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NEW ORLEANS – Complying with Payment Card Industry (PCI) standards and figuring out how to make best use of online social networks like Facebook and Twitter were two hot button topics at this year's NACS/Convenience Store News CIO Roundtable, held here on the opening day of NACStech.
This year's roundtable drew its largest lineup of retailer participants, as well marked the debut of the retailer educational session as a co-branded event between NACS and CSNews. Fifteen retailers from 14 different convenience store companies were represented, including Flash Foods, Kum & Go LC, RactTrac Petroleum, Quik Trip, Quick Chek, Kwik Trip, Casey's General Stores and The Pantry.
While many of the retailer attendees noted their companies were up-to-date with all PCI compliance issues, they also agreed with one participant who noted that "PCI is never complete. It's a journey."
Most of the retailers are also participating in conversations about their brands and stores via online social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, and many have people dedicated to monitoring the social networks; some are active marketing to their online "followers," while others are more concerned with using the sites to get customer feedback.
Self-checkout, mobile marketing and payment systems were identified as emerging technologies that many are either testing or considering, and participants also vigorously debated the merits of various loyalty programs, particularly the pros and cons of coalition programs with grocery store partners.
The 2010 NACS/CSNews CIO Roundtable was sponsored by Gilbarco Veeder-Root, KSS, NCR and Pinnacle Corp. For complete coverage, see the new special NACS/CSNews NACStech edition in July.
During the Opening General session of NACStech, following the roundtable and various workshops, Jenny Bullard, NACStech Conference Chairman and CIO of Flash Foods said: "At Flash Foods every project we execute is driven by business need and encompasses technology. NACStech gives us the opportunity to find solutions for our business needs."
Additionally, Pat Lewis, chairman of The Petroleum Convenience Alliance for Technology Standards (PCATS) and NACS Vice Chairman of the Technology announced the association will once again be a part of NACS under an integration plan announced yesterday. PCATS will remain a member-driven organization, but will now have access to vastly greater resources, said Lewis.
This move will "more closely link [the industry's] standards, technology and advocacy work," he said. "Right now, PCATS is spending a lot of effort managing membership and conferences, distracting its staff from developing and maintaining industry standards."
Lewis also said the PCATS Board of Directors on May 4 accepted NACS' proposal and amended Bylaws for the continuing operation of PCATS as part of NACS.
Also, NACS technology consultant Gray Taylor will become the new executive director of PCATS, which has 150 members representing more than 20,000 retail sites.
Under the new arrangement, NACS membership and PCATS membership will remain separate, however as NACS president and CEO Hank Armour commented, "You don't have to be a member of both organizations, but you sure as [heck] should be."
NACStech's opening general session also featured engineer-turned-comedian Don McMillian, who joked that he is "the only comedian who is PCI compliant."
During his performance, which was aimed at simply reminding people to laugh more, he put his own spin on some of the industry's best-known acronyms:
-- POS = Paris Hilton trying to spell the alphabet.
-- PCATS = Felines with bladder problems.
-- Digital signage = What you get when you cut another driver on the freeway.
-- Swipe fees = the cost of stealing.
-- Pay at the pump = street terminology for a prostitute.
In addition to the opening session, educational workshops began yesterday afternoon, falling under five different tracks, including Business Essentials, Marketing, Operations, Small Operator and Standards. The following are summaries from some of the workshops:
Operational Efficiencies in Fuel and Energy
The convergence of operations and technology was nowhere more evident than in the operations track, with the two workshops that kicked off day one of NACStech.
Sitting in air-conditioned rooms, out of the muggy heat of New Orleans, attendees first learned about "Automated Enterprise Fuel Management" from three knowledgeable experts: Rich Lisauskas, president and CEO of Axxis; Bill Meek, comptroller of Martin Eagle Oil Co.; and Ian Thompson, global vice president of professional services at KSS.
Meek began the session by sharing how Martin Eagle teamed up with Axxis, saving hours of labor, by moving to an automated price gathering solution. With data for pricing coming from all corners, general volatility in the marketplace and the overall direction of the market to consider, automating and normalizing the pricing process is key.
Following Meek's presentation, Thompson shared his own advice for how to automate the fuel pricing process:
• State a fuel strategy
• Define site or product targets and tactics
• Implement an exception driven pricing process
• Alerts to inspect the process
• Business Intelligence to measure the process
• Revisit strategy based on analysis
Later in the afternoon, during the "Mastering Energy Consumption" workshop, Mike Lawshe, president of Paragon Solutions, and John Wallace, director of product management at Emerson Climate Technologies, talked about the ease of implementing cost-saving green technologies in convenience stores.
Lawshe tackled the big picture surrounding energy savings by debunking the myths surrounding the difficulty and cost of becoming a sustainable business. He also stressed the numerous programs that exist in each state, city and county that can actually give you money to "go green." Visit www.dsireusa.org for more information.
After sharing a case study of one store that took tremendous strides to be more sustainable, Lawshe shared 50 tips for going green, most with a three year or less payback. (Tips included low-flow toilets, an energy management system and perimeter lighting.) After all, he said, for many retailers, it's really about saving money and not just the planet.
Wallace from Emerson concluded the session with a more in-depth look at energy management systems, with an emphasis on understanding what drives energy use and acknowledging its demands on your organization. Once you reach that understanding, installing an energy management system to centralize and streamline the energy systems in your store can save you lots of money.
Get In the Mix: Technology and Foodservice
Here is the view of foodservice from 30,000 feet: everybody eats, snacks and drinks. But the challenge is how the retail landscape attracts and retains customers, and how technology is helping savvy retailers compete for foodservice dollars.
As more convenience store retailers expand their foodservice programs, quick-service restaurants and fast-casual chains are keeping a watchful eye on the industry. And when it comes to foodservice, "the QSRs biggest concern is whether convenience stores get it right...they already know how to compete with each other — they're watching you," said Ira Blumenthal at the NACStech workshop, "Mixing In Technology to Improve Your Foodservice Offering."
Here's where technology comes into play: speed of service. Convenience stores do it well, and so do QSRs.
If you think the drive-thru at McDonald's is effective, it's because the person taking your order isn't actually at that location. It's someone at a home base who can talk to the customers (bilingual if necessary) while the employees inside that McDonald's are fulfilling orders. The idea behind this, noted Robert Grimes of Accuvia, is to improve order accuracy, up sell orders and streamline speed of service.
So while the McDonald's example is food for thought, attendees wanted to know what they can do in a convenience store space; how they can offer bundling and combo meals through their POS. Grimes noted that most convenience store POS systems were likely was developed with fuel as the main selling point of the location, and not foodservice. Therefore, upgrades are necessary, whether it's a touch-screen POS or installing new software.
"Technology budgets never move as fast as the technologies themselves," advised Grimes, suggesting that retailers should outline their overall technological strategy moving forward if they are trying to grow their foodservice program — and if they want to stay ahead of the competition.
Viral Marketing Generates Buzz in Convenience Stores
NACStech was "a buzz" at the "Spreading Your Word With Viral Marketing" workshop with ideas to leverage social media. Retailers were encouraged to use a wide variety of monitoring tools, social networking sites, microblogs, widgets and more to generate excitement about their businesses and build brand loyalty.
Jenna Lebel, director of Buzz at theKbuzz, suggested several ideas to design effective and impactful viral marketing campaigns:
Make your brand loveable -- Customers relate well with brands that they love. And once that relationship begins, they spread the word. This free publicity can add dollars to your bottom line.
Identify goals -- Ask what you want to accomplish with social media. "Should we use viral marketing to simply generate awareness about our company or do we want to use is as a means to increase loyalty?" is a great place to start. Specific goals help you identify key milestones along the way.
Build your target audience -- Identify the demographics you want to reach, develop your voice and the tone and determine which viral platforms are right for your company. "Facebook isn't right for everyone. You have to determine the platform that your customers will use frequently and establish a presence there."
Focus on Them, Less on You -- It's easy to only post information about your operations, but social media provides the opportunity to engage, interact and provide value for your customers.
If content is king, then conversions are queen -- You want more than just a fan base or followers … you want to turn those customers into profits. Engage fans with contests, exclusive deals, etc.
Eighty-five percent of social media users expect companies to interact with them, and social media provides a platform for retailers to turn every day customers into brand evangelists. Kate Ngo, manager of marketing strategy and communications for Cumberland Farms Inc., shared how the retailer is successfully boosting its social networking presence on Facebook.
Over the past year, the number of Cumberland Farms "fans" has skyrocket from 500 to approximately 90,000, largely due to contests asking users to increase the fanbase that are leveraged by the proprietary Chill Zone frozen beverage. To keep the momentum going during the colder temps, Cumberland Farms launched its Chill Zone Winter Games to keep fans engaged.
At Speedway SuperAmerica Christianna Frizzell of customer relationships shared how the retailer uses e-mail campaigns to keep loyal customers engaged and aware of its promotions, as well as use of banner ads and a microsite for its "free coffee for a year promotion." What's next, she said, is the potential to boost its customer engagement with a mobile app.
Small Operators Building Business
In the Small Operator workshop track, attendees heard from the experts on how to best utilize social media, e-mail marketing and mobile marketing to build their business during the session, "Trumpeting Your Brand Without Blowing Your Budget."
Lorrie Thomas, CEO and marketing therapist at Web Marketing Therapy said the traditional four "Ps" of marketing -- product, place, promotion and price – are a thing of the past. The new social Web marketing mix is now the four "Cs" – customer, convenience, communication and cost (time, money, energy), she said.
"Social media is the future. It is not a fad," Thomas noted.
Of all the Internet marketing mediums, the return on investment (ROI) is the highest for e-mail marketing, Amy Tinsley, regional development director for Constant Contact Inc., said when laying out the reasons convenience and petroluem retailers should market by e-mail.
Other reasons she cited were: almost everyone reads e-mail; it's cost-effective; you can start an e-mail campaign for as little as $15 a month; and it's an effective way to communicate because people are opting in by providing their e-mail addresses.
However, she cautioned that in order to be successful, retailers must provide information in their e-mail messages that the receivers find valuable. "If people don't value your e-mail, you might as well not send it," Tinsley told the group.
Like e-mail marketing, mobile marketing is also inexpensive, delivers results that can be tracked and creates a database of customers, noted Conrad Carney, CEO of CMS Text. Plus, he said 98 percent of all text messages are read, most within four minutes of receipt.
He provided NACStech goers a list of dos and don'ts in mobile marketing:
-- Find a mobile marketing company.
-- Create a database of customers through promotions.
-- Make offers valid for specific periods of time.
-- Provide value.
-- Provide exclusive offers.
-- Include a tag to your mobile marketing in all your marketing.
-Over-market; once a week maximum
-- Make offers one day only.
-- Make offers more than seven days.
NACStech continues May 6 and 7 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. For up-to-the-minute information about NACStech, download the mobile app and visit www.nacstech.com.