Paul Freeman knows Rhode Islanders are chemists. He should. After all, the Warwick native has worked for Cumberland Farms for 35 years starting off as a store manger. He is now a divisional vice president in charge of 248 stores.
He knows what sells and he knows Rhode Islanders, who all too often are chided for being the last when it comes to the rest of the country, are actually first when it comes to coffee.
“They’re huge on coffee and iced coffee,” Freeman said Tuesday afternoon outside one of the newest Cumberland Farms.
“One of the newest,” because it’s hard to know for certain which of the company’s nearly 600 stores is the latest remake or an entirely new store. The Route 6 store in Johnston, not far from the Scituate line, could be a week or two ahead of the one on Quaker Lane and Centerville Road in West Warwick. Not far behind is another on Cowesett Road, which will be completed with the new look in another several weeks.
It seems no community is left out as the family-owned company changes its look and what it has to offer, expands, and enters the age of smart phones.
In Warwick, Cumberland Farms has gained city approval to demolish the former Gulf station in Apponaug Four Corners and the building next to it. Some tenants of the building will be relocated to the existing Cumberland Farms down Post Road at Meadow Street. An all new store will be erected on Post Road not far from the on-ramp to Route 37, where a car wash was once located. The existing store on Warwick Avenue at the intersection of Partition Avenue is also slated for expansion. Freeman said the company has acquired the adjacent Laundromat. The new store will take on the new look; with a colonial style columned overhang and peaked, arching entry.
How much is the company spending to make all these changes throughout all the New England states, Florida and portions of New York?
Regional manager Rick Lauder wasn’t about to say.
“Put it this way,” he said, “in Johnston we’re spending about $6 million in two stores.”
And all this has to do with coffee?
It does, says Freeman.
“Rhode Island consumes more iced coffee than anywhere else in the country,” he said.
Freeman was questioned on that assertion.
“Check it out; it’s true,” he said.
How does this make Rhode Islanders chemists?
Freeman has spent a lot of time looking at and analyzing the habits of Cumberland Farms customers. The store offers an array of coffee flavors, with its house blend being the most popular. But customers don’t just fill a cup – all cups regardless of size are 99 cents – and proceed to the counter. They mix coffees and add flavors that competitors charge an extra 50 cents for. Then it’s on to milk, cream and a variety of sweeteners.
“They’re like chemists, they make it their way,” he said. He doubts he’s seen any two customers make their coffee the same way. “They know what they want.”
And, while hot and iced coffee is king at Cumberland Farms, the store has an extensive array of easy-to-go foods.
Lauder calls it, “the new growth potential.”
Pizza slices at 99 cents are quick and ready for a fast bite. Hot dogs are “two for $2” and there is an assortment of sandwiches. Cumberland is building a commissary that will handle the preparation of sandwiches. Then, naturally, has its own brand of a variety of items, ranging from milk, which got the company started, to baked goods, ice cream and even chocolate.
The interiors are open, with wide aisles and a nook for those who would rather linger than eat behind the wheel. The new stores also provide outdoor patio-like seating. New stores are in the range of 4,000 square feet. The Route 6 Johnston store is a bit larger because it has a second floor that accommodates regional offices.
The new stores mean more jobs: Lauder estimated eight to 12 people run the older, smaller stores while more than 20 people are needed to staff the new ones.
Freeman said the company puts a high priority on cleanliness and customer service. Customers are greeted and asked to point out where Cumberland can make improvements. As an example of customer assistance, Freeman said employees promote free items, such as snack food, when certain items are purchased.
Gasoline is a top seller at Cumberland and the company has introduced “SmartPay” for customer convenience.
Freeman said it enables the customer to turn on the pump with a smart phone, with the payment coming directly from their checking account. And the other incentive? SmartPay gas is 10 cents cheaper. Since the inception about 18 months ago, customers have saved more than $12 million on gasoline.
But it’s coffee that still reigns at Cumberland Farms, especially iced coffee at this time of year.