A Fantasy Land

Walking into Fantasy's newest convenience store in Omaha, Neb., is like walking into a fantasy land where every turn leads customers to discover a new, exciting attraction.

"Very few of our competitors do what we do, and that is focus on the little touches," said Ed Krause, vice president of operations for the family-owned chain of 11 c-stores based in Omaha. "Whenever I walk into a business, whether it's a competitor or I'm just out shopping with my wife, I always look for the little things and compare it to our operation."

Opened last January, Fantasy's new 4,700-square-foot store was built following the same footprint the convenience retailer used for its last four new builds.

Everything about the store caters to the retailer's market niche, which is women. Approximately 65 percent of the customer base is female, Krause noted. On top of providing a clean, open and well-lit environment where women feel safe, Fantasy's features many "little touches" designed to appeal to all five senses: sight, sound, taste, touch and smell.

Sight begins with having eye-catching curb appeal. The store -- along with its 18 fuel pumps, two E85 dispensers and 150-foot touchfree car wash -- sits on two acres that were once home to a strip mall and a small farmhouse on the adjacent lot.

The exterior of the store features a mix of brick and EIFS (commonly referred to as synthetic stucco), with Fantasy's signature logo prominently displayed in stained glass over the entryway. Extensive landscaping, including large planting areas of rose bushes, decorative grasses and trees, accent the sprawling property.

Inside, elements such as floor-to-ceiling windows, a rich, warm color palette with stained oak trim and wallpaper, brass perimeter signage, tile flooring, wood laminates, pendant light fixtures and custom portraits displayed throughout the store combine to create what the chain's executives call "a comfortable, yet dynamic" design.

The flow of the store also provides sight appeal, with the front counter positioned within 15 feet of the front door, so associates can immediately greet customers. This area also features coffee and pastry samplings, as well as a cold case filled with freshly prepared sandwiches, fruits and desserts to drive impulse sales.

All high-traffic items, such as beer, fountain and packaged drinks, are strategically located in the farthest corners, forcing customers to see the entire store, according to Krause. "We make them walk the whole store to get there and back," he said.

To stimulate both sight and sound, a 52-inch LCD television screen sits behind the registers, and smaller monitors are placed above the coffee bar and in the seating area. The TVs are usually tuned to a news program, or general entertainment channels such as HGTV or The Food Network.

Sound comes into play at the fuel island as well, where customers are greeted by the clerks inside the store through individual pump intercoms. The day's specials are announced, and then cable news TV audio clicks on to entertain motorists as they fuel up.

When it comes to taste, Fantasy's cooks up a full line of fresh-prepared foods in the store. The unbranded food offering includes breakfast items, chicken nuggets, hot wings and much more.

On the beverage side, the retailer offers more than 10 flavored coffees, two five-head cappuccino machines, as well as 10 frozen drink heads with an extensive list of custom flavor recipes displayed above the section. Coffee tastings take place from October through March to give customers an incentive to try something different.

The store's coffee offering also delivers on the sense of touch, as the coffee cups feature a special thermal design that heats the drinker's hands without burning them.

The customers' sense of smell is stimulated by motion-activated fragrance dispensers that go off whenever someone enters the store. During the fall and winter months, popular seasonal scents are hot apple pie, cinnamon roll and hot chocolate.

"Customers really react to it," explained Mike Shramek, division manger for Fantasy's. "They smell that and immediately want a pastry or a cup of hot chocolate."

Beyond the five senses, Fantasy's new store also includes "little touches" of green. Energy-efficient LED lighting was incorporated throughout the store and in the car wash. Recycled oil is used to heat the car wash, and these same burners heat the front sidewalk and parking lot, keeping them free of snow and ice. Heating for the bathrooms is supplemented by drawing heat from the frozen beverage machines that sit along the adjoining wall. Window tinting and shading help reduce heat transfer, further cutting energy usage and costs.

Based on customer response and the fact that the design received the "Best of Omaha" designation by Omaha Magazine, Fantasy's executives believe they've found a store model that delights shoppers and sets the chain apart in the marketplace.

"It's the reaction of our customers and [their] loyalty that makes us strive to find the little things that put us on the cutting edge," said Shramek. "There's a lot of impact when customers think 'Gee, they have me in mind' rather than 'I'm one in a thousand.'"
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