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Sunoco's A-Plus Tests New Store Design

PHILADELPHIA -- Sunoco's A-Plus branded convenience store chain is getting a new look that features a more efficient check out area, better-positioned foodservice operation and more consistence, effective signage.

Sunoco retained CBX, a New York-based strategic branding and design consultancy, to develop a new look for the oil refiner and marketer's company-operated stores along the East Coast from Massachusetts to Florida, as well as in upstate New York and Ohio. Averaging 2,850 square feet, A-Plus stores located in select Sunoco stations, offer on-the-go snacks; a wide range of beverages including soft drinks, coffee, juices and water; and packaged foods for lunches or quick pick-me-ups. A grocery area stocks basic necessities such as bread, milk and eggs.

"Sunoco’s significant investment in its current look and feel carries major equity with customers," said Joseph Bona, president of CBX’s retail division. "The bright and inviting primary color palette found on Sunoco’s architecture and gas canopy signage makes its way inside the stores by way of counters, fixtures and floors, as well as departmental graphics and promotional messaging. Our challenge was to take those existing assets and package them in a much more consistent way. We looked at what graphic elements could be modified or refined and identified what new graphic elements were needed for the stores to be more productive, and to transmit the idea of cleanliness and quality to customers."

As competition in the convenience store sector heats up, Bona noted, Sunoco is increasingly going head-to-head with other national and regional players who have raised the bar in terms of freshly prepared foods and beverages such as premium coffees.

"Sunoco wanted to put more focus on its coffee and packaged foods offer in order to generate higher sales and increase margins,” he explained.

To that end, CBX’s design upgrade included reworking the left-hand side of the layout to position coffee and fresh on-the-go foods in a way that would create greater awareness of Sunoco’s newly expanded offer and facilitate sales. This was a departure from the prior layout, under which customers entering A-Plus stores first encounter typical c-store fare, such as bagged candy and snacks.

Sunoco's stores are reorganizing the checkout counter to improve transaction efficiency and increase impulse purchases. The design firm also helped developed perimeter department signage, wall graphics and menu boards.

Sunoco currently is evaluating the revamped layout and graphics in its Wyomissing, Pa., location before rolling it out to its company-owned locations.

"This store design delivers our new grab-and-go sandwich and prepared beverage programs in a cost-effective, easy-to-operate format. We believe the end result will be a higher return on capital," said Jim Farrow, Sunoco's franchise manager and manager of store design and layout.

Sunoco operates five refineries and markets Sunoco-brand gasoline through more than 4,680 retail outlets (including Ultra Service Centers and A-Plus convenience stores), primarily along the East Coast, upstate New York and the upper Midwest.

Sunoco also produces lubricants and mines coal for coke processing and operates a chemicals business.

In 2004, A-Plus became a sponsor of NASCAR and is the "Official Pit Stop of NASCAR," along with being the "Official Convenience Store of NASCAR." NASCAR merchandise and products are available at participating A-Plus locations.

In other new concept news, Thorntons Inc. , based in Louisville, opened its newest store there on South Hurstbourne Lane. This stores offers many of the same features found at the chain's other locations in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Illinois and Connecticut.

Customers will find a fresh food selection featuring salads, sandwiches, fruit, and Thorntons "Hot Off the Grill" program of hot dogs, egg rolls, pizza rolls, sausage links and corndogs. A wall of beverages offers a large variety of fountain drinks, Icee drinks, smoothies and Jalava branded coffee.

The new store is the third Thorntons in the Louisville area to offer E85 fuel. Thorntons has seven locations throughout the chain selling E85, and management expects to add E85 to additional stores in the future.

"We are excited about the grand opening of our newest store," Matt Thornton, president and CEO, said in a statement. "Our goal is to provide customers with a unique shopping experience. From our world class coffee to our highest-quality fresh food and value priced grocery items, we hope to delight our customers with an enjoyable one-stop shopping experience."

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