Whether replacing major HVAC equipment, upgrading outdoor signage and canopy lighting, or replacing cooler door seals, energy efficiency pays off.
It’s no secret to convenience retailers that cost cutting is key to succeeding in an increasingly competitive landscape. Energy efficiency upgrades can turn the saved pennies into pennies earned.
The energy-saving hype is certainly focused on LED lighting – and for good reason. As technology evolves and those fixtures become more efficient, it is even more important for operators to take advantage of those improvements.
“We have continued to focus on replacing most of the interior lighting in our remaining locations,” said Dan Soltis, vice president of real estate for Cima Developers, the construction division of Cima Developers. The PRIDE stores, which operates 15 stores in the Chicagoland area and one in Indiana. “We may have two left that we will finish here before the end of the year.”
Adapting Newly Acquired Stores Tops the List for Charleston, SC
Charleston, SC based Tank market has grown to 160 stores since 2018 through multiple acquisitions. As soon as Refuel buys a store, energy efficiency is one of the first priorities.
“What we’re definitely doing is all the fluorescent tube lights that are in cooler doors, we’re replacing them with LED strips,” said Mark Jordan, president and CEO of Refuel. “And all the cooler door seals that aren’t perfect – literally perfect – we replaced those seals. Those are two things that go without saying.”
But using more efficient LEDs in the cooler does more than cut costs. Moving products can also help, Jordan explained. The new lighting makes for a more attractive product. He recalled a side-by-side cooler display at a trade show comparing fluorescent lamps to LED lighting.
“It was like night and day,” he said.
The same result applies to the exterior of a store. Soltis said The PRIDE Stores has begun converting its outdoor signage to LED. “So that’s been a nice, pretty seamless process,” he said. “The contractors take care of all the ComEd discount programs for us and then give us the discount on our billing. So that was easy to do.”
From solar energy to HVAC
For its new build, Refuel is going all-in on LED lighting, converting “every thing that’s light, even the parking lot lighting,” to LEDs, Jordan explained. “We’re not doing that deal that a lot of people do with the power company, like leasing the parking lights from them over the years and stuff. We’ve put in the nicest, brightest LED lights we can – day one.”
To make the older neighborhood stores more energy efficient, Refuel has started installing solar panels, starting with the least efficient buildings. That’s where solar energy will save more on costs. To determine where the solar panels should be prioritized, Refuel looks at the kilowatt-hours per store. “We would never install solar panels at the first (new-build) store, which is the cheapest in terms of kilowatt-hours.”
Also don’t forget to replace the big users of a store. Older rooftop air-conditioning units or other HVAC equipment can be big power consumers, which was especially true of the older stores that Refuel has purchased. Jordan explained that previous owners don’t always maintain them properly, especially when they anticipate the store’s sale.
Soltis repeated that. “Many of our sites are 20 years old,” he said. “Especially the one we bought from BP years ago. So of course, as we replace the HVAC units, we find the most efficient HVAC units that we can replace.” The new units are also very efficient, he said. “So by default we get the (savings) bumps in efficiency.”
It’s easier for larger chains to afford those big-ticket items, but what can smaller operators and the self-employed do to address efficiency? Start small. The little things are important.
“When I was a smaller business owner, starting with one store and stuff, I didn’t really think about (energy efficiency) because cash was always a concern,” Jordan said. “But if you have the ability to do it, you should do it.”
Soltis noted that The PRIDE Stores is continuing with smaller savings, such as installing hand dryers and motion detectors in the bathrooms.
“I would start with the cooler,” Jordan advised. “If your cooler doesn’t have LED lighting and your seals aren’t literally perfect, you’re just throwing money away.”