[Editor's Note: In January, CSP presented Convenience Retailing University Awards of Excellence to three retailers. The first of the three winners is single-store retailer Metro Petro, for store design.]
MINNEAPOLIS -- A 40-year-old convenience store with three automobile service bays initially presented a challenge to Clay and Mia Lambert. With no experience in the c-store industry, the Lamberts bought the Minneapolis site in 2003 and quickly turned that challenge into an opportunity, one that they feel is about to explode.
Located on the outskirts of the University of Minnesota, the Lambert's site was profitable, but they knew they could do better.
"Once we cleaned the place up that we bought, we started busting at the seams with new business," co-owner Mia Lambert told CSP Daily News. "So we knew that we had some opportunity that we weren't capitalizing on in the old structure."
While working the old station for six years, Lambert and her husband Clay wrote "lists and lists and lists of the things we'd do when we get our own store, all these things we wanted to do."
The result is Metro Petro, a 3,500-square-foot store that's designed to appeal to female customers with a unique color scheme, unique materials and an overall focus on safety and security.
About the color scheme, co-owner Clay Lambert said, "We were on a bus in Bulgaria, and we drove by a gas station there. It was this color scheme [orange and silver]. It was gorgeous, and I said there it is; that's what I want to do."
Getting to that point meant importing terra cotta tiles and designing a store that is anything but typical. The combination of glass, metal, tile and neon lights sets the store apart, while making the store safe for nearby residents and college students was a priority.
"The old station was pretty scary," said Clay. "We had bulletproof glass. It was pretty dark and shabby. It needed paint. So the No. 1 priority was security without it looking tough."
The couple purposely chose a female architect and other consultants with little experience in the c-store industry to ensure that their two-story store stood out from the pack.
"We felt that was an advantage because we could step outside what you think you 'have to have' because you have a mindset of what it should be," said Mia. "It was a conscious effort. We didn't want to make it square-box simple."
Clay added, "We wanted to be more things to more people, and we knew if we got rid of the garage, we could do that, while also building a bigger, more beautiful station here. We saw that the market was way underserved; that's why we decided to do this."
Since opening the rebuilt store in 2009, Clay and Mia have seen a marked improvement in sales and store traffic. And more boosts are expected when the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium--located just down the street--becomes the home field for the Minnesota Vikings for at least a couple years. The growing university campus and the specter of an NFL audience have opened the urban neighborhood to a complete redevelopment.
"The catalyst for the redevelopment was the stadium and the university," Clay said. "Once the university was funded and approved, that's what gave us the catalyst, and the bank was waiting for that also. They knew [the stadium] was going to spur development. Property values went up and development started booming. There's over $1 billion in approved projects in a 1-mile area right here that haven't been built yet."
It's a one-two punch that has served Metro Petro well, and promises to continue to deliver into the future.
"We're very, very happy with how things turned out here," Clays said. "It was scary; we took on a big project building something this large. Some of the materials were over the top, and we believe now, looking back, it was a great investment for us."
For complete coverage of CSP's Convenience Retailing University, watch for the March issue of CSPmagazine.
Click here to see more photos of Metro Petro.