tial food offering that people go there
regardless of whether they need gas.
Likewise, chains such as 7-Eleven and
Wawa can thrive even without gas can-
opies simply because their C-stores
are destinations unto
themselves. In seeking
to evolve the C-store
Branson would focus
on selling food, culture,
and lifestyle in a fun
and comforting atmo-
sphere unlike anything
in the sector today. He
would shoot for the kind
of engaging experience
that makes you drive
past competitors’ loca-
tions and come to his
You can see this strategy in action at Branson’s other ventures.
Even if you fly coach
on Virgin Atlantic, you
get a free ice cream bar
after your meal, followed
by the flight attendant
offering you a hot towel.
A comforting and relax-
ing experience isn’t
reserved for premium customers alone.
In keeping with the Virgin brand, Bran-
son’s C-store might offer things like
the industry’s cleanest, fully touch-free
bathrooms, or massage tables in a quiet
corner, enabling stressed-out commut-
ers to stop and relax after a maddening
stint on the road.
Virgin Atlantic was the first to offer
personalized TVs. This wasn’t technology for technology’s sake: It was
to make the experience more personalized and engaging. Smart use of
technology would be part of the picture
at Branson’s stations as well. You can
look around at today’s trends and get
an idea for what this might entail. This
year, Tesla Motors unveiled a cobra-like
robot charging station for the Model S.
It connects to the car, charges it, and
then retracts—all without the touch
of a human hand. Branson’s C-store
would also offer a touch-less fueling or
recharging experience. As the robotic
“pump” attaches to your car, you could
use your phone or display at the “pump”
to have a smiling attendant bring your
food order right to your car.
Another aspect of your fill-up might
be an automatic diagnostic. A sensor
might mind-meld with the general
control center of your car and tell you
whether anything was askew.
That’s convenient, not just for people,
but also for a future with driverless cars.
Branson’s stations would be designed
to allow easy access by driverless taxis
and delivery vehicles in need of a fast
charge. Meanwhile, dashboard-mounted
RFID chips would enable human mem-
bers of the loyalty program to drive up
to the pump, refuel or recharge, and
drive off without swiping cards or hand-
ing cash to clerks inside. Loaded with
each club member’s preferences, the
next-generation pumps would scan cus-
tomers’ RFID chips and then send them
customized offers: “Hi, Michelle! It’s
nice to see you again. As a token of our
appreciation, here’s half off your regular
chai tea and low-fat scone.”
On Virgin America’s planes, colored
lighting creates an atmosphere reminis-
cent of a small nightclub in a boutique
hotel. A Virgin fueling canopy might
have OLED-based lighting, using fiber-
optics to transmit sunlight from above
the canopy or to create a digital light
show, pulsing in synch with music. Of
course, the canopy and even the store’s
roof would be topped with solar panels
or living plants, reinforcing the brand’s
stance on sustainability and making cus-
tomers feel even better about their visit.
Futuristic and fun
Not all of Branson’s ventures have been
successful, but today’s already-evolv-ing C-stores and gas stations could
certainly learn a thing or two from his
core principles. They include creating
a refreshing guest experience in an
inclusive and welcoming atmosphere;
making smart use of intuitive technology and customer-friendly automation;
and investing in teams of well-trained
employees who are people-focused. In
the C-store space, you can bet Branson’s brand would be futuristic and
fun—with a social conscience to boot.
Veteran store designer Anthony Deen is
creative director for CBX ( www.cbx.com),
a retail design and branding consultancy.
Fueling stations of the future will use telepresence and robotic fueling arms to make
the experience clean and efficient.