Frozen Yogurt enters the Convenience Store Market

Thus far, frozen yogurt has been largely a stand alone concept, but an innovative C-Store concept by RaceTrac Petroleum is looking to change that. The chain, which operates in the South Eastern United States, has incorporated five self serve frozen yogurt machines into their new concept, along with a full topping station including 40 toppings. We’ve certainly seen the boom in frozen yogurt as a stand alone concept. Is this something for convenience store chains everywhere to take notice of? It seems to be garnering lots of attention, because the froyo concept along with a focus on being more like a QSR has helped RaceTrac nab the Retailer Innovator of the Year award from Convenience Store News. The full article and photos are below.

Retailer Innovator of the Year: A Legacy of Innovation

By Don Longo

RaceTrac’s next-generation RT6K store puts retailer on track for future growth

Innovation is no stranger to Atlanta-based RaceTrac Petroleum. The convenience retailer with a history of leadership in forecourt retailing and a pioneer of self-service fuel is once again expanding the boundaries of what consumers expect of a convenience store’s offering.

RaceTrac, which operates more than 330 stores in markets around Atlanta; Baton Rouge, La.; Tampa/St. Petersburg, Fla.; Dallas/Fort Worth; Miami; New Orleans; and Orlando, Fla., has been selected by the editors of Convenience Store News as its inaugural Retailer Innovator of the Year, largely on the strength of its new forward-thinking, foodservice-intensive prototype called RT6K, a 6,000-square-foot store that debuted earlier this year.

“The RT6K is brighter, more open and more intuitive for our guests. It also has greater flexibility for us to act on trends in the coming years,” said Allison Moran, senior vice president of the company’s RaceTrac division. Moran and Billy Milam, the retailer’s senior vice president of store development and the company’s RaceWay division, provided CSNews with an exclusive interview about the development of the new RaceTrac prototype.

Moran and Milam spearheaded the RT6K project, but the entire company — all individuals at the Store Support Center and Store Operations — had input into the new prototype, which debuted in Acworth, Ga., in January. According to Moran and Milam, planning for the RT6K began in 2010. “At that time, we had not drastically modified the interior layout of our stores in almost seven years, yet our model had been evolving over that time period,” said Moran. “We felt it was a great opportunity to start with a clean slate and create a new and distinctive design that took a holistic view of the store from both the shopper’s perspective, as well as the employee’s.”

Initially, the retailer worked with the design firm of Chute Gerdeman; however, over the course of the project, RaceTrac’s senior leadership team took more control and responsibility in refining and driving the completion of the design.

And, what a design! The fact that the RT6K prototype is at least 1,000 square feet larger than most traditional RaceTrac stores doesn’t begin to describe the upgrade in the shopping experience. From a new distinctive storefront to an interior that features brighter, more integrated signage that helps guests navigate various zones throughout the store more quickly and easily, the RT6K is a clear upgrade over RaceTrac’s previous prototype.

“The new signage and branding reflects our brand and personality more effectively. Whether you are a guest or team member, RaceTrac is a fun place to be,” said Milam.

Breaking the Mold

From the beginning, RaceTrac’s team wanted to have a softer, more open feel to the store. It sought to incorporate a more intuitive design for guests and more flexibility for the retailer to create opportunities as they develop within the retail landscape.

“We wanted to break the mold, to be perceived as a neighborhood store that is beyond the typical convenience retailer and closer to a QSR [quick-service restaurant],” said Moran, who added that one of the key references that shaped their thinking was the work done in 2009 by the NACS/Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council. “Finding Your Way Forward,” the Council’s report, “framed a lot of our thinking and gave us a platform from which we launched much of our initial planning and considerations,” she said.

Inside the store, the RT6K allocates more space to immediate consumables like food and dispensed beverages within the sales area. However, most of the expansion in the store footprint, according to Moran and Milam, is in the areas of the store that guests never see. “Our store teams told us the backroom in our stores was tight and somewhat inefficient,” said Moran. “We focused on making our team members’ lives simpler and more enjoyable by increasing the size and backroom adjacencies and making space on the sales floor so tasks are completed more readily, thus giving our team members more time to serve our guests.”

“The RT6K is brighter, more open and more intuitive for our guests. It also has greater flexibility for us to act on trends in the coming years.”
— Allison Moran, RaceTrac Petroleum

One of the most prominent new features of the RT6K is the new proprietary brand of self-serve frozen yogurt called Swirl World. This is a completely new concept for RaceTrac that has been well received by guests looking for a treat throughout the day. Swirl World offers 10 flavors of yogurt with more than 40 toppings.

In addition to the new frozen yogurt station, RaceTrac’s new prototype has an improved coffee offer and expanded cold dispensed beverage offer. The retailer introduced a new coffee product with flavors like Hazelnut and Costa Rican. The new store also includes an area for associates to brew coffee off the sales floor. Cold dispensed beverages have been expanded to 56 flavors of fountain and frozen drinks with new flavors like Peach Smoothie, Horchata and Cotton Candy.

Foodservice includes a wider range of flatbread sandwiches, burritos and other new food items, while the additional space provides room for a walk-in beer cooler.

Beyond the physical changes, the RT6K is a very different store to run and therefore, RaceTrac had to develop a training program that was unique to the needs of this model. “We had to analyze every aspect of our operation and consider what changes needed to be made throughout the system so we could get the most out of our investment,” said Moran.

To do this effectively, RaceTrac involved individuals from all over the organization. “We asked them to candidly identify the pain points of our current store model. We sought their input and feedback on the new design and even developed a mock store so our team members could walk the environment and genuinely experience the design,” Moran explained.

Added Milam: “One of the things we knew for sure was that our guests and team members are our No. 1 priority. Therefore, we placed the cash wrap front and center, so the first thing guests experience when they walk in the door is a welcome and a smile from one of our associates. The center cash wrap also makes it easier for our store teams to maneuver the store while being readily available to serve our guests.”

Since January, RaceTrac has opened seven more RT6K prototypes and 10 more are slated to open by the end of October. Moran and Milam said all of RaceTrac’s major markets will have at least one RT6K by the end of October, with Atlanta leading the way with six prototypes this year.

Additionally, the retailer has nearly 30 more RT6Ks under construction and plans to continue its growth into 2013. “Potentially, we will incorporate some of the RT6K elements into our existing fleet of stores,” Milam noted.

So far, the company reports that sales at the RT6K are exceeding expectations “in all areas of the store.” Moran and Milam said they’ve received overwhelmingly positive feedback from their guests and even store associates.

“They [store associates] love it! It has definitely made life easier for them and they appreciate how thoughtful we were in the design and our willingness to listen to their input. Everyone not only wants an RT6K in their market, but they are clamoring for an opportunity to work in one,” said Moran.

Despite the positive results and reviews, RaceTrac views RT6K as a work in progress still. “It’s in our DNA to continually innovate and improve,” said Moran, whose father is company chairman, CEO and 2009 CSNewsHall of Famer Carl Bolch Jr. “But we’re obviously very proud of all the hard work our team put into this store.”

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