The Look of Love's

Store remodels, burrito bar, frozen yogurt set a foodservice tone.

By
Abbie Westra, Editor-in-Chief, Convenience Store Products

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Just because you run a 39-state chain of travel centers doesn’t mean you can’t cater to the locals. It’s a strategy Love’s Travel Stops and Country Stores is embracing with a store remodel and foodservice enhance­ments.

“Love’s wants to be the food stop of choice in these towns,” says Mike Herman, director of c-stores for the Oklahoma City-based company. “Our customer base is local and the traveling public. So we’re trying to offer enough varieties to draw [both] customers in.”

That variety includes a new frozen carbonated beverage and frozen yogurt station with some special bells and whistles. It also means an expansion of a made-to-order program, which previ­ously was limited to pizza and sub sand­wiches; burritos are joining the lineup in some locations.

But all good foodservice operators know the customer first eats with his or her eyes, and a store remodel rolling through approximately 20 stores by year’s end will bring to the chain “an appetiz­ing look that’s more suited to foodser­vice,” says Herman. “[It’s] not the typical c-store look.”

Designed to Appetize

Love’s oldest stores were built in 1964, so a remodel was well overdue. “We’re going through and working on a hand­ful of stores for 2012, probably 15 to 20 stores,” says Herman. “Ultimately we’ll get through all the stores.”

As of August, about six stores—all in Oklahoma—had completed their remod­els, and six more were under construc­tion. The remodel includes upgrades to the exterior façade, interior fixtures, light­ing and flooring, as well as restrooms.

Outside, stores are receiving a stone-and-brick facelift. Two stone columns flank the entryway of stores with larger doors, and all locations are accented with stone corners and breakpoints across the walls.

Instead of tearing out and replacing the existing brick, Love’s used a new process that places a brick overlay over the existing wall. The technique caught the eye of one Oklahoma City customer and businessman. “He said, ‘This out­side remodel is fabulous. I would like to do the same thing to my buildings. It is absolutely amazing,’ ” says Herman.

The interiors, meanwhile, are graced with cherry-walnut accents, “which is a softer style, not the typical c-store look. A little warmer, much more food-friendly,” says Herman. Larger tiles in earth tones cover the floors for a softer look, offset by the new, brighter lighting across the store.

The restroom remodel, a larger job, is completed in a few stores—much to the excitement of female shoppers. “They say, ‘Wow, what a difference. Roomy, modern, a very good use of space,’ ” Herman says.

Equipment Opportunities

Just as design innovations are helping to evolve the stores’ atmosphere, equip­ment innovations allow Love’s to offer more foodservice variety. A four-head frozen-carbonated-beverage dispenser lets customers choose from eight Jolly Rancher flavor shots—including water­melon, apple, strawberry and grape— that are added to a neutral base. “Push one or push them all, and it all dispenses into the cup,” says Herman.

A soft-serve frozen-yogurt machine dispenses eight different types of candy pieces and eight “flavor bursts,” such as cotton candy, strawberry or pecan. All toppings come out of the yogurt dispenser—a perk that made the offer possible for Love’s.

“If you go to a yogurt shop, they might have five or six dispensers that take up 15 linear feet. Then they have another 10-foot refrigerated bar that has the candies and fruits. And we’re doing this in basically a 6-foot space,” says Her­man. “Space is a premium, and it’s not like you can just stretch these stores. So it took me a while to figure out how I was going to do this in the limited space that I’ve got.”

So far, the frozen treats have been a hit. “The feedback on the yogurt is it’s the best they’ve ever had,” says Herman. As for the frozen beverage, “They’re just ecstatic about the flavor profile of that product.”

Meanwhile, separate from the remodel rollout, the chain is expanding its made-to-order burrito offer to nearly 20 stores. Steam tables running along the Love’s Subs sandwich line include 12-inch tor­tillas that can be filled with the customer’s choice of chicken, steak or ground beef, rice, black or refried beans, red or green hot sauces, sour cream, guacamole and vegetables. Herman is testing a steamer for customers who want their tortilla heated first.

The burrito line is the third phase in Love’s made-to-order-foodservice evolution, now six years in the making. It started with the Love’s Subs line, fol­lowed by a pizza program two years ago. Forty-five stores offer made-to-order sandwiches, while 40 stores feature the pizza program.

The three offerings allow Love’s to provide what Herman sums up as “qual­ity, options and value,” all for $2.99. That includes subs, which are larger than 6 inches; 12- to 13-ounce pizza slices; and 14.5- to 15.5-ounce burritos.

“We try to keep everything at a price point that’s affordable, and then par­lay off the $2.99 and give them a better deal,” he says. That deal is the ability to buy two items, including mixing and matching, for $5. “We want to give our customer base a great option of food that’s made fresh and at a tremendous value.”

With value also comes differentia­tion, and Love’s partners with local food purveyors for a higher-quality product. All meat comes from Schwab & Co., an Oklahoma City institution for 100 years.

“Anybody can sell a candy bar or a can of soda. But you have to be fully commit­ted to be in the foodservice business,” says Herman.

To further cater to both locals and travelers, stores are outfitted with open-air coolers stocked with burritos, sand­wiches and pizzas made in-store daily. Herman says many blue-collar workers will stop in during the morning drive to work to get both breakfast and lunch from the open-air coolers.

Love’s growing foodservice halo has helped sales across the store, as well as employee engagement.

“As you build your foodservice busi­ness and give more options, you actually, through word of mouth, expand your business,” says Herman. “And the spinoff of all this has been tremendous opportu­nities in the store for our employees.”

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