The Total Experience

North Carolina duo's first convenience store gaining international attention

Linda Abu-Shalback Zid, Senior Editor

HICKORY, N.C. -- If you're going to do something, you should do it right the first time; that's the philosophy that Angelo Apollonio and his father Francesco had when they decided to open their first convenience store.

"A lot of times you have these big corporations, and they look at things based on returns--not from a consumer standpoint," Angelo told CSP Daily News. "From a consumer standpoint, you can get those returns because you'll build loyalty and you'll attract more folks potentially if you really do it right."

The result was Total Convenience Market [image-nocss] in Hickory, N.C., a 6,600-square-foot building on 1.5 acres that captured the attention of Shell's corporate personnel. "We have the latest and greatest from Shell, in terms of our canopy and our logo and signage. There's a regional Shell person that drove by here and heard about our project, and they were just floored."

The company came out to do a photo shoot at the location, with the photos to be used in international promotional items for the next year--not bad for the Apollonios' first c-store.

But Angelo and Francesco are not new to business in general, having worked together as the primary producers of Ralph Lauren's Polo dress socks in the United States. When the manufacturing went overseas in 2005, Francesco semi-retired and Angelo turned to commercial real estate. Recently, the two began looking at franchises, but didn't want to work for someone else and didn't want to leave Hickory.

They then came up with the idea of a "true retail center." Angelo said, "We thought, 'Why don't we build something that's really different, where the building looks pleasing, and make it a destination rather than a convenience store that's a random stop?'"

The invested $3.5 million (including the land) in the site, which will include more grocery elements than a typical c-store, as well as a full kitchen, which will likely serve up fresh fried chicken, pizza and grill specials.

Francesco designed the building to include curves and arches with some European flare, with orange earth tones and stucco work. "There's no metal portions or vinyl or anything like that," Angelo said.

Additional features of the location are: A coffee island, which will feature gourmet coffee. Open-faced refrigerated displays to portray more of a market feel. A beer cave with a stone facade, "where the beer cave is so you have this effect like you're actually going into a cave," according to Angelo. A transparent Autec car wash, which features neon lighting to attract customers. 250 feet of road frontage, with highway access, four points of entry to the lot and a traffic count of about 28,000 commuters. 1,800 sq. ft. of untapped building space, which the Apollonios are saving to see what might require the additional space. Large murals throughout the store, featuring natural scenery, such as mountains, gardens and water.

Angelo said, "The message we're trying to convey is relaxing and nonsuggestive. It's kind of a homey and relaxing feel."

He added that they have not decided whether they will open more than one location, but that they certainly are open to it. "We're going to make sure this one goes well, and then the sky's the limit."