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10/04/2022

PHOTO GALLERY: Street Corner Evolves to Keep Pace

The franchisee-owned chain is aggressively growing to meet the needs of today’s urban, digital communities.
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Street Corner Urban Market

TOPEKA, Kan. At Street Corner, there are no stop signs.

Ever evolving, the multiformat, franchisee-owned chain of 32 years which is now in 19 U.S. states and one new international location (Panama City) — is most recently distinguishing itself with an urban market format that features a contemporary store design, advanced technology, and unique and fresh foodservice.

“We call ourselves the new generation of c-stores,” Street Corner CEO Vikram Dhillon told Convenience Store News. “We’re now focusing heavily on organic food, local product, and cobranding with local businesses.”

A flagship Street Corner urban market store is slated to open in February 2023 in Tempe, Ariz., where the “first car-free neighborhood built from scratch” in the United States is underway. This neighborhood will feature Street Corner’s largest store to date 5,000 square feet vs. the chain’s previous maximum store size of 3,700 square feet.

The demographics in this neighborhood will consist largely of retirees and empty nesters who don’t want to drive anymore, according to Dhillon, who will be the Tempe store’s owner/franchisee. Street Corner has never had company-owned stores, but Dhillon is building this store (his third franchised location) to practice what he preaches.

“[Franchisees] will want to visit to see the perfect new model of our stores, and I’m going to do everything by the book,” the chief executive said.

One of the highlights of this flagship store will be a full-service, premium beverage program with a dedicated space like Starbucks, Dhillon relayed. “There will be somebody behind the counter making your beverage fresh,” he explained.

At this location, Street Corner is cobranding with Rare Earth Coffee, which falls in the 1 percent of coffee roasters that “air roast” their coffee. “It doesn’t have an aftertaste, and it’s a lot smoother,” he said. “I have consultants and I’m still learning about all of this, but it’s something outside of the box and we’re excited about it.”

An Entrepreneur Resurgence

Street Corner has no intent of slowing down. Agreements for 25 new locations have been signed and these stores are slated to open between now and next summer.

The chain has noticed an entrepreneur resurgence since the pandemic has started to ease. During the height of COVID-19, Dhillon said “people got scared of taking risks. But now, not so much. They’re stepping outside of their normal shell and pleasantly surprising us, looking beyond opening stores in the U.S. They’re looking at underserved countries and cities.”

Street Corner’s first international store in Panama City, Panama, opened at the end of April, and the retailer is receiving more international inquiries. “Our business model is flexible enough for this,” the CEO said. “We want to cater to local demographics, including internationally. We are not cookie-cutter like most franchisees. We look at local communities, what they need and what they’re missing.”

This also includes stores with fuel — yet another evolution of the Street Corner brand. The chain opened its first location with gas in South Dakota last November. This particular location also includes a sports bar and casino.

With this addition, Street Corner now offers three store formats for franchising: Express Stores for shopping centers and campuses, Urban Markets for underserved metro communities, and Urban Market Fuel Stations. 

With an eye to the future, the company is testing a fully cashier-free “autonomy store” in the upscale San Diego seaside neighborhood of La Jolla. This is another one of Dhillon’s franchise stores, where he decided to experiment when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. 

The store is in a high-rise office building that caters to about 6,000 employees, many of whom started working from home during the pandemic. As a way to survive, reduce the store’s payroll and try to stay afloat by attracting nearby hotel clientele, Dhillon installed artificial intelligence (AI) technology whereby the door is unlocked with a credit card and items can be dropped into a virtual shopping cart.

“The goal was to have it accessible to the hotel area 24 hours a day,” he said, noting that this pilot is ongoing with the autonomy store evolving with more learnings.

Naan Traditional

All new Street Corner stores feature the Topeka, Kan.-based chain’s new made-to-order food program. Using Indian naan bread as its platform, the proprietary menu consists of sandwiches, wraps, and flatbread pizza. Varieties include Buffalo Chicken, Spinach and Pesto, Beef Bulgogi, Margarita, and Chicken Chipotle.

The new fare is cleverly marketed as “Naan Traditional,” and was created by a renowned chef and veteran food consultant who was hired to bring in more “exotic” offerings.

The new prototype stores will also serve breakfast foods and gourmet salads, along with providing catering services. The goal, according to Dhillon, is to make every store a local destination for food and essentials. “People will go out of their way, or at least make a special trip, for food they like and see as a good value,” he said.

As part of the urban market’s “more upscale market feel,” wine tastings and wine pairings will be a recommended store element, one that is already underway at a New York location, and will be part of the Tempe flagship store owned by Dhillon.

“Because craft beer and wine will be a big focus, we will have local vendors come in and do the pairings, put the menu together for us, and set up tables on a monthly or weekly basis. It won’t be a mandatory part of the franchise program because at the end of the day, we want franchisees to control their business. But I’ll be doing them and recommending them as a way to increase sales,” he said.