West Coast meets East Coast in a surprising design twist from Pacific West General Store, located in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Situated at the iconic intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway, the 76-branded gas station and convenience store was not aesthetically living up to its prime location and was in need of an overhaul, according to owner Robert Munakash, who described the old store concept as ?boring and drab? with no real theme.
The obvious choice for Pacific West General Store was a beach theme to tie in with the neighborhood, but Munakash did not want the design to be obvious. ?When you think of Pacific ?beachiness,? you think of straw on the ground and surfboards, but I didn?t really want to do that; it wasn?t hip ? been there, done that,? Munakash told Convenience Store News. ?Ocean-view gas pumping is sexy, but how do you get them to come inside??
After experiencing the hip vibe and East Coast/ New England beach home-inspired design of an area nightspot and bar called SHOREbar in Santa Monica, Calif., the light went off for Munakash. He decided he wanted a similar look: a throwback to the golden age of gas station turned roadside service bar that one might find in Nantucket, R.I.
?To me, the East Coast beach vibe has a small-town village feel. It seems like it?s been there forever and will last forever. It?s very welcoming and warm, and that?s what I?m striving for,? Munakash said. He also wanted to complement his high-end community with an equally high-end design offering an outstanding customer experience.
So, with the support of 76 brand parent Phillips 66 behind him, Munakash hired the same design firm SHOREbar utilized, Built Inc. in L.A., to transform his formerly unimaginative 10,000-square-foot ?retail box? into something that has a more personal, intimate vibe for local customers and visitors (60 percent of the clientele is local, 40 percent is made up of tourists). Munakash praised Phillips 66 for encouraging him to ?push the envelope? and bring ?something different to the table.?
In April, the remodeled Pacific West General Store ? completely stripped and devoid of all ?cold? metal shelving ? was unveiled with new design elements that have an ?old-time general-store feel, but presented in a totally modern way for today,? according to John Sofio, owner and founder of design firm Built.
?We find that most big gas stations present a shopping experience that is daunting and bland, and the design is typically very unappealing,? added Sormeh Azad, creative director of Built. ?We wanted something that feels organic and real, as opposed to fake and applied elements. But we also needed materials that could withstand traffic, be durable and add some warmth.?
The new store design achieves this through elements such as:
- Clear pine wood-paneled walls stained in classic grey;
- Highly durable ceramic tile floors with a grey-washed finish that ?gives it the same warm feeling as the walls,? according to Azad;
- Blue and white nautical striping painted on two-by-two squares of a T-bar ceiling to complement the grey and white color palette throughout and give off a beach club vibe;
- Custom wood cabinetry and shelving created for the back bar with perfectly crafted slots for cigarettes and other stacked merchandise;
- Vintage-looking, general store-style service cabinets and counters in areas like the coffee bar;
- Cement board shingles that emit a Nantucket vibe utilized in areas such as a gazebo-like structure engulfing the sink at the coffee bar; and
- Stylized restrooms with unique porthole mirrors, again evoking a Nantucket atmosphere.
In addition to design elements that call out to customers to come inside and linger, the redesign delivers a space that?s a lot less cluttered, according to Munakash, who owns two other c-stores in Southern California, Village General Store and Santa General Store. ?The redesign inspired us to merchandise the store lean and clean,? he said.
Taking the tobacco bar as an example, the newly designed space only includes the 60 percent of tobacco brands that were actually moving prior to the redesign.
?We?ve got fewer products in a cleaner, more organized space,? said Munakash. ?It?s easier to maintain and we?re selling more cigarettes in a declining industry, which even my reps from Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds confirm. They tell us we?re up, even though the overall territory for them is down. I?m not stealing market share from anyone, I don?t imagine ? my pricing strategy never changed ? so it?s the design. Customers like shopping this space more and the overall experience is what is differentiating me.?
Tobacco sales, which were previously declining prior to the redesign, are now up about 12 percent at Pacific West General Store, according to Munakash.
The overall feedback received in-store has been extremely positive. ?[People] say ?what is this? when they first walk in and then, ?this is great.? I love hearing it and, of course, the best compliment they give me is the increase in sales,? he relayed.
Theme-based gas stations and convenience stores are trending right now, noted Munakash, who has observed some western-themed stores in California. ?Owners like me want our stations to stand out and give customers an experience,? he said. ?The 7-Elevens of the world are OK. They all have a consistent look, but I think people want more than that, and we want to give it to them.?
Tantamount to a successful theme, however, is a theme that gets carried through the store. ?It?s not enough to have a nice look on the outside that doesn?t match up on the inside. That won?t resonate with savvy customers today,? he added.
Munakash said the c-store industry should borrow a page from Sin City in terms of boosting stores with excitement every so often. ?If you look at [Las] Vegas casinos, they refresh every three to four years,? he said. ?We don?t have that ability, but we have to refresh as often as possible and strive to make it last.?
The hardest part about the redesign, he recalled, came after the theme was chosen and he had to let the design team run with the vision and trust in what they did without interfering along the way.
?As business owners, we might manage and merchandise well, but we don?t often know what?s in and out in design. I consider myself hip, but I couldn?t really manifest it into a c-store design. I realized I?m not a design expert. I hired experts and got fantastic results,? he said.