New World Convenience

Through the use of focus groups, Latitudes appeals to a diverse, evolving customer base.

New World Convenience

January 2019

By: Al Hebert

It’s been only six years since Ron Brown opened Latitudes in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, but convenience is in his blood. Brown started helping his father change light bulbs at his Texaco station in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when he was just three years old. And after closely watching the industry for years, “I thought I could do it a little bit differently,” he said. After a few years as vice president at a national truck stop company, he decided to move on and build his dream store.

Brown secured funding, found the perfect location and already knew the business. All he needed was some help attracting a broad customer base.

Setting this c-store apart is a 750-square-foot meeting space inspired by a focus group suggestion.

Inviting Atmosphere

Brown had observed that convenience stores don’t always appeal to female customers, and he wanted to change that. At the suggestion of his advertising agency, he solicited input from female focus groups before opening Latitudes. Feedback from participants was implemented directly in the store’s design. “They even picked the floor tile,” Brown said.

“Seventy percent to 80% of ladies said they never go inside a convenience store unless it’s for something to drink or to use the restroom,” Brown said. “Our goal was to get the 70% of women who say they never set foot in a convenience store to come in.”

Latitudes owner Ron Brown enlisted the help of all-women focus groups to help develop a store that would appeal to female customers.
Latitudes offers shopping carts, a c-store rarity.

Focus groups said they wanted c-stores to stock items other than jerky and potato chips—and more of the food they could find in a grocery store. They also wanted an open space, with wider aisles and higher ceilings. “[They] said they feel claustrophobic with nine-foot ceilings,” Brown said. “If you go into a Costco, or a big store, it makes a difference.”

After the focus groups requested more better-for-you options, Brown turned to NACS. “When I was at the NACS Show, I was looking for new healthy items,” he said.

Participants had definite opinions about the fueling area, too. They “wanted the islands wider and the canopies higher,” Brown said. “It lets more light in. They didn’t want to feel blocked in.” Also per their recommendations, Latitudes has 24 gas pumps, with diesel available at each one.

Our goal was to get the 70% of women who say they never set foot in a convenience store to come in.

Tex-Mex Fare

Not every focus group idea was doable, however. For instance, participants wanted prepared food just like the take-home options at grocery stores, but Brown didn’t think he could compete in this area. “We partnered with a casual food concept [instead],” he said.

This concept, Mac’s Steak in the Rough, has a 65-year history of burgers and hot dogs and has been named one of the best drive-in restaurants in the United States. The Mac’s at Latitudes offers specialties, such as freshly cut and breaded steak fingers, crispy fries and taquitos, which have been voted Best Taquitos in Albuquerque. After ordering at the counter, customers can enjoy their meals in the indoor dining room or at one of the outdoor patio tables.

Market Ambiance

Brown is reluctant to label Latitudes a convenience store. “We call ourselves a market,” he said. “We are different; it’s not just an in-and-out. We do wine tastings, beer tastings, and at Super Bowl time, we can’t keep avocados here.”

Latitudes offers the selection and specials found in grocery stores, such as $4 for two gallons of milk, Brown said. It also has shopping carts, a c-store rarity. Brown thinks customers appreciate the carts; plus, he believes they increase sales. “If [customers] don’t have carts, once their hands are full, they’re done,” he said. “They’re not shopping anymore.”

Brown has fine-tuned his SKUs to meet customer demand. For instance, he found that some younger shoppers make purchases on an as-needed basis. “Millennials are coming more often to buy for that night’s meal,” Brown said. “They manage the budget from the phone. They’ll buy two 24-ounce beers a day.” When he asks them why they don’t buy a six-pack, they say it’s because their budget only allows two beers a day. The store also offers single-serve wine.

Brown considers Latitudes a market and has fine-tuned his SKUs to meet customer demand.

Community Hub

Something that sets Latitudes apart is a 750-square-foot meeting space inspired by a focus group suggestion. At first Brown was skeptical: “I thought if we have square footage, we need to stock it with stuff that can be sold,” he said. But he admitted that this area has taken on a life of its own and turned out to be a boon for the store.

The space attracts salesmen who come in to work. People visit to drop off or peruse used books. A quilting group comes in, county commissioners stop by, and a few Bible study groups meet there. People who initially visit the store for a gathering then become customers.

The look, feel and inventory of Latitudes clearly resonate with a diverse crowd. Brown’s desire to personally focus on the customer experience is one of the reasons he aims to keep business growth manageable. “I want to keep the company small enough” to still be involved, he said.

Continuing Ed

Owner Ron Brown recruits employees with “the right latitude” and has a passion for helping them grow their careers. “I went to school to be a teacher,” he said. “I love teaching employees who think they may be in a dead-end job that they can be a success … [and teach them] how to make business decisions and grow a business.”

Al Hebert

Al Hebert

Al Hebert is the Gas Station Gourmet, showcasing America’s hidden culinary treasures. Find him at