C-Store Floor Plan Basics
The basic concept of a convenience store is “convenience”. The customer should be able to park close to the store, be able to get in, select their purchases quickly, and leave with relative ease. Most customers know that they are paying a premium on the merchandise in return for the convenience of a quick transaction. With this in mind, a convenience store layout should always be designed to allow customers who are in a hurry to be able to complete their purchases quickly and efficiently.
Most floor plans start with the location of the checkout counter. From the store owners standpoint, it is important to have control over the exit to prevent pilferage. For this reason, the checkout counter area should be somewhere near (or at least with a clear path to) the exit. Many stores have experimented with different locations for the checkout, which can be located on one side or the other, in the center of the store (either front or rear), or in the center of the store in an island arrangement. Some typical convenience store floor plans are shown below.
Smaller C-Store with Side Checkout and No Food Service Offering
In addition, the convenience store layout should take into consideration the additional elements that they want to include in the store’s offerings: such as food service, seating, wine display, seasonal displays, other services, etc.
Many of the options for the additional elements can be determined by the size of the store. Stores with floor plans of less than 2,000 sq. ft. will not have room for many additional elements. Convenience Store floor plans of 3,000 to 4,000 sq. ft. will permit options for small food offerings and other possibilities. And larger floor plans in the 5,000 to 6,000 sq. ft. range will allow for full-scale food offerings, as well as other elements.
Another consideration should be the outside elements that the owner wants to incorporate into the convenience store layout, such as a drive-thru window, outdoor seating, a relief area for pets, etc. Regardless of the elements included, it is always important for the customers to have easy access to the store from the gas pumps and the cashier(s) in the checkout area must have good visibility of the pumps.
The basic considerations for the convenience store layout start with the size of the store, the orientation of the checkout area within the store, the additional elements desired to be included, and the access to and from the gas pumps.
Some objectives for the convenience store layout include customer flow through the store. It is a good idea to design the layout so that the customers get to see as much of the store as possible. Since most convenience store customers buy something from the walk-in coolers, they should be located at the back of the store. That way they walk through much of the store to get to the coolers and then back to the checkout area. It is a good idea for the gondola shelving to be setup in short runs that allow the customers to take different paths through the store. This generally allows them to see more merchandise and potentially find something that they may need or want.
Mid-Sized C-Store with Side Sales Counter and Large Walk-in Cooler
Also, the customers should perceive that they have an easy journey to and from the cooler. This requires wide aisles for ease of access, low gondolas to avoid the feeling of being isolated or being trapped in between the gondola runs. This also allows the customers to see the other areas of the store.
It is a good idea to have the store laid out so that the customers get a good view of the entire store with all of the important sections: food service area, drink counter, coffee counter, grab and go area, specialty offerings, etc. from the entryway. That way they can quickly decide on their path of travel through the store and make sure that they are exposed to as much of the offerings as possible. Some creative convenience store layouts have the gondolas closest to the front entry at a lower height (around 42” to 44” high), the gondolas toward the middle of the store at a medium height (48” to 54” high), and the gondolas toward the back of the store slightly higher (around 60” high). This graduated height has the effect of making the store seem larger at first glance and gives the customers a better view from the front entryway. When using this approach it is recommended that the gondolas do not exceed 60” in height. Taller gondolas can lead to a feeling of claustrophobia for some customers and make them feel uneasy.
In general, the various services should be arranged around the perimeter of the store with the gondolas in the middle. The drink counters, food service counters, and other specialty areas can be toward the back on one side with the walk-in coolers on the other side. This opens up the store and also tends to create a browsing effect when they wander from side to side. But this works best if the gondola runs are short and they have multiple path options to travel from point to point within the store.
When designing the convenience store layout it is important to expose as much of store as possible to the customers as soon as they enter the front entry doors, while also creating a feeling of ease (comfortable surroundings, security, relaxed atmosphere, creative displays to excite and entice), and allow good customer flow through the store. Many store owners think they should stock as much merchandise as possible on the store floor to see what they can sell. This can be counterproductive in several ways. Small tight aisles may cause a feeling on uneasiness for the customers and prevent them from entering those aisles. A stuffed and cluttered store layout will distract customers and make them want to avoid the mess. While a store with wide easy to navigate aisles, low shelving runs that allow them to see over the shelves, and a well-organized merchandise layout will actually attract the customer to explore and see what is available.
Mid-Sized C-Store with Angled Sales Counter and Beer Cave
It is important to understand the psychology behind customer shopping, which states that the customer is much more open to their other needs and wants when they are comfortable, feel safe, and allow their mind to focus on the products in front of them. If they are uneasy or feel intimidated in their surroundings, they are much more focused on getting their planned purchase and then getting out of the store.
Another consideration should be the customer flow through the store. It is important for the customer to be able to have multiple paths to the walk-in coolers, then to the drink and/or food service counters, and then to the pay points. Long straight runs of gondolas should be avoided. Generally, gondolas should be no more than 12 to 16 feet in length (depending on the size of the store) and there should be enough space in the aisles for two customers to pass with ease. Also, there should be a wide perimeter space that is available for customers who just want to walk around the outside and browse.
Finally, there should be enough pay points to properly service the number of customers during the peak volume times of the day. There should never be more than two or three customers waiting in line in a convenience store. Remember the reason they are in the store is that they were expecting it to be a quicker and easier experience than if they had gone to a full-blown grocery store. If they have to wait in line to pay for their purchases, then they are likely to avoid that experience the next time they are in the area.
Another important consideration for convenience store layout is the best design to promote impulse sales. This can best be achieved with good customer flow through the store, creating interesting attention-catching displays with the use to triangle units, 4-way gondolas, or other specialty displays, used in conjunction with standard gondolas. Curved gondolas can also be a way to create interest. Remember it is important to break the customer’s train of thought and allow them to look around the store for something to catch their attention.
Mid-Sized C-Store with Side Checkout, Beer Cave and Large Drink Counter
Of course, the best place to increase impulse sales is at the pay point of the checkout counter. Each pay point should be heavily merchandised with impulse items (such as candy, gum, mints, and small energy shots) to entice the customers as they are standing there with their wallets open. It should be noted here that the impulse items should be well organized and displayed in an orderly fashion. Disorganized displays tend to look messy and cause the customer to look away from those areas.
One of the newer design aspects that should be considered in convenience store floor plans is the foodservice offering. Food service is a growing segment in c-store sales and one of the largest potential sales generating opportunity. In addition, if the food service is done properly, it can help to attract the customer into the store for potential impulse sales of other items, such as drinks to go with the meal, and candy items to serve as dessert after the meal. However, to be effective the food service has to be clean, neat, and large enough to appear as a legitimate quick service restaurant. In some cases, it makes sense to partner with a nationally known restaurant chain as a franchisee, which can lend credibility to the food service and attract customers who are familiar with the restaurant name.
Mid-Sized C-Store with Side Checkout and Quick Serve Restaurant
In addition, the designer must decide whether the convenience store layout will include seating of some sort. The seating options are typically one of the following three options: several tables near the food service offering, a stand-up eating counter along the front wall of the store, or no seating. The amount of seating can influence the customer’s perception of the store’s food service offering, so it needs to be considered carefully. While it does take up space, it greatly increases the store’s potential for foodservice sales.
Additionally, some other ideas for items to be included in the convenience store floorplan layout should be a beer cave, a wine display, bakery case(s), bulk display areas (for beer and soda displays) and an area for seasonal displays.
Large C-Store with Island Checkout, Large Restaurant with Seating and Large Walk-in Cooler
A beer cave built into the walk-in cooler can significantly enhance beer sales for the store. As one of the most popular items in the typical convenience store, a beer cave can turn your store into a destination for the beer enthusiast to stock up for the weekend. It gives additional space to this important category and it can lead to additional impulse sales of complementary items, such as salty snacks, chips, and dips, as well as other snack-related items.
A wine display is becoming a necessity in many convenience stores as the general public is focusing on wine with their meals. The convenience store is an easy way to pick up a low to medium priced wine to go with the shopper’s dinner. The c-store probably isn’t the place for the premium priced wines or the most extensive displays, but a credible wine display should include several choices of the most popular types of wines to give the customers some choices to pick from. So a portion of the store must be dedicated to this or it won’t have the desired results.
Most well-designed convenience store layouts include an area for bulk displays. Twelve packs of both beer and soda can be stacked on flat pedestals to hold five or six levels high (up to 50 or 60 twelve packs). This is a convenient way to enhance sales of these items (as both planned purchases and impulse sales) when customers see the stack outs. It is a way to increase the inventory of these fast moving items when there isn’t room in the walk-in cooler.
Any well-designed convenience store should have an area for seasonal displays. Items such as beer for the Super Bowl, chocolates and candy for Valentine’s Day, colored eggs and candy for Easter, etc., etc. are ways to increase impulse sales and take advantage of the seasonal purchasing, which can be significant.
In summary, a well-designed convenience store layout will be planned with the customer in mind. It should create an easy path to the various service areas and the pay point. It should appear to be open and spacious as well as safe. And it should give the customer a clear view of the full store from the front entry door. The store should be attractive, well organized (not cluttered), and it should have customer flow patterns designed into the layout. The better the layout is designed with these principles in mind, the better sales and profitability will result.