By Chris Blasinsky
LONDON—On June 19, Dan Munford and the team at Global Convenience Store Focus hosted a “Shop Talk Live” webinar that explored the future of forecourt design, new ideas for store layouts and a forward-focused store design concept called “The Blok.”
The discussion kicked off with a Brian Donaldson, CEO of Ireland-based Maxol, and how the company is transitioning to combine its exceptional fuel offer with also delivering a modern and inviting in-store, food-focused experience. “It was a natural move for us,” he said.
Maxol, a family-owned business celebrating 100 years of service this year, opened a new Clarecastle store in February, where local shoppers and tourists visiting The Cliffs of Moher can experience the company’s own brand ROSA Coffee, Maxol Deli and Mexi-Co foodservice programs, as well as grocery items and daily essentials like bread and milk. (In 2018, NACS visited the Maxol Ballycoolin store in Dublin for Ideas 2 Go.)
Donaldson spoke to the company’s willingness to take risks and make investments when trialing new foodservice concepts and learn from those successes and failures. “We like to be in control of our own destiny,” he said, noting that forthcoming additions of global QSR brands may serve to complement Maxol’s our own brands and attract new customers.
In terms of new innovations for store design that encompass the entire site, Joseph Bona, principle and founder of Bona Design Lab, noted during the early stages of the pandemic industry changes were “happening at the speed of thought” and required quick responses to ensure employee and consumer safety. Some were necessary short-term solutions, like distancing cues and limiting the number of customers inside the store, but he questioned which changes will have “stickiness” and would impact the future of store design as retailers continue moving forward.
Site orientation, for example, is ripe for innovation as retailers look to the future and respond to consumer demands for no-contact shopping options like click and collect, as well as greater expectations for hygiene, safety and cleanliness, and the use of new technologies.
Bona and Craig Phillipson, managing director of Shopworks, shared blueprints for what sites could look like, including a revolutionary “The Blok” concept, where customers would remain in their vehicles and drive through the site rather than around it. The concept takes the drive-thru to the next level by fully exposing the in-store offer and merchandise along with visual cues and a drive-thru tunnel, where customers would feel like they’re physically in the store, which would encourage impulse shopping in addition to planned purchases.
Bona and Phillipson also suggested that what is old could be new again for traditional store layouts by easing congestion points and forcing the flow of foot traffic. Customers now, perhaps more than ever, are relying on retailers to do the work for them in terms of navigating the store and communicating how they can find what they need and get in/out of stores safely and quickly.
Forecourts are also ripe for innovation as retailers rethink their sites for customers who continue to use drive-thrus and click and collect. This will require a reinterpretation of the sites to better accommodate new ways of shopping that will stick and evolve long after the pandemic, such as more parking, making use of the space behind the store, geofencing capabilities for online orders and more drive-thru lanes.
Drive-thrus are a shopping option that more consumers have turned to during the pandemic, whether for food and beverages, groceries, pharmacy or banking, for example. Bona suggested that retailers can reimagine the traditional drive-thru window as an extension of the store and an integrated part of the offer that speaks to speed of service, saving time and providing convenience.
Munford cited a recent Global Convenience Store Focus interview with lyas Munshi, group commercial director at EG Group, where he suggested that many markets have underestimated the importance of the drive-thru and how retailers should reinvent the concept. “It’s a little too early to say how sites will look, but for foodservice, prior to COVID-19 there was already a seismic move toward customers using drive-thru,” Munshi said.
For Maxol, moving forward Donaldson said the company is exploring what they can do to give customers more control of their entire shopping experience.
Chris Blasinsky is the NACS content communications strategist; she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and on Twitter and LinkedIn.