic Avenue section helps drive cold beverage sales during the summer months," said Polly Flinn, BP's vice president of global retail marketing. "Conversely, in the winter, the bright red gives off a warm, inviting color that promotes coffee and hot food sales."

A similar strategy is employed by Oak Brook, Ill.-based Clark Retail Enterprises Inc., which operates more than 1,200 convenience stores in the Midwest.

In Clark's Oh! Zone retailing concept, the company differentiates each category with warm, inviting colors that enhance fluidity in guiding customers throughout the store.

The store's vibrant red, white and blue colors at the coolers interact with earthly wood tones that promote the coffee and foodservice areas, said John Matthews, Clark's vice president of marketing and corporate communications.

"With the right use of colors, retailers can establish the right tone for their service and product offerings, and create appropriate impact, legibility and memorability," Berni said. "Color can make small environments look bigger as well. Improved use of color will help drive sales and increase overall profitability."

Reaching Out

"Generally, it's our personal philosophy that all of our stores should promote a warm environment," said Hal Wright, president of Idaho, Falls, Idaho-based Wright Oil Co. "But each store is unique in that it needs to reach beyond its core customers to attract new business. That's what keeps us going."

Wright implemented this strategy in developing the company's Wright Brothers Travel Center in Idaho Falls. The unit was designed with a dazzling array of blue, green red and orange colors that mesh together to create more of a shopping experience than a quick pit stop at the local c-store. The store is also decorated with an airplane theme and multiple fighter-plane murals.

Wright believes that a shopper's experience could be completely ruined by the incongruity of colors. "Customers can feel when a shopping experience is right," he said. "If they feel uncomfortable or out of place, they will walk away and probably never return. Color has that power."
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