PITTSBURGH — Setting out to become the “convenience store of the future,” Pittsburgh-based American Natural’s business model is dedicated to offering choice in both fuel for people’s vehicles, as well as fuel for their bodies. This model was created from founder and CEO Jennifer Pomerantz’s belief that today’s convenience store shopping experience has become a “seemingly less human and unnatural experience,” where customers have traded good food for what’s convenient.
“American Natural was driven to create a new culture of convenience, a more natural culture. An accessible culture built on the belief that, despite your busy lives, you shouldn’t have to sacrifice what is important to you and your family,” Pomerantz explained. “Better food. Better service. Better choices. All delivered with a great sense of community.”
The American Natural brand was introduced in 2011 by parent company Cleopatra Resources. With an acquisition of operating fueling stations and a wholesale petroleum distribution fleet in 2012, the company established a growing footprint around its Pittsburgh base. Today, American Natural has 13 stores operating across Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Seeking a new store prototype for the American Natural brand, the chain enlisted Westport, Conn.-based retail consulting and design firm King-Casey to bring its vision of a “new culture of convenience” to life. Together, the two organizations cultivated a project objective: to create a next-generation c-store design that optimizes sales of freshly prepared food and beverages, according to Howland Blackiston, a King-Casey principal who worked on the American Natural project.
American Natural and King-Casey also had four sub-objectives for the project:
1. Develop a redefined concept definition for a world-class c-store;
2. Develop an enhanced brand positioning and new store design for American Natural;
3. Create a new interior layout that optimizes operations and products, including 3-D branded design concepts; and
4. Develop strategies for visual zone merchandising and customer communications.
To begin, King-Casey used its proprietary COZI (Customer Operating Zone Improvement) methodology to audit American Natural’s existing stores and determine how well they represented its desired brand positioning and attributes. COZI is an analytical assessment process that focuses on the customer and how retailers utilize “zones” to create an effective environment.
Looking at American Natural’s stores through the COZI lens, King-Casey identified several areas in need of improvement and, thus, opportunities for the new prototype.
For instance, King-Casey identified the need for a major upgrade in the Food Service Zone. Upon walking into “old” American Natural stores, the first thing customers saw was the same thing they’d see in every c-store: racks of candy and potato chips. This zone needed to become the showcase and center of attention for the new store prototype, Blackiston explained.
“Foodservice should be the first thing you see when you enter the store because American Natural is all about fresh, delicious food,” he said. “We even recommended that they showcase food equipment that underscores the ‘fresh choice’ concept, such as espresso machines, a rotisserie grill, and pizza ovens.”
American Natural’s new prototype debuted just outside Pittsburgh last September. The chain plans to roll out the new store design with future locations, and has begun implementing King-Casey’s recommendations at its existing stores, too.
“New” American Natural stores highlight The Eatery’s bevy of fresh foodservice options. Taking an upscale approach, the offer includes made-to-order premium sandwiches, gourmet salads, baked-fresh pizzas, and toasted paninis. There’s an in-store barista as well, while sweeter fare includes homemade ice cream and hand-scooped milkshakes.
Taking on a more café-style design, new American Natural stores feature counter and tabletop seating for sit-down dining, plus an upholstered lounge area for customers who want to enjoy their barista-made beverages. There is also exterior patio dining.
“The feeling you come away with is that this is a restaurant/dining concept that also happens to offer fueling options. That dining impression is so acute, and the food is so good and popular, that a store manager in the new prototype said that they received a call from a customer asking, ‘Do you take reservations for lunch?’” Blackiston shared.