Targeting Customers Through Store Design

When Towns Mart enlisted the services of Design Fabrications (DFab) to create an inviting shopping environment for a new store it was constructing in Washington Township, Mich. in 2007, the chain was looking to broaden its customer base through an upgraded design.

“We were targeting female and upscale customers by trying to achieve an open feeling inside the store where there weren’t too many loud colors,” said Steve Nalu, who co-owns the six-store Michigan chain with business partner Laith Hanna.

The 6,000-square-foot convenience store featured a 24-foot ceiling and was connected to four other units the company leases to other businesses. Nalu wanted to highlight the c-store’s cooler wall and coffee station, and implement a rich, clean design. With help from DFab, the company chose an upscale modern look with an old world charm.

Like Towns Mart, retailers across the country are noticing the power of layout and design in increasing store appeal and aiding customer flow, and how adding eye-catching signage and lighting can drive traffic to key categories. The color palette also can make a huge difference.

To create a upbeat atmosphere for shoppers, Towns Mart settled on warm, textured yellow walls with cream, green and khaki accents, while pediment shapes and a contemporary grassy pattern were added to highlight the cooler walls and emphasize the vertical space in the store.

“It feels like you’re outside,” Nalu said. “When you walk in, you’re looking at our coolers, and there is an open feeling. The wall above the coolers represents a building, while the blue above that represents the sky. It’s refreshing to be inside, but feel like you’re still outside on a sunny day.”
Navigating the Store

DFab also added design elements to move traffic through the store, for the sake of convenience as well as to drive higher sales areas. Striped canopies and aged wall lettering were added to draw the eye to products in the cooler, while signs above the gondola shelving and the perimeter walls were included to help customers find their way easily.

“The store is so big that when you walk in you get overwhelmed, but that lettering shows customers where to go. If they don’t notice the signs the first time and ask where the ice tea is, we’ll show them the lettering around the store. Next time they’ll know to look up to find where to go, so its a big plus having that,” Nalu said.

The store also had female customers in mind when it added high output lighting augmented with day lighting from skylights and large 20-foot windows that run across the front of the building. The shelves stand only four feet high, so customers can see across the whole store.

“A lot of the gas stations in this county are very small and tight. Since this station is bigger and has brighter lights and low shelves, it comes across as very safe, which appeals to female shoppers,” Nalu said.

Towns Mart also focused on an inviting bathroom design, including custom mosaic tile to match the rest of the store. “We take great pride in our bathrooms,” Nalu said. The clean, well-designed facilities are now a traffic driver for the store.

This summer, Towns Mart plans to remodel two other sites using the same design concept, lettering and color scheme. Because the sites are not new builds they won’t feature the same high ceilings, although the chain plans to use the high ceilings on all new constructions moving forward. Nalu expects the remodel to increase foot traffic by a minimum of 20% at the stores.

Fine-Tuning Pays Off

For retailers that aren’t ready for a total redesign, small enhancements can still make a huge difference. Just ask True North LLC, which operates more than 320 Shell-branded sites in Illinois, Ohio and Michigan, including more than 100 stores under the True North brand. The chain hasn’t done a redesign in years, but tweaks its design constantly, according to True North President Mark Lyden.

“We’ve increased the number of cooler doors to 20, installed beer caves and designed stores to pinpoint the four corners with our signature items—coffee, the cold vault, the front counter and the restrooms. It helps pull customers through the store,” Lyden said.

The company also added LED lighting throughout the coolers and is in the process of looking at upgrading its entire lighting system.

Over the past couple of years the chain has experimented with exposed ductwork versus closed ductwork and exposed ceilings versus closed ceilings.

“We like the exposed ductwork, but not the exposed rafters, so we’ve been dry walling ceilings and putting the exposed ductwork on the finished ceilings. We want it to come across as a warehouse kind of a setting,” Lyden said.

The color palette also conveys a sense of cleanliness with a softer earth tone in the cabinets and brown and black on the countertops. The company has opted for higher gondolas about 5.5 feet high, added more SKUs, increased its foodservice offering and upped the number of cooler doors to drive more business into the cold vault.

The chain also helps certain areas stand out by using signs and graphics, from the beer cave, which it calls its “North Pole,” to its grab-and-go section and hot beverage options.

“You don’t have to look around and say, ‘Where’s the coffee?’ because it’s going to stick out—it’s going to say ‘True Brew,’ which is what we call our coffee signature item, and it’s going to drive you right to the coffee,” Lyden noted.

Courting the Community

Tops Mart took its community into account when it did a 2008 remodel of its Wilmington, N.C., store, a 2,000-square-foot, 30-year-old inner-city Shell-branded location near the coast.

“We went with a beach theme because the location is 10 miles from the beach and also because we thought it would be fitting with the Shell brand,” said William Wicker, vice president Tops Petroleum, which operates seven Tops Mart stores in the Tar Heel State. The chain aimed to attract customers from the neighborhood and local businesses, fit in with the area’s historic downtown feel, play up the coastal theme and brighten the interior.

Tops also wanted the store’s interior design to showcase the famous lighthouses in the geographic area. It turned to I-5 Design & Manufacturing for a themed interior décor, which included full height wall murals of three famous lighthouses, valances with a printed beach scene, a hanging wood grid for the self service area, department lettering, and a floor pattern designed to enhance key areas of merchandise. The store now has the look of an ocean side shop.

“Before, the store had a darker design with red, white and black tiles,” Wicker recalled. “The new design made the location more inviting. We’ve had a 25% increase in inside sales since the redesign and we’ve gotten a lot of great feedback from customers.”

Tops Petroleum considers its Wilmington, N.C., store a prototype from which it will base the redesign of its other locations in the future. Because the stores are branded Shell, they soon will add Shell’s Retail Visual Identity (RVI) plan as well. Shell’s new RVI design will add a modern look at the forecourt with upgraded fuel price displays and directional signage. As each store is converted to the new Shell model, Tops expects to upgrade the stores’ interiors, with a North Carolina-based theme. 

Nalu and Wicker agreed that having a design company onboard contributed to the success of their store designs. Both operators advised retailers contemplating a redesign to focus on lighting and crafting a strong layout and, above all else, to keep an open mind.


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