We're talking a lot of 99-cent cups of coffee.
Cumberland Farms is remodeling or rebuilding at least a dozen locations in Maine this year, including spending $2 million on revamped stores in Lewiston-Auburn.
"We've decided this is a critical market for us," said Gwen Forman, vice president of marketing for Cumberland Farms.
The private, Massachusetts-based chain is entirely company-owned and operated, and there are no franchisees. It has 48 stores and 400 employees in Maine.
A University of Maine business school professor says the time for a sizable investment like that is when your brand might be a little tired, the economy is still recovering and you forecast recouping your investment and then some.
"(If) there's a market of consumers who have not used your store to the extent you'd like to see it be used, you find a way to make it more attractive," said John F. Mahon, a management professor who holds the John M. Murphy Chair of International Business Policy and Strategy. "Unless I can entice you to come inside, you're not spending any money."
Cumberland Farms operates in 11 states and Forman said it has been slowly rolling out a "food service-centric" remodel. There's more room, aisles are purposely less crowded and new space shows off offerings like fresh pizza by the slice, mozzarella sticks and milkshakes.
There's also more room for strategically priced any-size, 99-cent cups of coffee and 89-cent fountain drinks.
"It's a change in look and feel, and there's a change in the equipment," Forman said. "Our food service-centric stores tend to open their doors and right away double their percentage of total sales in food service, and that's our intent. We want to move more aggressively into that over time."
The first Cumberland Farms opened in Bellingham, Mass., in 1957, according to the company, and the first one in Maine opened in Portland in 1963. During their month-long "Cups for Kids" campaigns the past two years, the company has donated about $24,000 to the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center through drink sales.
Forman said stores are being selected for remodels in part by geography and whether there's an opportunity to buy nearby real estate to expand.
According to the state Fire Marshall's Office, Cumberland Farms has been approved for building permits in Livermore Falls, Norway, Gorham, Scarborough, Winthrop, Waterville and Norridgewock (all renovations) and Yarmouth (new construction.) A store in Gardiner was also razed for new construction.
The work in Lewiston-Auburn this summer replaced single-story, flat-roofed buildings with white, oversized capes fronted by large windows.
The Auburn build on Center Street involved knocking down a 1983 strip mall that housed the former Cumberland Farms.
The Lewiston project involved leaving a store on Sabattus Street built in 1970 and building anew across the street.
The company doesn't release financials, but according to city construction permits, the new Auburn store cost $905,000 and the Lewiston location $1.1 million.
Nine remodeled stores are either open or in-process; three are due to open and three were completed in 2012.
"This is the year for Maine," Forman said. "We do consumer research; we know what states we perform better, as far as the perception of the Cumberland Farms brand, the loyalty of the customers. We know that Maine is one of those states we tend to out-perform.
"In terms of always looking out for the next competitor, we feel like we come from a position of strength in Maine, and therefore, it's an area we'd like to invest," she added.
Lincoln Jeffers, Lewiston's economic and community development director, likened the new Cumberland Farms to the J&S Oil plaza built on Lisbon Street last year with a gas station, convenience store, Amato's and Barks'N'Bubbles Self-Serve Pet Wash.
"This isn't your mom-and-pop gas station," Jeffers said. "They're sort of reinventing the genre, and we're happy to be seeing that sort of investment."
It's a place to grab lunch or pick up something on the way home.
"I do think it's a mark of things to come," he said.
Mahon said investing now, instead of once the economy's on better footing — which could be years off — makes sense.
"You don't want to wait for the market to burst forward and you're not prepared," Mahon said. "It's curious they're putting that kind of money in here. They must see the market is ripe for a new entry in the food business that they can take advantage of."