Industry View: Embarking on Frontier Adventures

By  Joe Vonder Haar, Co-Founder, iSee Store Innovations

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When vacationing in Alaska, most folks fly there, or, if feeling adventurous, hop on a scenic cruise up the Inside Passage. Taking “adventure” to a whole other level, my wife, Lisa, and I decided to drive the 4,000 miles from St. Louis to Anchorage. In doing so, we would assist our daughter Elizabeth’s move to Anchorage by loading up a 30-foot RV with her possessions.

Our first challenge was the same that c-store retailers face every day: What items do we carry? Our priorities were based on:

  • Must have: Elizabeth’s “stuff,” food, clothing, sleeping bags, bear spray.
  • Nice to have: lawn chairs, barbecue pit, beer. (Note: For me, beer is a core item.)
  • Cool to have, but probably won’t need: guitar, DVD player.

We decided which items to take based on our “mission” for this trip. Core items defined the trip, nice-to-have items enhanced the trip and carefully selected “cool to have” items would make for unexpected fun.

Space Allocation and Maps

One would think a 30-foot RV carrying only two people leaves a lot of space. Think again. Considering the number of must-have items we had, the space in the vehicle and the drive of 4,000 miles through the mountains, I was out of my league. I hired a professional mover to load the vehicle. This expert was able to efficiently address pack out, load balance and security of fragile items. He was able to pack all of our “must have” and “nice to have” items, while affording the luxury of selecting some of the “cool to have” stuff. The guitar made the cut, which let us create serenades in campgrounds many miles from nowhere.

With the RV tightly packed, it would be challenging to easily access items we needed daily. This is the one area in which our professional made a minor but nearly disastrous mistake: He blocked access to the toilet in the RV. Nighttime camping in rural, bear-pervaded woods made this indoor facility a necessity. We gave up access to the table in exchange for access to the toilet.

This brand-new RV made thorough use of space through technology, taking every available inch and expanding living space when the vehicle was stationary for the night. The coolest gadgets were a “slide out” of the kitchen area and an 8-foot patio awning because they expanded space both inside and outside of the vehicle without affecting our core space. They reminded me of merchandising innovations such as mobile displays and suction-cup devices that create more efficient c-store spaces.

Armed with my Android and with Google Maps handy, we headed off into the wild. Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota were soon in the rearview mirror (which was blocked by all of the stuff). Heading further north through Saskatchewan, Alberta, British Columbia and the Yukon, our technology reverted to old-fashioned AAA TripTiks and maps. Google Maps seemed to fail at the most inopportune times, so eventually I just turned the darn thing off. Reading the maps became critical, not just for directions but also for fuel planning. Being on the Alcan Highway in May is not a place you want to be stranded looking for fuel. We had to use common sense, reading road signs and maps, which were critical supplements to technology.

Journey’s End

Making it safely to Anchorage after 11 days of travel through some of the most beautiful scenery on the planet, we unpacked the RV at Elizabeth’s new home. We found a few broken items as we unpacked, but overall, the move was successful.

What does this mean for those of you reading about my adventure? Webster defines frontier as “near or beyond a boundary,” and c-store boundaries are being severely pushed on many fronts, with space leading the way.

  • Maximizing space with a plan consistent with your mission will lead to a satisfying, profitable adventure.
  • Identifying assortment by core, variety and new items and using professionals, as well as technology, makes for a successful, safe journey.
  • Verifying accessibility of all items is critical. Balance your load because too much weight in any one area can tip you in a way you may not want to go.
  • Use technology but be sure to use common sense, and know how to read the road signs.

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