College Campus C-Store Goes After Millennials

The Millennials, as a consumer group, are hard to please. From their shopping experiences, they want (and expect) it all—value for their dollars, high-quality products, authentic and honest store environments—and they want it fast. So when Atlanta-based Miller Zell partnered with Philadelphia-based Aramark’s Higher Education division to develop a new college campus c-store concept, they started by delving into research on the shopping habits of today’s college students.

“Our research told us that students were looking for fresh prepared foods and everyday essentials in one convenient location on campus,” says Mark Walker, associate vice president of convenience retailing, Aramark Higher Education. “Our goal was to develop a highly customized solution that delivers quality, convenience, variety and value.”

Ultimately, the research and project objectives culminated in the creation of a new campus c-store concept, dubbed Provisions on Demand (P.O.D.) Market. Name generation, brand identity, interior design and engineering for the project were completed in less than 16 weeks. Designed to meet the demands of students looking for fresh, healthy and grab-and-go dining options, P.O.D. reinvents the campus store experience by blending the quick convenience of a “corner store” with the style and service of a modern market. Piloted in fall 2008 on three campuses, including Brandeis University, University of Tennessee and The University of Toledo, additional P.O.D. locations are slated to roll out over the next three years, with plans to customize each store based on the specific needs of the campus community.

While P.O.D. stores vary in size—from 500 sq. ft. to 2,500 sq. ft.—the layouts are similar, anchored by four key destinations: “Fresh & Green” (fresh market and prepared foods); “Recharge” (hot bar, coffee and fountain); “Chillin” (chilled beverages and frozen foods); and “Sweet & Salty” (snacks and candy). A convenience check-out module is strategically placed to provide service and access to sundries, while the center of the space offers groceries and promotional items.

The design team wanted to deliver the right balance of sophisticated design and casual simplicity to develop a destination that is practical and hip, says Paul Pizzini, vice president design director at Miller Zell. “Today’s college students are tech savvy, sophisticated and like to be treated as adults,” he says. “They have a genuine concern for the environment and a sense of social responsibility.” Along those lines, Miller Zell and Aramark crafted the P.O.D. brand around five pillars—Attention, Choice, Fair Pricing, Freshness and Responsibility. “These serve as key business guideposts defining the P.O.D. experience,” Pizzini says.

To further a sense of sophistication, Miller Zell employed rich residential finishes not often seen in c-stores. Touches like resin-cast stone panels offer permanence and warmth without the costs of major construction, Pizzini points out. Overhead ceiling clouds feature lightweight wood and composite construction, and a perimeter panel system replicates a wood finish in recycled styrene. Energy-efficient fluorescent lights create an ambience that Pizzini describes as soft and inviting, while high-output wall washers punctuate the perimeter.

It also was important that P.O.D. encompass a wide and current product selection. “While some Millennials are purely concerned with how far they can stretch their dollar, others are more concerned with product quality and content, such as all-natural or low-carb foods,” Pizzini explains. “Others place greater value on the item’s global imprint, such as its green value and good corporate citizenship.” To address students’ concerns and connect with the Millennial audience, the designers implemented a graphic communications program that reinforces a commitment to service, value and a healthy planet. Product cues clearly identify food items as vegan, organic, kosher, locally grown, gluten-free, low-carb or fair trade.

Each store also features an Archive Wall, which showcases a large-scale graphic featuring imagery from college archives. “Campus communities have outdone themselves finding the most outlandish photos from the past to link with creative taglines. It’s become the hallmark of the brand and a fun part of the experience,” he says.