Ramping Up Local Identity Could Drive Higher Results for C-store Chains

A new report recommends leveraging interior design, offering opportunities to touch merchandise, and getting creative with outdoor spaces.

BOSTON and NEW YORK — Tapping into the concept of "returning to the corner store" and playing into an operator's local identity is an important move for convenience store retailers as they adapt to today's oversaturated market.

According to a newly released whitepaper entitled Reimagining Sites & Stores: Perspectives on the Future of Convenience Retail from Bona Design Lab and HFA Architects & Engineers, amid challenges like channel-blurring and ecommerce commoditization, "many c-store leaders are now refocusing on giving customers the social interaction they've been missing, and on making sure their stores convey a strong sense of local identity."

In the "Returning to the Corner Store" section of the report, the two firms offer tips for giving individual stores more of "that neighborhood feel" by: 

  • Using products and their names, ingredients and flavor profiles to add a local touch. "That could be branded shrimp-and-grits at a store in south Georgia or a locally made, contest-winning cheesesteak in suburban Philly," authors James Owens, AIA, and vice president of HFA, and Joseph Bona, president of Bona Design Lab, wrote.
  • Offering opportunities to touch and feel the merchandise. A significant percentage of shoppers will continue to prefer handling products. "Even as you add the likes of contactless vending machines, make sure you also have more traditional options such as open chillers filled with fresh-made sandwiches," they advise.
  • Leveraging interior design. Basic building blocks include lighting, materials, colors, and graphics, all of which can be deftly used to emphasize human connection and that local touch. "The key is to 'keep it real' and strive for a unified and authentic experience," according to the report. 
  • Getting more creative with outdoor spaces. In select markets with larger sites and lower real estate costs, c-stores could use picnic tables, free Wi-Fi, food trucks or other amenities to enliven the experience. "For example, the store's location next to a popular, multi-use trail could create an opportunity to offer customers a bike repair station, water fountains for dogs, and an outdoor gourmet coffee stand," wrote the authors.

In addition to "Returning to the Corner Store," the 33-page whitepaper also focuses on "Integrating Omnichannel Offerings," "Revolutionizing Convenience Foodservice," "Anticipating Cultural Shifts," and "Capitalizing on Electrification."

"All too often, discussion of the future of c-stores ends up in speculative territory that feels disconnected from the industry's roots, the realities of the marketplace and what has worked in the past," Bona and Owens wrote. "[Our] aim was to … stay grounded and look in concrete terms at how new or accelerated trends could translate into concrete action for c-store clients, from the forecourt to the cash wrap."

The free whitepaper is available here.

HFA Architects & Engineers and Bona Design Lab announced a strategic alliance earlier this month, combining HFA's fully-integrated architecture, engineering and construction project delivery process with Bona's global experience in retail branding and new format design, as Convenience Store News previously reported.

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