The gasoline canopy: For most of its existence, it has been a function-first structure, there to provide shelter from the weather and lend light at night.
And in the 50 years since states began legalizing self-serve gas pumps, the canopy has largely retained the shape that reflects this practical purpose: the rectangle. Pure economics has bested creativity, keeping this architectural element frozen in time.
“In the United States, you have so many legacy sites that have been around for so long that to tear [the canopy] down … it’s easier to repaint, restripe and reclad what already exists,” says Joe Bona, founding partner and president of retail design firm MoseleyBona Retail, Franklin, Mass.
But as fuel’s share of overall c-store profits continues to fall and in-store profitability rises, it’s time to redefine the canopy’s function and reconsider its investment potential. Yes, it still needs to protect customers from rain and sun. But the entire forecourt can do so much more.
“It’s one of first things you see, a piece of communication that really reaches out, grabs people’s attention and signals the business that you’re in,” says Bona, who has designed canopies for retailers such as Wawa in the United States, COPEC in Chile and Axion in Argentina. “From that standpoint, the canopy is a pretty important piece of communication.”
Fueling is an act of faith, Bona says. And through the forecourt, retailers must show that they sell quality fuel via visual, perceptive and experiential elements. A look at leading retailers and their signature canopies shows the potential when one breaks the rectangular mold.