Let’s Have Dinner at the Gas Station

Amazon’s recent announcement of a category-changing Whole Foods shop-eat-entertain design strategy was big news because they took the usual way of thinking about grocery stores and radically redefined it.

Paradigm shifts occur when we dramatically change our beliefs or perspectives about something.

They replace the old ways of thinking about and doing things with bold new ways that shake things up.

The term was invented by a physicist to explain upheavals in the very foundations of scientific inquiry. It was later applied to wholesale changes in the underlying assumptions of our reality, like the shift from horses to cars.

Convenience store paradigm.

A small, cramped gas station/store selling cigarettes, lotto tickets, Big Gulps, and those suspicious-looking hot dogs on metal rollers under that weird light. 

Convenience store paradigm shift.

7-Eleven’s newest store in Dallas has an in-store bakery; made-to-order smoothies, juices, coffees, and tortillas; craft beers on tap with a beerista (yes, that’s what they’re called); and restaurant seating.

They say the store is a laboratory they will use to test thousands of new ideas before launching them in their 8,500 U.S. stores.

Industry executives say the C-store industry is changing at a faster rate than ever before.

I guess so, when the kind of store you ran in and out of without lingering now wants you to think of it as a sit-down restaurant.

Lynn Rosenbaum, a retail strategist with Chute Gerdeman, says C-stores are trying to look more like Starbucks as they morph into becoming more of a “third place.” 

Third places.

The term was invented to describe community social settings where neighborhood residents gathered to talk about issues important to their collective well-being.

It has evolved over time to include commercial third places whose purpose is to provide attractive, inviting environments where people will relax, converse, and linger. The commercial part is that people who linger buy more eats and drinks.

Starbucks is the most well-known commercial third place, but now so many cafes, hotels, grocery stores, fast food outlets, gas stations, and convenience stores aspire to become commercial third places that it has become the bandwagon every seller of food and drink wants to jump on.

No more girlie stuff, either, you guys.

To appeal more to women and families, convenience stores are even eliminating that trusty point-of-purchase advertising staple: life-sized cutouts of come-hither bikini models that lure young men to stacks of beer cases as surely as the sirens of Greek mythology enticed young sailors to their doom.

Industry watchers say C-stores are trying to seize market share from fast food outlets. 

What sorts of paradigm shifts do we think the fast food industry will invent to counteract this blatant land grab? Restaurant industry analyst Bonnie Riggs says if they don’t make big changes, fast food “could look up and wonder what happened.”

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