Store Tour: West Lawrence Hy-Vee (Slideshow)

A high-energy clientele meets an energy-efficient store design

[What follows is an expanded version of the feature story “Energy Squared,” which ran in the May issue of Convenience Store Products magazine.]

WEST LAWRENCE, Kan. -- College students are often noted for at least two qualities: social consciousness and boundless energy. Enter the new Clinton Parkway Hy-Vee c-store in West Lawrence, Kan., which has an inside track on both.

The store, located near the 25,000-student University of Kansas, opened last October with strong credentials: It’s a Gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified facility, the pinnacle of green and sustainable building construction and a standard not lost on the college student customer base.

“Hy-Vee has designed some other LEED-certified supermarkets, but we wanted to test a c-store prototype, and Lawrence fit the bill,” says Andrew Yochum, retail director of the 3,200-square-foot store with 16 fueling stations. “Lawrence is a major university town that tends to lean to the left, and a lot of students care about the environment.”

Taking about six months to build in 2012, the facility strikes an impressive pose with cantilevered solar panels atop gasoline canopies, which take full advantage of natural sunlight. A rooftop rain collection system stores water that operates toilets, while concrete floors don’t require wax or other chemicals for cleaning. Sensor-driven LED (light-emitting diode) lighting and skylights help conserve energy.

An energy-efficient HVAC system enabled Hy-Vee to avoid investing in a more expensive geothermal system for heating and cooling. Landscaping beds use native plants, requiring very little watering, while a lawn featuring buffalo grass uses so little water that the store did away with building an irrigation system.

Economies of Scale

There’s no doubt the store has compelling curb appeal, but the environmental and energy-efficient qualities just set the tone for what’s inside: a merchandising plan that caters closely to the desires of the customer demographic and leans on the company’s supermarkets for procurement and product mix.

“The thing I love about doing business in this town is I get to control what I carry, how I carry it, when and where [in the store] I carry it,” says Yochum, who has worked on both the c-store and supermarket side of business for West Des Moines, Iowa-based Hy-Vee since 1992. Hy-Vee has more than 236 grocery stores in eight states.

“Having the supermarket affiliation is a tremendous advantage, because we can tailor the business totally to the community. If my customers want something, I can easily make it available.”

Located about a mile from a Hy-Vee grocery store, the c-store has the latitude to “buy a truckload of Gatorade and take advantage of the economies of scale. If product doesn’t sell, the risk is low. We trade things back and forth all the time,” says Yochum.

Thanks to the Hy-Vee brand name, the c-store pushes with regularity grocery-size offerings such as gallons of milk, creamers, eggs and orange juice, plus barbecue items for grilling including charcoal and lighter fluid.

“We also do very well with general merchandise items like OTC drug products, cold remedy, toothpaste and other things college students need,” Yochum says.

For everyone from college students to construction workers to busy young mothers heading off to the gym, “energy” is the buzzword. An ample stock of energy shots and energy drinks, an upscale Caribou Coffee program and a popular fountain island with unique flavors all serve as product pillars.

Hy-Vee’s fuel rewards program gets a cheeky spin in advertising found throughout the store.

Fresh-made pizzas come from a nearby Hy-Vee grocery store

Solar panels top the 16-pump fuel canopy.

The Clinton Parkway Hy-Vee c-store caters its product mix to students at the nearby University of Kansas.