ProStop sees success in sports-themed convenience stores

Business • Company hopes to distinguish itself from competitors with new design.
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Draper • Customers who walk into the new ProStop convenience store here need only look to the three big-screen televisions hanging on the wall above the checkout counter to watch video clips of some of the latest in sports action.

The televisions, along with broadcasting advertising and daily deals offered at the convenience store, will be showing live Jazz basketball, excerpts from Salt Lake Bees games during their season and events at the Miller Motorsports Park near Tooele as they happen.

In an industry in which most convenience stores offer similar services and look much the same — gasoline pumps out front, beer in the back cooler and a soda fountain nearby — the owner of the ProStop stores, the Utah-based Solutions Operation Management, is out to set its properties apart from the competition.

"Everything we've done here, from the graphics on the wall to the new pumps outside, is designed to enhance the customer experience," said Max Hunsaker III, vice president of marketing for the company that operates two ProStop stores in the south end of the Salt Lake Valley.

The company's original store in the Sandy Auto Mall — a property it took over two years ago from the Larry H. Miller Group — was remodeled to be reminiscent of a basketball court as customers stepped through the door.

There are nine big-screen televisions at that property as well that broadcast sporting events and related programming.

The company's second and newest store at 13900 S. Bangerter Highway in Draper was designed to resemble an old-fashioned field house with a curved roof. A third store in Riverton is expected to be open by the end of January that will have much the same design, Hunsaker said.

"At all of our stores, we try to give customers something more than they expect from a typical convenience store," he said.

The state-of-the-art pumps out front offer fuel additives as well, while the screens that display the gallons being dispensed alert customers to in-store discounts, such as low-price fountain drinks for those buying gasoline.

"It's the reason why I buy my fuel here," said Sandy resident Robert Anderson as he filled up his pickup last week.

Other store amenities: high-speed diesel pumps and a free recreational-vehicle dump. The store also sells 110-octane racing fuel.

Hunsaker said Solutions Operation Management is operating in partnership with the Larry H. Miller Group, which owns the buildings that it leases. "They've been an excellent partner."

Jay Francis, the Larry H. Miller Group's executive vice president, said that company's founder, Larry Miller, purchased the site of the original ProStop store near the South Towne Mall on State Street a number of years ago.

"His idea was to go retro. There would be attendants who would fill up your tank, check your tires and oil and clean off your windshield," Francis said. "But Larry eventually decided that everyone had gotten so used to self-serve stations that the world had passed his idea by."

Francis said when he and Larry H. Miller President Greg Miller were approached by Solutions Operation Management founder Max Hunsaker — the father of the company's vice president of marketing, Max Hunsaker III — they became convinced there was a real opportunity to operate a chain of sports-themed convenience stores.

"We also realized that we didn't have the expertise to be dealing with the buying and selling of gasoline on a daily basis. So we told him that we'd construct the buildings and he could lease them back from us and run those businesses," Francis said. "It has worked out well."

John Hill, executive director of the Utah Petroleum Marketers and Retailers Association, said it is difficult for convenience stores to differentiate their operations from one another. "They usually can't make it by just selling gasoline. And that is why you'll see them with car washes and may [have] a fast-food franchise operating inside," he said.

Hill said it is nice to hear that ProStop is trying something different in the industry. "I don't know if they'll be successful, but it is nice that they're trying to go in a new direction."

Hunsaker said he also is considering another marketing idea for ProStop stores that would involve using the big-screen televisions.

He is thinking about letting store customers post videos of their weekend sporting-related activities. "Our customers could come in here to buy the things they need for the weekend, shoot their videos and then come back and see them broadcast on screen. For our customers it would be as if they had gone full circle."

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