April 2018

Store Tour

A Better Place

In Minneapolis, one retailer is changing the face of convenience with community outreach.
Sarah Hamaker

The store's engagement with customers makes it a vital part of the community.

At first glance, 36 Lyn Refuel Station in Minneapolis appears to be your typical convenience store. After all, it has gas pumps, cigarettes, packaged beverages and snacks. But a closer inspection reveals that this store has the customer—and employee—top of mind.

Thirteen years ago, Lonnie McQuirter bought the store, which “was in desperate need of TLC.” He embraced the challenge of turning the store into a place that provided not just gas, but healthy food and community connections.

Taking Stock

When McQuirter took over the store, his first order of business was the employees. “To be honest, there were some staff and labor issues that needed to be immediately addressed,” he said. He instituted clear expectations and company policies, plus gave each worker a $3 an hour raise from day one. “That set a very strong tone for the store, and, as I anticipated, the employees rose to the occasion with an improved work ethic.”

We developed relationships with our customers, so they knew we cared about them and their needs

Once his employees were happier in their work, he turned his attention to the store’s appearance. After he cleared the windows and door of outdated promotional signs, and deep cleaned the interior and exterior, McQuirter inventoried the merchandise. “We had stuff on the shelves that didn’t fit our current customer base,” he explained. “It was like walking through a cluttered antiques store—the space was filled, but with products no one wanted to buy.”

To restock, he looked at who was coming through the door and what they were looking for and eating. He instructed his employees to engage the customers, then take opportunities to ask them what products they wanted to buy that the store didn’t carry. “We developed relationships with our customers, so they knew we cared about them and their needs,” he explained. “The first choice for many customers wasn’t candy or chips—they wanted something fresh and more filling.”

Local products fill shelves, a local coffee roaster provides whole beans for coffee service, and 36 and Lyn serves as a pick-up point for a local farm's community supported agriculture members.

With only 800 square feet, 36 Lyn has a lot packed inside. A roller grill offers limited hot meals, and local products, including kombucha, probiotic sauces and organic yogurt, fill the coolers and shelves. A local company delivers fresh pastries daily, while McQuirter is exploring options for preparing sandwiches onsite in the near future.

On the beverage side, McQuirter partners with a local coffee roaster to provide whole beans that the store grinds right before brewing. In addition, the store sells cold pressed Big Watt Coffee in two flavors and cappuccinos. 

With the Community

One of the main priorities for 36 Lyn is being a good neighbor. “I believe that convenience stores can really be an asset to the community. Sometimes convenience stores get a bad rap, as people can view them as attracting crime or loiters,” he said. “But our engagement with customers makes our store more [of] a vital part of our community.”

That care for the community extends to the environment. While 36 Lyn has eight fueling positions, the store also has a DC fast-charging station for electric vehicles. McQuirter also purchases renewable energy to run the pumps and store. “We pay 23% to 24% more than conventional energy because we felt it’s an investment in our community,” he said.

McQuirter allows his store to be the pickup point for a local farm’s community supported agriculture (CSA) members during the summer growing season. “We have 43 CSA members come by to get their box each week, which possibly translates to some inside sales, but we do it more to leave a lasting impression on people that we’re more than just a convenience store,” he said. 

36 Lyn supports the community in more tangible ways as well, such as participating as a sponsor in the annual Open Streets event that closes busy streets to allow access for pedestrians, bikers and strollers. Last summer, McQuirter had several bands play on the roof of his convenience store during an Open Streets event.

Overall, McQuirter wants his store to have a positive impact on his customers.
“My hope is that they’re able to leave 36 Lyn refilled from the things they’ve bought, but also with a lasting impression that we’re trying to make the world a better place,” he said

Sarah Hamaker

Sarah Hamaker is a freelance writer and NACS Daily and NACS Magazine contributor based in Fairfax, Virginia. Visit her online at www.sarahhamaker.com.