ALEXANDRIA, Va.—Grocery stores are including more dedicated spaces for customers to gather and socialize, reports Modern Retail. These spots, also known as “third spaces,” are ways for grocers to earn more revenue and entice shoppers to enter their stores and stay awhile. Many convenience retailers also have incorporated indoor or outdoor spaces for community gatherings, from Friday night high school hangouts to Sunday morning gospel sings.
Third spaces were beginning to gain footing until the pandemic hit, and grocers and convenience retailers moved their focus away from these areas to establish social distancing measures. But these spaces are making their way into food stores once again.
According to Barry Thomas, senior thought leader at Kantar, these gathering spots are a way for grocery stores to show that they are part of the community and are part of the reason why farmers markets have grown so popular.
“When you build a community hub dedicated for community gatherings, it’s an incredible signal to shoppers and to that community that you’re more involved,” Thomas told Modern Retail. Because some people still continue to spend more time at home following the pandemic, he said they’ve become more in tune with all things local.
C-stores like TXB Stores in Georgetown, Texas, Wakepoint LBJ in Kingsland, Texas, and Lou Perrine’s Gas & Groceries in Kenosha, Wisconsin, among countless others, all are plugging into their local communities and offer third spaces to gather and enjoy time with family, friends and neighbors. Videos of these c-stores and more are featured in the 2022 NACS Ideas 2 Go series.
“We are a community hub where people come together. My grandpa used to say they’re not just a customer, they’re family. There’s an emotional attachment to them—we want them to feel like family,” said Anthony Perrine, who owns two c-stores in Kenosha.
Grocery stores are also looking for ways to get people back into their stores, as online grocery delivery and curbside pickup have increased exponentially since the pandemic, and many consumers have kept those convenient habits. According to Julie Companey, director of client strategy for the grocery channel at Vericast, third spaces can make grocery shopping something consumers could look forward to.
“It’s a different approach to your more mundane, routine grocery shopping, which for the most part, a lot of shoppers don’t enjoy,” she said. “It’s a necessary evil if you will.”
Also, because grocery stores have low margins, offering more than groceries can encourage customers to stay in store longer and entice them to spend more on higher margin items, according to Brad Jashinsky, director analyst at Gartner.
A recently opened Whole Foods Market in New York City includes a bar offering wine, snacks and 180 beers on tap, plus a full-service coffee bar. The beers include local craft beer options. Another New York City Whole Foods has bars and seating areas that have direct access to a New York City landmark called The High Line, and another one allows shoppers to watch butchers and workers prep food.
“We hand-selected every table, every case, every paint color. Everything was designed very thoughtfully and very strategically so that it would fit beautifully into the Hudson Yard community right on the High Line,” Nicole Wescoe, the company’s Northeast regional president, told Grocery Dive.
A new Hy-Vee in Wisconsin has a pub with extensive breakfast food options, a full bar and an outdoor patio, and Sprouts Farmers Market recently announced it was opening a coffee shop inside its Phoenix store.
H-E-B is taking third spaces to another level by building an outside stage for live performances. The company is still planning to do this, but the stage would be at its South Congress store in Austin, Texas, and feature outdoor and indoor seating, as well as live demonstrations and samplings. The new features are meant to make the location a “community gathering place,” according to H-E-B.
“I think the store… of the future is more local, and it is more social,” Kantar’s Thomas told Modern Retail. “Those kind of go together.”
The emergence of electric vehicles and the time needed to charge them could turn convenience stores into more of a gathering space. Because these EV owners will have time on their hands to spend at c-stores while their vehicles recharge, some retail experts say that c-stores may be required to change their formats. Here are five ideas that convenience stores can consider to morph their spaces.