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    And the Survey Says…

    Shopper research leads Handy Mart to develop a new store prototype

    Beverages to go are a big focus in the retailer’s new prototype stores.

    With today?s consumers having more shopping choices than ever and retailers of all kinds trying to capture the convenience market, fulfilling customer needs is paramount. The question is: Do you know what your customers need and want?

    Handy Mart, the 41-unit convenience store chain, based in Mount Olive, N.C., recently found itself asking this question and turned to shopper surveys to get the answers. The retailer employed an in-store customer survey and discovered that although it received strong customer satisfaction scores, the business would benefit from working on the basics, specifically operational and merchandising basics.

    For the past year, Handy Mart has been honing those basics and the retailer initiated a new store prototype, too.

    All of this came about after the NACS/Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council (NACS/CCRRC) published its Playbook for Success report last year. That report caught Handy Mart?s attention.

    ?We had been wanting to do another customer survey for a couple of years. We had previously done one with a professional outside firm, but it was costly,? explained Tony Noonan, vice president of retail for Handy Mart, a division of E.J. Pope & Son Inc. ?With technology, we knew there was a better way; the issues had always been setting up the structure, asking the right questions and having something to compare the results to.?

    When a survey process and 10-point scale was revealed in the Playbook for Success report, Handy Mart knew it had found its game plan.

    ?A precedence was set that was easy to duplicate and execute,? Noonan said.

    THE $2 ALLURE

    In August 2013, Handy Mart queried customers in 36 locations for five weekdays during two different day-parts. The company hired college students, equipped them with iPads (already owned by Handy Mart) and utilized a survey created on SurveyMonkey.

    On the advice of the NACS/CCRRC report, Handy Mart offered customers a $2 bill for 10 minutes of their time. ?We agreed the $2 bill would pique customers? interest,? Noonan said.

    It did and after all was said and done, Handy Mart had 440 completed shopper questionnaires for evaluation ? and that, of course, was the most crucial part.

    ?We had the results pretty immediately. I was back here monitoring them. Once a survey was finished and closed, it was posted online and I could pull up a query in SurveyMonkey and see what was going on with the raw results,? Noonan recalled. ?But there?s raw results and interpretive results, so we worked with [NACS/CCRRC study leader] Bill Bishop [of Willard Bishop Consulting] and NACS to come up with a net promoter score to get interpretive results and then compare that to some of the NACS data.?

    Right off the bat, Handy Mart learned of some key demographic data needing no interpretation.

    ?It surprised us to learn how young our customer base was. It really skewed to the younger side,? Noonan said. What did not surprise him was how maledominant Handy Mart?s consumer base is, ?especially since we surveyed inside the store only; we did not survey the pump operations to keep the costs down.?

    Moving into more interpretive data, Handy Mart scored strongly in customer satisfaction, meaning customers believe it offers a safe environment. It also scored high in staff friendliness and hospitality ?areas where Handy Mart expected to do well in, but receiving confirmation was valuable input.

    ?We?ve done mystery shops for 10 years in our stores with a private outside firm that verified our steps of service and cleanliness,? Noonan noted. ?We?ve seen consistent improvement in those areas through the mystery shoppers, but that doesn?t always [translate] to the satisfaction of our customers, so it was really good to see where they rated us in satisfaction.?

    While the ?safe? factor was a high score, the ?cleanliness? factor emerged as an area of opportunity. ?It wasn?t terrible, but it wasn?t ranking among the best and that?s an area we want to be best at,? he stated.

    Another area needing improvement for Handy Mart, the survey revealed, was its in-stock position. ?Again, it wasn?t the worst, but it wasn?t the best. And we want our customers to get in and out quickly with a frustration-free experience,? according to Noonan.

    A BASICS OPPORTUNITY

    Beyond cleanliness and in-stock position, though, the top opportunity for improvement at Handy Mart was messaging a good value, the survey data revealed.

    ?I think we have a very good value, but the message is not getting out there through promotions, pricing and deals,? he said.

    And so, the chain has ?fallen back to address some of the basics,? including daily shift basics, merchandising profile basics, operational basics and store system basics.

    While Handy Mart is still in the execution stage, it?s already made improvements in cleanliness, in-stock position and an overall refinement of its store operating procedures.

    In fact, two stores were opened after the survey data was interpreted and they have now become examples of a new store prototype put into play for the chain ? one with a more open feel, lower merchandising profile, larger emphasis on fresh food to go and a bigger focus on beverages to go.

    ?Opening these stores was a big deal for us. We don?t do that a lot,? Noonan told Convenience Store News.

    A third prototype store will open next year, and Handy Mart also has its first retrofit design in progress. As of early September, the retrofit was expected to be completed in 45 days.

    Handy Mart is anxious to conduct more surveys to glean valuable shopper insights and continually improve its business. Noonan was originally thinking of doing another one this August, one year since the original survey, but decided against it since not all of the new store operating procedures have been implemented yet. The retailer is now looking at spring or summer 2015 to conduct a follow-up shopper survey.

    ?We haven?t finished all of the action items from the results of the first survey,? he said. ?However, we know we want to keep doing [shopper surveys].?

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