Rutter’s is thinking big these days.
The York, Pennsylvania-based c-store chain recently announced the biggest expansion plan in its history, with 50 new stores set to open in the next five years. That roadmap will increase its footprint by around 60% and introduce it to two new states, as well.
In addition, Rutter’s is building bigger stores that will provide ample space to put in tried-and-true features like its popular beer caves, as well as test and scale new innovations.
Those new locations will be between 10,000 and 12,000 square feet — notably larger than the current size of 8,000 to around 10,000 square feet — and sit on up to 25 acres of land. By comparison, the average c-store size is about 3,100 square feet and the average lot size is under 2 acres, according to NACS’ 2021 State of the Industry Report.
“Between our beer caves, which are larger than most in the industry, our large food service area, our gaming rooms, and all the other items that we have in our stores to meet the needs of our customers, we feel that building these larger locations has been great,” Chris Hartman, vice president of fuels, advertising and development for Rutter’s, said in an interview. “We're going to be able to innovate and evolve faster than our competition, because we have the space and ability to do that.”
The beer caves are one example of the company’s ability to quickly adjust its operations. Rutter’s has long dealt with Pennsylvania’s complicated and restrictive alcohol laws, but once alcohol restrictions eased in the state in 2016, it became much easier for c-stores to carry beer. Later that year, Rutter’s added its first walk-in beer cave at a York location. Since then, it’s continued adding them to old stores and including them in new builds.
“We realized that larger beer caves with more options [are] what customers are looking for,” said Hartman.
Food, drinks and more
The large properties on which Rutter’s is looking to locate its new stores allow for plenty of parking, including for oversized vehicles. It’s not only helpful for drivers, but marks the company’s first step in converting that visitor into a repeat customer.
“We find that the easier it is to get into our lot and feel comfortable there, the more likely [it is] that customers are going to keep making those trips back,” Hartman said.
Inside the store, it’s common for Rutter’s locations to have dining areas that include at least 30 seats. While this gives foodservice customers plenty of options, there’s actually a more structural reason for why the large dining spaces exist.
“To have a liquor license in Pennsylvania, you're required to have 30 seats,” Hartman explained. “Between trying to provide the seating necessary for customers looking to just have their meal or have a drink in our stores, along with the requirements for the liquor license, [that’s] why we provide a large amount of seats.”
Rutter’s has video gaming terminals at 21 locations, which require other infrastructure. Having the space to meet these requirements has helped the retailer become the largest non-casino licensed gambling operator in the state of Pennsylvania.
The beer caves offer an array of options, from national and local brands to Rutter’s-branded beers that the company releases on a limited basis a few times a year. The first one it created was, fittingly, a chocolate milk stout.
“We're famous for our chocolate milk with Rutter’s Dairy,” Hartman said. “And so we combined something that people love from Rutters, which is our chocolate milk, and something we know they love in beer, and partnered with Lancaster Brewing to create a chocolate milk stout.”
When it comes to foodservice, it is also important to Rutter’s that customers see how the sausage is made, so to speak.
“The experience of being able to see [your meal] being made there in front of you is different than some others, when they provide foodservice,” said Hartman.
The foodservice program is open 24 hours a day and offers a variety of items, from chicken strips, burgers and pizza to cinnamon rolls and breakfast burritos, as well as desserts such as shakes, smoothies and cheesecake. The abundance of seating at most stores lets customers relax and enjoy their meal or even get a bit of work done, Hartman said.
Most recently, Rutter’s added online ordering for food pickup.
“We think that our made-for-you capabilities and food service options, along with the ability to see everything being prepared, is a great, great thing for customers and something that they really enjoy,” said Hartman.