Six Innovative Retailers to Watch

Frank Beard shares some of his favorite c-store visits from 2019.

January 14, 2020

By Frank Beard

It’s not often that we get to say “the decade is over,” but here we are in 2020. The flying cars and hyperloops have yet to materialize, but there’s no denying that convenience stores look better than they did 10 years ago.

In the spirit of reflection, I’ve put together a list of my favorite store visits from 2019. Each location was chosen for very specific reasons and was not featured on 2018’s list.

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1. Frischwerk (Berlin, Germany)

Named “Shop of the Year” by Convenience Shop magazine, Frischwerk is Lekkerland’s modern convenience store concept. I visited two locations in Berlin. Stores in Germany are often smaller than their U.S. counterparts, but Frischwerk managed to offer upscale indoor seating, a currywurst grill designed in collaboration with a celebrity chef, fresh sandwiches, open space, self-serve and barista coffee and more. Digital signage makes it simple to tailor products and offers based upon the time of day—or weather.

Aesthetically speaking, they’re some of the most attractive stores I’ve ever encountered.

“A lot of shops don't have a shopper friendly atmosphere,” said Frank Fleck, vice president for Corporate Strategy and Business Development at Lekkerland, in an interview with Petrol Plaza. “If that doesn't fit, I don't buy anything fresh or anything at all.”

Lekkerland’s Frischwerk concept received the NACS Insight International Convenience Retailer of the Year Award—Honorable Mention in the small format category in 2017.

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2. RaceTrac (Orlando)

Speaking of atmosphere, I visited a RaceTrac in Orlando that offers some of the best outdoor seating in the city. Seriously. I walked over for coffee in the morning before taking an Uber to Disney Springs, and it was the perfect place to relax for a bit—especially since the day was overcast with occasional rain.

If today’s convenience stores want customers to stay a little bit longer, this is one way to do it. Upscale countertops, charging ports, large fans, enough seating for perhaps a few dozen customers—it’s a big upgrade from the rubber-coated picnic tables that many of us associate with convenience stores. As a consumer, it sent a clear message about the level of quality one can expect.

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3. Twice Daily / White Bison (Nashville)

Coffee nerds will love this one. At a Twice Daily near Vanderbilt University in Nashville, I had the chance to enjoy single-origin, pour-over coffee. Rather than branding themselves “Twice Daily Coffee,” Tri Star has created its own specialty coffee brand: White Bison.

The counter features built-in, ModBar pour-over systems. Two varieties of single-origin, micro-lot beans were available, with the selection changing every few months.

Not only was it cheaper—and better, in my opinion—than the Starbucks across the street, but the WI-FI was exceptionally fast. My speed test was able to reach downloads of around 75 Mbps.

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4. Hy-Vee Fast & Fresh (Des Moines)

You may have noticed the Hy-Vee Fast & Fresh from Altoona, Iowa that was featured in NACS Ideas 2 Go at the NACS Show. In my opinion, this concept is one of the best things happening in the industry at the moment. Large stores, made-to-order foodservice, grab-and-go meals, small groceries, growler stations and more—there’s truly something for everyone. It also meets consumers who are looking for a few groceries but need them in a more convenient format.

Recently, a new Fast & Fresh popped up near Merle Hay Mall in nearby Des Moines. Rather than wood-fired pizza ovens, this one features a Market Grille Express—a pared-down version of the restaurants found at many Hy-Vee grocery stores. Orders can be placed via touchscreen, but there are also grab-and-go options.

Hy-Vee is doing big things. They’re definitely a retailer to watch in 2020.

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5. Jack & Co (Near Sydney, Australia)

Walking into Jack & Co, I was immediately struck by a sense that the store had soul. It felt like a small-town community store, the sort of place you would gather with friends or proudly wear on a t-shirt. Indeed, owner Wade Death started a fundraiser for a local rugby player who suffered a debilitating injury. Titled #35KIN35DAYS, the total had already passed $40,000 months ago.

With four locations near Sydney, Jack & Co has put an emphasis on good food and good service. In a market where fresh and made-to-order has been historically difficult, (see "Convenience Down Under" in the October 2019 issue of NACS Magazine) the retailer prepares fresh sandwiches, serves gourmet coffee and more.

“I don’t want to sell $1 coffee when I could sell $4 coffees,” said Wade Death, in a 2016 interview with Convenience & Impulse Retailing. “So I am taking my offer the other way. I think the battlegrounds are changing, and there’s a huge amount of channel blurring starting to take place. The future of this industry will be absolutely fascinating.”

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6. Urbanista (Australia)

At the Urbanista’s Smeaton Grange location near Sydney, I was stunned to see that my espresso and lunch were brought to the table by a store associate. My spinach and ricotta roll was also served on a wooden cutting board. It’s a small detail, but it speaks to the way the store intersects meaningful convenience with an exceptional experience. There is real brick on the front counter rather than vinyl. The store offers upscale seating, charging ports, and even displays vintage, black and white photos that feature owner Eddy Nader as a child at his father’s convenience store.

“Eighty percent of the products we sell are products we have always sold in convenience stores,” said Nader. “Yet by altering the look of the store—making it look classy—these same products sell 30% more than they used to.”

As for the coffee, it was exceptional. “Coffee is our religion,” said Nader, in a recent interview with Convenience & Impulse Retailing. “Years ago, coffee was just a small part of our offer, but now it drives our total offer.”

NACS Daily readers, don’t miss the takeaways and photos Frank shared with us from his retailer visits in California, Iowa, Nashville and New York.

ABOUT FRANK BEARD

Frank Beard is an analyst/evangelist for convenience store trends at GasBuddy, a NACS Magazine contributor, and a speaker and advocate for the industry’s healthful offerings. You can follow Frank on Twitter at @FrankBeard.

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