By Sarah Hamaker
Walk into a ProStop conÂvenience store and you might think youâ€™ve stepped into a sports arena. Three, bigÂ screen televisions broadcast Utah Jazz NBA games, Salt Lake Bees minor league baseball games and Miller Motorsports Park racing events. A section of sports memorabilia hugs one corner of the store, which stocks racing fuel in addition to basic convenience items.
"Theme retailing is becoming more and more dominant in the industry," said Max Hunsaker III, vice president of marketing for Solutions Operation Management, which operates the ProÂStop stores. "Sports are a very powerful force in the lives of many people, and so we thought that having a sportsÂthemed convenience store would be an additional way to make a connection with a customer."
The genesis for ProStop began with a collaboration between Max Hunsaker Jr. and Greg Miller, CEO of the Larry H. Miller Group, which runs the Utah Jazz franchise, the Salt Lake Bees franchise, MegaPlex movie theatres and the Miller Motorsports Park, a road racing facility for automobiles, karts and motorcycles.
"The Miller Group is always looking for opportunities to promote their events and to make those events more accessible for people to have an entertainment exÂperience on a daily basis," said Hunsaker III. "By merging those brands together into a convenience store concept, it turns into a really effective way to increase how customers interact with these popuÂlar sports properties."
Two years ago, the first ProStop store â€" which had been remodeled to resemÂble a basketball court â€" opened in the Sandy Auto Mall in Sandy, Utah. Since then, two new Utah locations have opened in Draper and Riverton.
A large part of the concept is its robust foodservice program called ProStop Fresh that features freshÂbaked breads, freshly made sandwiches and gourmet coffee. The menu, available through its driveÂthru window, spans from breakfast to dinner. Tables dot the area near the foodservice section for patrons to enjoy their sandwiches or BBQ plates.
With the exception of the flagship locaÂtion, the stores have a similar design remÂiniscent of an oldÂfashioned field house. "The new stores have a baseball and basÂketball feel to them," he said. "People will see the curved roof and make a connecÂtion to sports by the building."
When customers walk into the stores, they immediately see a 7-foot wall covered with black-and-white photographs of the Utah Jazz, Salt Lake Bees and Miller Motorsports Park events. Three video walls stretch 22 feet and broadcast non-stop sports coverage and digital promotional sigÂnage. "We use the graphics and video to establish the brand atmosphere," said Hunsaker III.
But the sports theme goes beyond graphics and wallpaper. In-store speÂcials and promotions are linked to sporting events produced by the Larry Miller Group. Currently, ProStop ofÂfers regular giveaways related to the games and sports properties, and soon customers will be able to purchase tickÂets to those sporting events at ProStop stores.
During the summer, the chain will debut customer videos on its screens. "Our stores are where people begin their weekend," said Hunsaker III. "Weâ€™ll ask them to film their advenÂtures, bring them back to us, and weâ€™ll edit them for our screens."
To build customer loyalty, ProStop uses direct mail with coupons and special deals, along with radio campaigns tied to sporting events such as March MadÂness. That, coupled with cross-promotions by the Larry Miller sports properties, generates customer interest.
"We try to connect with sporting events that are already on the minds of our customers, and then align ourÂselves with those things to give people a reason to come in," said Hunsaker III.
Customer reaction has been "enthusiastic," said Hunsaker III. "When peoÂple come in, they assume ProStop is a national chain â€" they feel the stores are professional and high-quality. That is a huge accomÂplishment for us."
That customer enthusiasm has translated into great sales. "Weâ€™re a growing chain, and we continue to exÂpand because we are hitting our sales numbers," he said, adding that the concept "could work nationally, but our scope is to develop in the smartÂest and most efficient way here in the Utah area, and then look at opportuniÂties regionally."
For now, he and the Larry H. Miller Group are happy. "Sports are a very powerful force. If you can harness that in a genuine way in a retail environÂment, youâ€™re going to earn customer loyalty," said Hunsaker III.
Sarah Hamaker is a NACS Magazine and NACS Daily contributing writer. Visit her online at sarahhamaker.com.