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NORTH SALT LAKE CITY, Utah -- Some companies say they put customers first, but then do little to act on this promise. Two years ago, Maverik Inc. created an entire organizational structure that ensures every decision impacting its roughly 250 convenience stores is made from the perspective of thrilling shoppers — and not just its core customers, but every type of consumer who walks through its doors.
"Oftentimes, in this industry, decisions are category driven or vendor driven, but [in doing so], we may not be giving our customers the best experience. Customers are the ones who drive our success," said Ernie Harker, executive director of Create, Maverik's marketing department. "We never lose sight of our highest priority: the customer. We don’t get lost in the business of the business."
Instead of a traditional merchandising department, the North Salt Lake City-based retailer employs what it calls "customer segment teams." Each team is comprised of a segment director who is responsible for bringing programs that deliver financial targets; a segment manager who acts as the voice of the customer and identifies their needs; a segment value manager who pinpoints products, services and promotions to deliver against those needs; and a procurement manager who handles the day-to-day vendor activities.
Three teams are organized around seven customer segments that Maverik identified (with the help of an outside consultant) as key to its business. One team oversees Blue Collar Workers and Hispanics. A second team focuses on Emerging Adults and Adventurers, while the third team concentrates on Women with Children, White Collar and Healthy Lifestyle.
In addition to "owning" its customer segments, each team is responsible for those product categories that over-index with its consumer types. The Blue Collar Workers and Hispanics team, for example, handles tobacco, beer, wine, liquor, lottery, gaming and gift cards. The Emerging Adults and Adventurers team oversees foodservice, snacks, fountain beverages, hot beverages and specialty cold, including f'real, its Chiller frozen beverages and frozen yogurt. Finally, the Women with Children, White Collar and Healthy Lifestyle team manages candy, packaged beverages, health and beauty aids, grocery, novelty apparel and electronics.
"It is a brand-new model that's never been done before," explained Harker, who works with the teams to reach, on an emotional level, the customers who are the focal point for that product without offending the segments that are not the target demographic.
Rather than put products in the stores and hope customers come, the goal of the customer segments teams is to seek out what each group wants, needs and desires and then tailor solutions to that. The approach allows the retailer to stay focused on its core Blue Collar and Emerging Adults segments, while also trying to attract the more-fringe customer segments.
To connect with its seven different customer segments, Maverik has been hard at work developing individual initiatives that speak to each segment. Here's a look at a few of them:
- Maverik Underground — Recognizing that its long-term customers are going to be today's Emerging Adults, Maverik sought to create a program that would capture their loyalty from this point on. The Maverik Underground initiative offers a free product every Friday from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., when Emerging Adults are more likely to be in its stores than the other customer segments. To get the free item, customers need only to show their Maverik loyalty card and say they're part of the Maverik Underground. The program is helping the retailer create a habitual pattern with Emerging Adults.
- Local store marketing — To make inroads within the Women with Children segment, Maverik is focused on local store marketing. More specifically, it is working to turn around the perception that it is not involved in the local communities it serves. Maverik has created two programs — the Brave Patient program and the Super Sportsman Award program — aimed at getting more kids into the stores with their parents in tow.
- Lunchtime catering — To target its White Collar segment, the c-store chain is working on a lunch program whereby customers can phone in an order. Maverik also wants companies to consider catering meetings and events with its signature "Bundles."
- Low-calorie destination — For customers who fall under its Healthy Lifestyle segment, Maverik is merchandising its better-for-you options more effectively, grouping them in various spots in the store to improve awareness and create destinations. For instance, there's now a cooler door dedicated to all low- and zero-calorie packaged beverages. Each store also has a fresh case at the front containing salads and yogurt parfaits.
Under the Brave Patient program, Maverik partners with local doctors and dentists who give out Maverik coupons for a free chiller or frozen yogurt to their youngest patients. Similarly, through the Super Sportsman Award program, the retailer teams up with youth sports leagues — hockey, football and baseball -- and awards one player from each game a coupon for a free chiller or frozen yogurt. This year, Maverik is expanding the program so that all of the Super Sportsman winners will be entered to win an Xbox gaming system.
By truly putting the customer first, Harker said Maverik is less at risk of becoming irrelevant. Vendors may still give the retailer the data that best reflect their own interests, but now the customer segment teams know what products Maverik's customers really do want, in what quantities they want it, at what price they are willing to pay for it, etc. The power has shifted.
While it's still a little too early to determine the return on investment from this new organizational structure, Harker believes Maverik is "definitely on the right track. We're doing programs that are engaging these customer groups that we wouldn’t be doing otherwise."
For more on Maverik's customer segment teams, including a deeper look at the strategy and success stories, check out the September issue of Convenience Store News.