It was a familiar story. Yale University had already designed (and partially completed) its new, architecturally dynamic Health Center in Summer 2010 when it asked the dining services department to operate a convenience store there. The space and equipment plans alloted were modest: a basic line-up of budget refrigeration, pot-style coffee brewing, and room for dry grab-and-go offerings. Yale Dining knew it could do better if given the chance.
“With its high traffic location adjacent to the Center's Pharmacy and a solid cross-section of campus user demographics, we quickly realized there was significant potential to create a much more appealing merchandising presence,” says Tom Tucker, director of graduate and retail dining for the department.
After some discussions about the potential of the location, administrators agreed to scrap their original approach and work with Yale Dining on an alternative. Among the challenges: a small, narrow footprint (about 600 sq.ft.), modest storage and funding limited to around $150,000.
The result is what Tucker describes as “a hybrid c-store, conceptually focused on wellness and one that offers a great selection of organic and sustainable merchandise that surpasses the traditional boundaries of a conventional c-store.”
“Our concept strategy was really quite simple,” Tucker adds. “Bring together a healthy sustainable merchandising mix that would satisfy all of the meal and snack-oriented dayparts, but also make the store energetic and interesting by including home meal replacement, specialty food and high-quality impulse items focused on ‘living well.’”
The store has been successful to date. Its best week so far came in late November when it recorded sales of $5,200 on 1,200 transactions for a $4.35 check average over a five-day period, says Tucker.
WELLNESS FOCUSED MIX
Its centerpiece is a seasonally rotating oval farm table located just inside the entrance. It features a rotation of artisan fruit, jam, preserves, marinades, spreads, syrups, chutneys, breads, crackers and other specialty items — many hand-crafted — from some of New England's most noted farmers and producers.
Perhaps the most innovative design feature is the crossover area, which allows three separate dayparts to be merchandised from a single space. In the morning, it is a breakfast zone with two sandwich varieties, while at lunch it transforms into a hot entrée bar. In the afternoon, the same area is utilized to feature special dessert and break items that can be served at room temperature. A connected coffee/tea bar features branded Starbucks and Tazo hot beverages.
More conventionally, the store has a dozen feet of refrigerated display for packaged beverages, yogurt, parfaits and grab-and-go. These include organic and natural packaged meal options as well as signature salads and sandwiches prepared in the Yale Dining commissary.
A single-door glass-front freezer is packed with frozen microwaveables that complement the hot food options, while a colorful two-level European style bakery display features muffins, pastries, cookies, tea breads and brownies from the Yale Bakery. Adjacent to that is a soup bar with two daily choices.
Rounding out the offerings is a health and beauty line and sculptured display of greeting cards. The H&B products include all-natural brands such as Burt's Bees and Desert Essence, while the cards are all printed on recycled paper.
“In crafting the new design, we used the strong natural light in the space and the direct access to pedestrian traffic to our advantage,” Tucker says.
Theatrical spot lighting highlights a continuous wall of grocery-style refrigeration visible from the building's exterior with a color palette specifically chosen to be clean, bright and lively.
“Every effort was made to go vertical with the merchandising,” Tucker emphasizes. “We wanted to create an interesting juxtaposition for the hybrid mix of products being offered while using the space to its fullest extent.”
The sustainable bamboo counters and cabinetry were designed in a curvilinear pattern to play off the interior columns and break up “what could have easily been become a bowling alley,” he laughs. The various platforms comprising the project were subtly highlighted with thick, soft-colored, tempered glass accents and the POS itself was inset into a glass/bamboo pedestal design resembling the bow of a ship.