Convenience retailer Loop Neighborhood Markets has grown into one of the more established c-store brands in California since its inception in 2013, with more than 130 locations across the Bay Area, Sacramento and Southern California.
But as the years passed, Loop’s leadership wanted to diversify its fuel offering. The retailer is owned by AU Energy, a joint venture between the Goyal family and oil giant Shell, meaning Loop’s locations only offer Shell fuel.
“We love the Shell brand, but there are certain places where the Shell brand isn't necessarily the best fit,” Varish Goyal, CEO of Loop Neighborhood Markets, said in an interview. “We needed to look for another option that we thought would be of value, and so we thought about actually building an unbranded location.”
However, because of Loop’s agreement with Shell, Goyal had to create an entirely new retail brand.
“We decided, ‘Okay, let's take a lot of the learnings that we have from Loop, and let's create a new c-store and fuel brand,’” Goyal said.
Enter Poppy Market, the new c-store banner under the same leadership as Loop, which unveiled its first location last month in Arbuckle, California, about 50 miles northwest of downtown Sacramento.
Like with Loop, Goyal is Poppy’s CEO. And that isn’t the only similarity between the two brands.
“We hired the same design firms that helped us with Loop, the same branding firms that helped us with Loop,” Goyal said. “You’ll notice that there’s a lot of ‘Loop-y’ features.”
Although the first Poppy Market only launched less than a month ago, more are on the way. Goyal and his team have one store under construction, while two have recently been approved to start building. They will be located in Pismo Beach, Adelanto and Greenfield, California.
“I'm hoping, crossing my fingers, that by the end of the year, we have a total of four sites,” Goyal said.
Here’s a look at Poppy Market’s first location in Arbuckle, California.
All about the fuel
The biggest difference between Poppy Market and Loop is the fuel. While Loop solely offers Shell-branded fuel, Goyal said Poppy Market will remain “fuel agnostic” moving forward, meaning it can offer fuel from major brands like Shell and Chevron, or even its own proprietary Poppy fuel blend. Poppy Market includes six fuel pumps with 12 fueling positions for vehicles.
Goyal said because of this process, he and his team have learned a lot about different types of fueling.
“We’re going to be more flexible with the Poppy brand,” Goyal said. “And wherever you see Poppy fuel, you’re going to see the Poppy store.”
A unique forecourt
In the forecourt, the inaugural Poppy Market features a car wash, and is in the process of installing two electric vehicle charging stations. All of the structural groundwork on-site has been laid, but Goyal and his team are still collecting the grant funding to roll out the actual chargers, Goyal said.
Beyond a car wash and charging stations, Poppy Market also includes a pet-washing station in the forecourt. This concept, created by Sunny Goyal, Varish’s brother, was founded from a simple concept: “People love their pets, so how can we serve their pets?” Goyal said.
Its biggest store yet
The Arbuckle Poppy Market is 6,000 square-feet — nearly twice the size of the average Loop store and by far the biggest store under the AU Energy banner, Goyal said.
In the center-store section, customers can purchase standard convenience items such as jerky, chips and candy as well as an assortment of beer and wine. A sharp turn to the coffee station, and customers can fill up on fresh bean-to-cup brew in various flavors, such as Espresso Roast, Honduras, Rainforest Select, 100% Colombian and Loop Reserve.
A core feature of Poppy – as well as other Loop stores — is its “catchy” array of names and phrases, Goyal says, such as its Beervana beer cave, which is written in big letters in the back corner of the store.
“It’s the branding folks — I give a lot of credit to these guys,” Goyal said. “They're very creative with the way things work.”
Fixin’ for some chicken
Among the highlights at the first Poppy Market is a Crunchy Munchy chicken restaurant, which is Goyal’s proprietary full-service chicken QSR, he said.
Also featured at many Loop c-stores, Crunchy Munchy offers fried chicken tenders and sandwiches, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw, potato wedges, biscuits and more.
Customers order their Crunchy Munchy chicken through a self-serve kiosk, and Poppy Market also has seating for customers to dine in the store.
“A lot of the things we sell can be bought anywhere, so the idea is, how do we differentiate?” Goyal said. “The c-store industry has done a good job of differentiating themselves through food, and we’ve decided that we’re going to do that ourselves.”
When it’s time to leave, Poppy Market has one self-checkout kiosk and two traditional checkout stations, Goyal said. In addition to regular currency, customers can pay with loyalty points. These are earned through the Poppy Points program, which rewards customers four points for every $1 spent in store and two points for every gallon of gas purchased. Customers can earn 800 points when they initially sign up.
Customers can cash in their points multiple ways. They can choose the value of the coupon they’d like, show their mobile app at checkout to have the discount automatically applied, or add their phone number in the mobile app to apply points to their transaction.