Brighter green hues, better interior lighting schemes, and a greater focus on traditional grocery items and fresh food. That and more awaits customers visiting the city’s ubiquitous Corner Stores.
CST Brands, the Valero Energy Corp. spinoff that is now the second largest publicly traded fuel and convenience retailer in North America, is giving its stores a makeover inside and out. This includes a rebranding of the convenience stores that have carried a different corporate name for as long as any of today’s customers remember.
Corner Store recently unveiled its first rebranded store at 19417 Babcock Road, near the Crownridge subdivision. The store itself is a new structure tucked away in the rolling hills of northwest San Antonio. It’s an area attracting high-end residential development.
Hal Adams, CST’s senior vice president and chief marketing officer, said the new Babcock Road store is located in an underserved area. Customers otherwise have to drive to I-10 and the Rim/La Cantera, the Dominion area, or Leon Springs to find convenience store and supermarket options.
The new Corner Store also is a training venue for employees. Four more stores with the new look and inventory will debut by early 2016. From there it will take three years to modernize and upgrade the nationwide chain.
“When we were with Valero, our main reason for being was to sell fuel. Fuel was the dominant brand. Now that we’re our own freestanding company, Corner Store’s rebranding is important to us as it differentiates to our customers,” Adams said.
Corner Stores now sell fuel brands other than Valero, including Shell and Philips 66. Arriving customers at a new or newly remodeled store will first see the yellow “Corner Store” marquee sign with blue and red text has been replaced by a light green speech bubble with the words “corner store” in it. The same shade of green adorns the top side of the fuel service canopy and, where applicable, the car wash station.
A large “Hello Neighbor” sign greets visitors as they enter the store. Similar signage with short, fun messages “communicate” to customers. For example, the coffee station bears a yellow speech bubble with the words “It’s hot in here.” Cups for fountain soda have the message “Chill out” in a red speech bubble.
The company’s new product packaging also reflects what Adams called a promise to be “simply fresh, always friendly.” The green hues inside and outside new Corner Store are meant to convey a sense of freshness and being up with the times.
CST worked with Prophet, a brand consulting firm with a global reach. Focus groups provided pre-launch feedback. CST President & CEO Kim Lubel felt the speech bubble on Corner Store’s new brand will lighten the mood for employees and consumers alike.
“The logo means something to people over time, it shows who we are, a little fun, fresh and relevant,” said Adams.
Then there’s the change to offer fresher food. Under the new Corner Store Market logo, about 40% of a new store is filled with food prepared on-site. A group of employees is available to create made-to-order pizzas, sandwiches, wraps, salads and burrito bowls.
There is a wider selection of pre-made salads, sandwiches, and pastries, as well as breakfast items and hot dogs that customers are used to seeing inside a Corner Store. All items are made on site and well protected, accompanied by clear signage. Adams said this helps show how a group of employees is dedicated to providing the fresher foods and healthier options in a new-look store. The in-store food program is based on Nice N Easy, a similar New York state concept chain of stores that CST purchased.
“This is the first of five stores that will have this program locally open before end of year. As we tweak the menu to meet the Southwest palate, we’ll roll that out to all of our new stores as we expand the program,” Adams said.
The new Corner Store model has more fresh produce, pasta and other grocery store staples. The Babcock Road prototype has a stand filled with bananas, apples, oranges, avocados, onions and potatoes, among other produce.
“We’re also helping to solve the food desert stigma that convenience stores have. We’ve taken our large format stores and added over 300 grocery items to our mix, added a supply of produce and refrigerated perishables, an extensive frozen food section,” Adams said.
A rebranded Corner Store, he said, will be a place where a customer can go for a healthy, fresh dinner or lunch and quickly check out. Such rebranded Corner Stores could aid residents in neighborhoods where an H-E-B or other traditional grocery market is not easily accessible from home.
“I love H-E-B, I am an H-E-B customer, I go there every 7-10 days, but when I need a fill-in, it’s not a convenient option,” said Adams. “We think there’s an opportunity for us to offer that convenient option. About two years ago we began pricing our gallon of milk, bread and eggs at grocery store pricing, so we could let our customers know this was a convenient option for fast-lane items. We’re trying to take the large format store and combat that food desert mentality of there being nothing healthy available near me.”
Lubel, one of only 26 women CEOs of a Fortune 500 company, said CST Brands has received positive feedback about the rebranding from customers and other businesses in person and on social media.
“The look and feel of the store, the delicious fresh food offering, the neighborly atmosphere, and the new brand image for Corner Store have been well received,” she said. “CST team members really enjoyed being part of the brand unveiling celebration last week. It’s good to be green.”
CST will move its headquarters from the Valero corporate campus, on the Northwest Side, to the Bulverde Road area next summer, Lubel said.
“That’s where we’ll really be able to embrace our growth and be surrounded by our brand,” Lubel said. “Even better, we’ll be opening a new, larger format pilot store on Bulverde Road in front of our campus, providing not only a great place for our employees to eat and shop, but a great forum to try new store initiatives.”
The new Corner Store style will be a natural fit for the Pearl, Southtown and inner city neighborhoods, Adams said, adding that CST Brands is looking at a couple of downtown locations for a new store.
“We believe a store like this can survive with or without fuel, especially downtown,” he added. “I’m a newly downtown transplant in Pearl area from Boerne and I really would love to have a store like this near my home. We really feel like something like this can fit down there.”
Adams also said the company will reinvest in its existing Corner Store at Broadway and Josephine Street, near The Mosaic on Broadway.
Lubel is approaching her fourth year as CST’s CEO/president.
“The last two and a half years have flown by and we’ve accomplished so much working together. I’m so proud and privileged to lead such a great team that delights more customers everyday,” she said.
“We want to create an environment where, like Cheers, everyone knows your name,” added Adams.
*Top image: Green signs and friendly messages welcome visitors to a rebranded Corner Store at 19417 Babcock Road. Photo by Edmond Ortiz.