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Apr 20, 2014

Ideas On The Run: A How To Guide For Opening A Convenience Store

Convenience stores offer many different products and services in a hurry for their customers, and it can be an overwhelming process opening one.  The required equipment for your store will be dependent on several factors, so first and foremost, it is important to know what, if any, other major food operations will be operating under the same roof.  These days it is very common for convenience stores to have stores like coffee shops, pizzerias, or sub shops operating with in the mart (assuming they are not running independently).  Nearly all convenience store food shops are “to go” shops, as most food they serve is meant to be served quickly; this cuts down the need for other initial costs like dishes, seating, and the need for servers.  All of these operations will, for the most part, require the basics like dish sinks, cutlery, utensils, mixing bowls etc., but other than smallwares, each one will require specific pieces of equipment to function.  Let’s take a look at some of the most common versions of these “stores within a store”, and the basic equipment they will require.

Sub Shop: Many convenience stores have begun to open up small sub shops or delis inside their operations.  A convenience store deli requires a number of items to function properly. 

  • Products like refrigerated sandwich prep units, and reach-in coolers are a must, as refrigeration is a key ingredient to any foodservice operation.  Sandwich prep units keep prepped veggies cool and on hand while simultaneously providing employees with a surface to work on.
  • Depending on how your deli operates, a slicer and a refrigerated deli case may be a good idea.  If meats are not sliced before they come in, they will have to be sliced for sandwiches, and in many cases it is more lucrative to display meats so they can be purchased by the pound in addition to being made into a sandwich. 
  • In many cases, an oven may be a solid investment as well, whether it is a countertop toaster oven, a conveyor, or a countertop convection oven.  Most sub shops and delis have some kind of oven to either to bake bread in or prepare hot or toasted subs or sandwiches. 
  • Commercial microwaves are often prominently featured in these sub shops to defrost frozen or heat refrigerated items before they are toasted.
  • Vegetable prep tools, cutting boards, and storage containers for prepared foods are at the top of the list of essential smallwares, which also includes things like portion scales and shelving for behind the counter or display purposes.

Pizzeria:  Pizzerias are a new variety of “store within a store” that has become increasingly popular in convenience stores. 

  • For a pizza shop to function the need for adequate refrigeration is essential, not only because you are dealing with very temperature sensitive products like dough and cheese, but because you’re oven will be generating significant amounts of heat.  A refrigerated pizza prep table and reach-in coolers (possibly even a freezer) will be necessary to keep food on hand for pizza making. 
  • There are a variety of different pizza ovens that are adequate for a small pizza operation such as one inside of a convenience store.  Odds are space will not allow for a large commercial pizza oven, nor would it be prudent to use such an oven for an operation that will not be doing large volumes of pizza.  There are some countertop pizza ovens that are brick lined and can hold up to four 18” pies, and others that are smaller.  A conveyor pizza oven may also be appropriate, or using a convection oven with pizza stones could bake pizzas while simultaneously being used to cook other things.  For more information on how to purchase the proper pizza oven, check out ourPIZZA OVENS BUYER’S GUIDE
  • Aside from ovens and refrigeration, extra smallwares will be required in a pizzeria.  Things like pizza peels, pizza cutters, pizza screens or pans, etc. will need to be purchased as well. 
  • If dough will be prepared in house, smallwares such as dough scrapers and proofing pans will become a necessity as well.  Dough production will also require a mixer and a proofer, which will take up a significant portion of space, and may be an issue if space is a concern in the kitchen.
  • A heated glass merchandiser is a regular feature in a pizzeria serving slices.

Coffee Shop:  To-go coffee shops are probably the easiest of these “store within a store” operations to open.  For tips on opening a coffee shop, check out ourHOW TO GUIDE ON COFFEE SHOPS.

Bearing in mind that both space and energy consumption are always a concern when plotting out a convenience store, especially a store that has a mini-shop offering food, here’s a brief list of the equipment typical of most convenience stores and its function in the “mini-mart” environment. 

Concession Equipment:  To go food concessions are one of the most important parts of convenience stores.  Here are a few samples of the most popular concession items found in nearly all convenience stores:

  • Hot Dog Rollers / Machines – Hot dog machines are a staple of most convenience stores; they are quick & easy to cook, and convenient to eat on the go.  Many stores opt for hot dog roller grills when purchasing their hot dog machines because many companies offer food items other than hot dogs that can cook on a roller grill, such as taquitos, or mini-wraps.  Products such as bun warmers or bun boxes are often purchased as an accessory item to store buns, and sneeze guards are often necessary to prolong the longevity of the food cooking.
  • Coffee Equipment – Coffee is another one of the big sellers at convenience stores.  Assuming your business does not feature a coffee shop, coffee dispensing equipment such as satellite coffee brewers, airpots, cappuccino / hot chocolate dispensers, and tea brewers should have their place on one of your counters.
  • Beverage Dispensing – Cold beverages have their place in convenience stores as well.  Items like soda dispensers, refrigerated bowl dispensers for things like ice tea or lemonade, ice machines / dispensers, and even frozen drink machines are commonplace on a store’s concession counter. 
  • Condiment Stations – Condiment stations are a must any time there is concession vending.  Things like mustard for hot dogs or pretzels, sugar and cream for coffee, along with paper goods like cups, lids, and napkins all need a resting place near concession counters, and condiment stations organize these areas, as well as cut down on wasted product.
  • Commercial Microwaves – Many convenience stores offer their customers the use of a commercial microwave.  These stores often have offerings such as refrigerated sandwiches or burritos that require warming before they are eaten, and a microwave provides customers with a way to heat that item and leave the store with edible food.
  • Heated Food Merchandisers – Sometimes pre-packaged food products, like sandwiches or pretzels for instance, can be found at convenience stores.  Heated merchandising displays are a must to keep these foods at proper temperatures while simultaneously keeping them visible to patrons.

Refrigeration:  Refrigeration is incredibly important to the functionality of a convenience store, and the energy expenditure.  There are several different forms refrigeration can take in a mini-mart:

  • Walk-in Cooler Merchandisers – The most common type of refrigeration, and by far the largest piece of refrigeration in a convenience store is a walk-in cooler merchandiser.  They provide storage for surplus stock, allow customers to shop and take items as they please, and also stock form the rear to ensure FIFO.  These are all custom refrigeration units built to the specs of the store.
  • Reach-in Glass Door Merchandisers – Many convenience stores expand their limited walk-in merchandisers with reach-in cooler glass door merchandisers.  Most of these coolers plug right into normal wall sockets, and come in sizes as big as three door 72 cu.ft. models.  They are ideal for marketing cold beverages or adding refrigeration space without adding onto a walk-in.  There are also glass door merchandising freezers that are intended to market frozen foods or ice without a store having to install a custom walk-in freezer.
  • Novelty Cases – Ice cream novelties are commonly found in convenient stores, and ice cream novelty freezers are the best way to keep these frozen goodies cold.  Separators or dividers are a must for these coolers, as there are often many varieties of novelties being stored simultaneously.
  • Open-Air Coolers – Open-air coolers are a great way to give customers easy access to cold food items.  These coolers operate with an air curtain which saves them energy, and are ideal for storing things like produce, refrigerated prepared foods, or beverages,

Shelving / Storage:  Shelving for merchandise is yet another cog in the working machine that is a successful convenience store.  There are several different types of shelving needed in every store:

  • Merchandise Shelves – First and foremost, shelves are needed to house dry merchandise for shopping customers.  This includes racks with shelves and hooks for items that are hung (such as bags of peanuts or sunflower seeds).  Additionally, some convenience stores offer wine for customers, so wine racks will be necessary to store bottles of wine if this is the case.
  • Dunnage Racks – Dunnage racks are needed to store heavier items behind the scenes.  Things like soda syrup, beer kegs, CO2 cans, surplus beer / wine cases, etc. should all be stored on dunnage racks.
  • Surplus Storage – There must be additional storage in your store for excess dry goods as well.  These items need not be displayed, and traditional wire shelving suffices perfectly for items that are not overly heavy.
  • Equipment Stands / Tables – For all convenience stores with food shops, equipment stands or work tables will be necessary.  Stores that do not feature one of these such shops, but still have concession equipment will still need somewhere to place equipment such as roller grills or food merchandisers.

Draft Systems:  Many convenience store owners have started to cater to craft beer drinkers, and in addition to widening their beer varieties, have begun to add beer growler stations.  Here are some of the main requirements for a functional growler station:

  • Draft lines / Taps – Traditionally, a beer tech will have to come in and set up a custom draft system for growler stations.  These lines will have to run from the taps in the refrigerated walk-in (where the kegs will be stored), and lead to the fountains placed on an easy to access wall.
  • Storage – Beer kegs for a growler station will have to be placed in a cooler, and in a way so they are not obstructing either maintenance on the draft lines (should a problem arise), or access to changing kegs.  Additional kegs can be stored on dunnage racks and out of the way.
  • Rinse Station – It is very common that a stainless steel drip tray / rinse station be installed with a growler station.  This allows growlers to be rinsed before use, catches any spilled beer, and allows any spilled or dripping beer to be rinsed down a drain.
  • Faucet Caps – Most every bar or growler operation caps their beer fountains after use to keep beer from dripping, and to help keep the draft lines clean.