Many retailers offer ready-made coffee: grocery stores, gas stations, book stores, and more. We recently worked with a leading convenience retailer to improve their coffee experience by appealing to a wider spectrum of customers. Specifically, their goal was to mitigate the hygiene concerns some customers had around using glass decanters in a convenience store retail setting.
Our new design made coffee selection easier and more inviting by moving from glass coffee pots to airpots, leading to a huge success for the retailer across its entire network. Customers accustomed to the freshness “sniff test” did have to relearn decision purchase cues at the coffee island, though the ultimate solution was the simple addition of a clock indicating when the coffee was brewed. This allowed customers to feel confident that their coffee selection would be fresh.
This exercise demonstrated that even in hardened markets with well-entrenched customer coffee rituals, a great coffee experience can ignite change without sacrificing brand loyalty. For gas and convenience stores specifically, there are some key factors that will create the ideal coffee experience and drive growth in same-store coffee sales.
Ease of Selection
Coffee sales tend to peak in the morning and at key times during the day, which can lead to congestion. The coffee station needs to be located away from the entrance to avoid lines blocking the entryway, ideally in an area close to the cash register to reduce unwanted steps.The counter should allow multiple customers to pout their coffee simultaneously. We recommend multiple air-pot stations on the counter with condiment and lid stations located either at the end of the process, or on a separate counter- to break the transaction into two areas and reduce line-ups.
It is also important for coffee urns to be properly identified with signage indicating designated flavors and freshness cues, such as timers. The end of the selection process should also direct the customers to the cash counter for ease of payment and exit.
The coffee area should be visible from the entrance, with clear signage. Coffee is an impulse purchase for many- meaning if customers do not see an offering, they may not seek it out.It is often our experience that the coffee station is lost amid congested seasonal merchandise, making access to the area cumbersome. We have found that an island coffee station design provides the greatest impact and accessibility, as coffee can be dispensed on both sides of the fixtures while allowing the end caps to merchandises pastries and other complimentary items.
For locations where coffee sales are lower, locating the coffee station against a wall with behind-the-counter support for the brewers has been a very effective layout. Here you will also want an overhead valance supporting large signage which defines the area. Pay attention in branding your coffee program, as we have found that a distinctive brand message adds quality cues, and reinforces the category specialty.Avoid the generic bean shots and paper cut coffee shots, as these tend to reinforce generic quality cues which undermine the specialty nature of coffee.
Driving Quality Cues
The bar for quality coffee has been set high by coffee speciality retailers like Peet’s Coffee and Starbucks. Consumers are looking for a quality cup of coffee irrespective to whether the coffee is being served in a convenience store or a specialty coffee purveyor. As such, it’s important to identify key quality cues to overcome the fact that the product is being delivered in a convenience retail establishment. We have found that identifying the type of coffee beans being used —as well as where and how they are sourced — plays a critical role in creating the right coffee experience.
We have witnessed firsthand the power of telling the coffee story when we relaunched a coffee program for a major Canadian convenience retailer. The client had decided to launch a new line of fair trade, organically grown coffee as part of their offering. We designed unique overhead signage, urn branding, and signing, which ultimately drove double digit sales within the category. Coffee is an experiential product with rich stories from exotic places; which is why these stories need to be told effectively.
Effectively operating a coffee station goes beyond ensuring the brew is hot and fresh. The layout and location of the coffee area must ensure adjacency to water, and an area to prep the coffee- for consistent delivery. In working with one or our clients, we realized that by moving to larger brewers to handle higher volumes of coffee sales, it became more cumbersome for the staff who had to carry these larger urns across the store. We designed the brew stations and supporting sinks to a close adjacent wall to ensure replenishing the airpots during peak periods did not create an awkward operational step that would slow the process down. Operational weaknesses come to light during peak periods when the area is congested.
Operational efficiency also supports clear and clean sight lines to avoid showcasing mops, messy sinks and overflowing waste baskets. The design of the coffee experience needs to ensure that the unsightly elements of running a successful and high volume business are not visible to customers.
Ensuring Employee Engagement
Beyond the physical change of moving to a different coffee delivery system with new fixtures, a new program will not be successful if the staff engagement is not properly managed. With staff downsizing and the constant churn of retail employees, it has been our experience that employee engagement as part of the customer coffee experience is critically important. Staff merchandising and selling fresh coffee follow similar needs to any food service operations where the employees play a pivotal role in creating a positive experience.
Staff training plays a critical role in ensuring the guest enjoys the same experience on each visit, irrespective of the day of the week or the hour of the day. Part of the process that ensures consistency is creating a coffee culture among the employees, starting with an understood importance of the coffee category, how they can support the program, and the reasons for the various steps in the process. Consider incentivizing employees to ensure adherence to the procedures and level of quality in place.
Coffee is a great platform to drive traffic and visits to convenience retailers, but the experience has to match the customer’s expectations. The challenge is to remain relevant in a landscape where the ideal coffee experience is set by specialty coffee retailers with thing in mind: delivering a premium, quality experience. We know this can be achieved, as we have witnessed convenience retailers matching both the quality of the experience and total daily sales of established specialty chains.