A mainstay in retail culture, the corner store has established itself in virtually every neighbourhood. Historically, they each carry a similar theme in offering convenient products with speedy customer service. And that’s where the in-store “experience” begins and ends.
For most corner stores, there is no curation or differentiation. Customers can usually guess at the store’s layout and product selection before they walk through the door. They thrive on pure convenience, and even though they offer much-needed services like gas and food, they do little to mark themselves as an enjoyable, memorable retail destination.
In our current landscape of changing consumer demands and evolving needs, wants, and tastes, is it time for the generic corner store to reinvent itself?
Why change a business image built on convenience?
Historically, c-stores have been the go-to destination for grocery staples like milk, grab-and-go snacks and pre-packaged meals, and all the candy, alcohol, and cigarettes you could want. Parking lots are smaller, lines are shorter, and you never have to take more than a few steps to find what you’re looking for.
These are all factors that have helped convenience stores to secure their place in retail, and this isn’t likely to change. However, more smaller grocers and retailers are doubling down on expanding their offerings and transforming their spaces into shopping destinations rather than maintaining their service provider status. Because of this, corner stores are facing a critical decision: evolve or risk losing some of their market share.
One of the biggest problems with the generic corner store is that people quickly forget about them. They walk through the doors knowing what to expect. They have specific product needs in mind, and once they check out, there’s nothing to keep them coming back unless they’re in the neighbourhood and need a convenient pitstop.
Granted, many consumers may have a favorite corner store or shop at the same store because it’s closest to their home. But for most people, there’s nothing compelling about the store that makes them excited to go there. There’s nothing new or engaging to surprise and delight them when they enter the store.
And because the majority of convenience store merchandise can be purchased in grocery stores or other retail outlets, corner stores can benefit from shedding the commodity peddler MO and transforming into a retail destination that makes people want to visit more often.
Corner store concepts that are making an impact
To date, many corner store retailers are jumping on the opportunity to evolve with the retail landscape at large. They’re not only focusing on convenience items and predictable experiences, but also including goods and services that appeal to the modern consumer.
Here’s a closer look at the corner store makeover gone right:
PopBox Micro Market in Toronto
Offering a high-end experience doesn’t have to be complicated, especially when it needs to fit into the convenience store motif. PopBox Micro Market in Toronto is exploring ways to offer more variety to their customers that blend quality, price, and experience under the same roof.
The owner of the market, Attila Szanyi, has a unique approach when it comes to selecting products. He imagines being locked inside the store for one year and being sent off into space, and asks himself if he could be happy having just the products in his store for that time. If the answer is no, he knows he needs to reimagine what he’s offering his customers.
For Szanyi, he’s not just competing with the 27,000 other convenience stores in Canada. His fresh food offerings, coffee bar, and eclectic vibe has also made him a contender among cafes, restaurants, and coffee shops in the Toronto area. Mushroom and pesto sandwiches have replaced the typical convenience store hot dog, while hot brews and organic cold-pressed juices offer a healthier alternative to the soda fountain.
So far, the concept is working and a new location is being planned for a 2021 opening.
The Lucky Penny Corner Store and Cafe in Toronto
Taking a page from the old-school soda fountain playbook, the Lucky Penny Corner Store and Cafe elevates the traditional counter experience. This isn’t your average hamburger-and-fries menu, but rather a delightful curation of freshly made pastries, deli sandwiches, and cafe beverages. You can take your treats outside to the enclosed garden area, where dogs are always welcome. Or spend time browsing through their selection of candies, fresh produce and flowers, and grocery staples that can save you a trip to the larger markets.
They’re also supporters of local artisans and producers, offering a large selection of locally made and small-batch products. It’s a new take on the general store with the same corner store convenience that has made the concept so famous.
Corner stores in the U.S. are also getting a makeover to shift toward more health-conscious attitudes without sacrificing convenience. Alltown Fresh is the first of its kind in the c-store sector, offering vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free food options for healthy, convenient foods.
For years, calorie-rich, non-nutritious foods have dominated the convenience food sector, and Alltown Fresh is poised to change this. Meals are made to order in a quick-serve setting using organic, all natural ingredients. The market also offers indoor and outdoor seating, along with locally roasted bean-to-cup coffee, pet-friendly areas, charging stations, WiFi, and groceries.
Chicago-based startup Foxtrot managed to raise $17 million in funding to bring its new iteration on the corner store to life. The epitome of hybrid retail, Foxtrot focuses on infusing a warm, friendly vibe into its stores that will make people want to sit and stay awhile. This is a complete 180-degree turn from the typical camera-and-mirror-filled convenience store that aims to get customers in and out as quickly as possible.
Last but not least, Foxtrot is also becoming a pioneer in bringing the omnichannel to the corner store. They aim to reach customers both in-store and online to strengthen their relationships and become a valuable community player.
7-11’s Cashierless Store
Taking a unique approach to the upgraded corner store, 7-11 is testing a cashierless concept in Texas. The store is allowing employees to use a mobile app to check into the store, pay for items and receive a receipt. Cashierless stores are believed to be the future of retail, and current technology like sensors, mobile apps, and the Internet of Things could make it happen sooner than later.
According to 7-11, the goal of the cashierless store is to provide less friction for shoppers who want to take full advantage of the convenience their stores are designed to offer. They’re doubling down on the idea that technology will become their competitive advantage and are paving the way for other corner stores to consider the same concept.
Embracing hybrid retail for corner store transformation
The corner store as we know it is joining the ranks of hybrid retail, and so far, consumer response agrees it’s a step in the right direction. It’s no longer enough to offer convenience in an era where consumers have come to expect it, but rather finding new ways to engage, delight, and serve your customers in a way that keeps them coming back.
IS YOUR RETAIL ENVIRONMENT DESIGNED TO DRAW CUSTOMERS IN, OR PUSH THEM AWAY?
Making the most of your retail space starts with understanding what inspires your customers to keep coming back for more, time and again. We help our clients conceptualize and build spaces that create experiences shoppers can feel, intangible elements that draw them in, and allows them to be a part of something greater than themselves. And we plan and build out programs that are consistently replicable while making the most of a client’s budget and timelines. Interested in exploring how we can help you with your retail design? Contact us today!