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Cumberland Farms aims for bigger and better

Cumberland Farms aims for bigger and better

Company fighting for market share with overhaul of its 600 stores
Cumberland Farms aims for bigger and better
The new Cumberland Farms at Carmen Road and Curry Road in Rotterdam is shown last week.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

CAPITAL REGION — Cumberland Farms’ campaign to upgrade or replace all of its stores continues in the Capital Region.

New stores in Rotterdam, Latham and Stephentown have opened in the past two months, and one in Mechanicville this past Wednesday. They present a striking contrast to the stores they replace: With soaring ceilings, wide aisles and brilliant lighting, they give a much more open feeling inside.

The food and drink offerings also are greatly expanded.

The Massachusetts-based chain is making similar changes in all 600 of its stores, and even adding a few new stores here and there. Individual details may differ, but the goal is the same: Draw more people through the door in an era where there is more competition for their dollar.

“A big part of the transformation is food service,” said David Heilbronner, director of brand strategy and advertising for Cumberland Farms. The pizza, paninis and other fresh food are prepared in a central culinary center at the Westborough headquarters. Some of the newest stores, including Rotterdam and Mechanicville, have a touch-screen, self-service food-ordering system.

Stephentown and a few others have a brand-new craft soda system with classic soda fountain flavors such as lime rickey and Shirley Temple.

Nitrogen-infused and cold-brewed coffee are on the menu in some stores.

And beer caves are stocked with mass-market favorites as well as the trending-popular craft beers, including local brews in some cases.

It is, Heilbronner said, an effort to be bigger, better and more inviting as Cumberland faces competition not just from other convenience stores, but from dollar stores and other retail formats. 

It’s also an effort to take market share from quick eat-and-drink retailers (think Dunkin' Donuts or Starbucks) by offering a higher grade of ready-to-consume food and beverages.

Some other convenience store chains — and there are many — are attempting the same thing. Stewart’s Shops, for example, spent approximately $50 million in 2017 as part of a long-running overhaul of its network of stores.

With the large footprint, soaring ceilings and bright light of the next-generation stores, Cumberland Farms is trying to stand out from the rest, Heilbronner said.

Cumberland Farms was founded in 1939 in Rhode Island and opened its first store in 1957. It now operates in the six New England states, New York and Florida, with about 8,000 employees.

The privately held company won’t disclose a price tag for the overhaul, but building 600 stores is certainly a hugely expensive project. 

Heilbronner said the overhaul began eight years ago and has been progressing at the rate of 40 to 50 stores a year. As of this past week, 345 of its stores are the next-generation format.

The template for new stores had been running in the 4,800-square-foot range — the Rotterdam location is 4,786 square feet — but recently has been bumped up to about 5,200 square feet.

“The general look will be the same,” Heilbronner said, but the design was tweaked based on experience with the first few hundred new stores.

The new stores actually have a greater array of items on their shelves than the legacy stores do, he added. It might seem otherwise, because there’s a lot more floor space between the shelves and air space above, but square footage of shelf space is increased in the new design.

Cumberland Farms has more next-generation stores on the way in the Capital Region. The company wants to replace one of its smallest, on Route 20 in Guilderland, with one of its largest, a 5,276-square-footer on a vacant lot two miles west — directly across Altamont Road from a recently upgraded and enlarged Stewart’s.

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