Boost Sales, Build a Brand and Grow Traffic with a REMODEL

About two years ago Mike Sibley, president of LaPlace Travel Center, had to remodel the Huddle House restaurant at his location as part of his contract. Following the restaurant renovation, the location saw a 15 to 20 percent sustained increase in sales, which made him realize what a worthwhile investment a remodel or renovation can be.

Sibley continued investing in the property, replacing the fuel dispensers on the location’s 27 fueling lanes. “They were getting old and I was having continuous maintenance issues and we needed to be able to accept the new chip at the pumps,” he said.

Sibley installed 10 double-sided gasoline dispensers and seven highflow double-sided diesel dispensers that have DEF nozzles incorporated into them. “Before that we had a separate DEF pump at one island,” Sibley said, adding that DEF sales have increased significantly.

The next phase of Sibley’s improvement plan is to remodel the convenience store. “When you go into other stores, you look at what they’re doing and see how much space they’re devoting to certain things,” he said. “They have figured out how to maximize sales, and I want to mimic what the big guys are doing.”

Sibley has engaged Paragon Solutions to create an overall renovation strategy that will increase sales. “I wanted to know, based on our sales data and their knowledge of the industry, what was the best amount of space to devote to each element of the store,” Sibley said.

Mike Lawshe, president of Paragon Solutions, said every remodel should start with a hard look at the operation. “You have to take two steps back before you can take one forward. That includes what is working and what is not,” Lawshe
said. “It isn’t about drawing pretty pictures and saying go spend the money. There are short- and longterm solutions to any problem.”

Operators should also look beyond their own operations to get greater insight into the industry as a whole. “In any design, one of the challenges is to overcome preconceived notions operators may have. We all have ideas of what we might want to do, but it is limited by our knowledge,” Lawshe said. “You only know what you know. If you’ve been working in your travel plaza for five years, you know your customers, but you don’t know all of the customers you could have.”

Lawshe said operators have to break down every single component in their stores. “You can almost put down a plus and minus on every area and identify if you are meeting industry averages or doing better,” he said.

Lawshe said he almost always starts a remodel by thinking about lighting, operational cleanliness and potential new profit centers, but added that it is important to do a total analysis.

A complete needs analysis can help operators identify design changes that could improve sales. “Sometimes the facelift is what is needed, sometimes profit center revamping is needed and sometimes you have to rebrand yourself,” Lawshe said. “In any remodel, it isn’t about just making something prettier, it is about figuring out how to make more money. There are always things that are missing.”

Darren Schulte, vice president of membership for NATSO, said understanding what is needed starts with getting to know your customers.

“Knowing your customer is one of the most important things for an operator, and I’m still shocked about how many people don’t know who their customer is,” Schulte said.

Schulte recommends operators create a simple heat map to track how people move throughout the location. “Take a stick drawing of your store. Then for 30 minutes, three times a day for a week track how people come into your store. Take your busiest times of the day and track how people are walking through your store and where they stop,” Schulte said. “After a week’s time, you’ll understand what type of customer you have in your store. You’ll also start to notice the demographics.”

Surveys can also help operators get to know their customers and give them direction on a remodel. “Asking ‘why do you stop here’ is helpful. You can build your business around that,” Schulte said. “If they tell you because you’re fast, you could work on making it even quicker. If they talk about the food, maybe you should be focused on expanding the food or making it even quicker.”

It is also important for operators to consider their brand, and branding goes beyond colors and logos, encompassing everything from the look of the inside to the packaging of sandwiches to the specific profit centers within the store. “Branding is every way you communicate who you are in a very visual way. When you do the analysis on the front end, do a brand analysis as well,” Lawshe said.

Creating a brand is about creating a story. Tiffany Gamble, advisor at Hat Six Travel Plaza, said Paragon Solutions helped her identify her design priorities and craft an overall feel for the location when the owners launched a remodel. “They asked us, ‘Where are you now and where do you want to head?’ They had a list of questions we answered,” she said.

Some of the words Gamble used to describe the feeling she wanted to evoke in the location were sleek, tough, rugged, country, down home, warm and inviting. “It is a lot to wrap into one, but they really understood what was in my mind. People are proud to be from here, so we wanted to capture whole Wyoming feel,” she said.

Lawshe said telling a compelling story is locations’ biggest opportunity, but it is often the least understood. Lawshe said bringing in an outside consultant can help businesses analyze the location and craft a story, citing the creative brief
Gamble provided to him. “The challenge is to weave that into the brand,” he said. “By doing that you increase your level of success.

Hat Six helped shape its brand by changing its name. Prior to the remodel, its proper name was Eastgate Travel Center, even though the locals referred to it by the name of a nearby ranch and the road it was located on, which was Hat Six.
“Sometimes you need to do things that make sense for your customer. They already knew us as that,” Gamble said.

Rebranding the location as Hat Six resonated with locals and created a story. “The remodel gave them an opportunity to say this name means something,” Lawshe said.

As part of its remodel, Hat Six decided to build a new building from the ground up, and the investment has paid off. Since the Hat Six remodel was complete, sales are up 30 to 40 percent, Gamble said. “It was taking a risk and we were taking a chance, but you have to create something new and exciting to get more customers,” she said.

Part of a remodel can include adding in technology to reduce waste, improve quality and improve sales. “As a retail designer, I’m looking at physical changes that can improve it,” Lawshe said.

The right design can also help operators make their facilities more efficient for staff. “In food service, a lot of times you put the kitchen in the back because it is dirty or messy but that entails an increase in labor because your kitchen staff is autonomous from your wait staff and that is autonomous of cashiers,” Lawshe said.

Open kitchens are popular right now. “It changes things to a theater approach in cooking where your customers see everything going on back there. You’re creating a different environment,” Lawshe said. “People want that openness, and from a design operation you’ve made it more efficient.

A current trend in the coffee section is bean-to-cup, similar to Keurig but for commercial use, Lawshe said. “It brews it right there and there is zero waste. If you line up 15 machines, there is no waiting and the quality is better,” he explained, adding that although the cost is higher, the net to the bottom line is higher because there is zero waste and less labor required.

Made-to-order programs are trending. “With today’s technology, you can have an efficient made-to-order program and not have foods sitting in a warming case for up to two hours,” Lawshe said. “When you go into a Starbucks, you see a breakfast sandwich in the case that looks appealing, but they grab a fresh one and put it in the oven.” The labor factor is negligible, and customers get fresh food.

Trends, whether they are within the truckstop or travel plaza industry or in outside retail establishments, can also shape decision making during a remodel.

One of Lawshe’s specific recommendations for Sibley was to add grab-and-go foods as sales have exploded in recent years. “When this store was built, that didn’t exist,” he said.

Trends can include specific regional ideas or the latest developments that are impacting the truckstop and travel plaza industry as a whole or a specific location. “Trends and how they are affecting the marketplace can vary location to location,” Lawshe said.

As part of a needs analysis, operators may identify specific ethnic groups that stop at the location. If operators identify certain ethnicities, they can talk to their vendors about which products might be trending in that area to appeal to those shoppers. “If you don’t ask your vendor, you might be missing an opportunity,” Schulte said.

However, locations will want to track sales to make sure the vendor recommendations are working, which is something that Schulte experienced firsthand when managing a location in El Paso that was in an area with a large number of Hispanic customers. “We weren’t enjoying beer sales based on what everyone else around us was. When we started looking at our data, we saw that brands that typically appealed to Hispanics, such as Tecate, weren’t our big sellers. Heineken was, and we had to fight with our vendor to get more Heineken products,” he said, adding that it was the data that eventually convinced the vendor.

Sibley’s approach of completing a remodel in phases can work well for operators, particularly if there is a lot of work to be done. “You don’t want to impact your existing business, so you want to strategically plan so you can do it in phases,” Lawshe said.

Lawshe recommends operators develop a full plan first, then from there create the stages and phases that make sense. “If you don’t have a master plan in place or an end game, you may do things that have an immediacy to them but then constricts you later on, like putting something in where it shouldn’t have been,” he said. “It can cost 1.5 times what it would have if you had a master plan.”

Schulte said there is a misconception that when operators do a remodel, they have to do everything. “You can pick parts of your business and clean them up or change them up and they can have a big impact on your business,” he said.

Sometimes even small changes can have a large impact. “People don’t think about a high-rise or street sign as a remodel, but improving the signage and collateral program around your business and investing in pump toppers and snap boards on your building itself can have a huge impact,” Schulte said.

via Business Feeds

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