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    Getting Beverages on Track

    Sapp Bros. uses a shelf management system to maximize space, save on labor and boost sales.

    By Linda Lisanti

    An organized cold vault can be the difference between a sale and a lost opportunity. Today's harried consumers don't have the time or the patience to search for the beverage they want. Often, one quick scan of the cooler is all the chance retailers get.

    "I know we've lost sales in the past at the cooler. When you have a shelf that's a little lower, customers have to lean over and look in to see if the product is there. That's an inconvenience," said Aubrey Avalos, store manager for Sapp Bros. travel center in Salt Lake City.

    "When the product isn't fronted, people will look at the cooler really fast and think you don't have what they're looking for. You'll lose that sale," she added. The Omaha, Neb.-based chain operates 16 travel centers, each includes a c-store.

    Packaged beverages is one of the store's top-selling categories — and a draw that brings many of the travel center's fuel customers from the gas island into the store. Avalos decided about a year ago that she couldn't afford to lose any more sales because of an unorganized cold vault. She came across an advertisement for BevTrac, a new shelf management system, and immediately called to get more information and a sample.

    "I had seen the system used at grocery stores for health and beauty care, and I thought, 'we need that for our cooler,'" Avalos recalled, noting the store's previous cold vault merchandising consisted of plastic sliders that got dingy and broke easily.

    In October 2007, she began testing the BevTrac system on two shelves of 20-ounce Coca-Cola products. The results were positive from the start. "Those two shelves always looked good. The product was always pushed forward and the shelves always looked full," she said. In March, with the cost covered by her beverage suppliers, Avalos implemented the system in all eight cooler doors.

    "Before, every time I walked by our cooler, I would get so frustrated seeing how the shelf was half full, but all the product was in the back half. Now, always having the product front-faced, the cooler looks nice and it always looks full," she said.

    Developed by RTC of Rolling Meadows, Ill., BevTrac is a spring-action glide system that has a clear front made of unbreakable polymer plastic. Products are front-faced with a spring-driven paddle that's free-floating, so it cannot be impaired by dirt buildup over time, according to the company. The system is available in six glide sizes, with its tray-to-tray connection allowing for different-sized packages to be merchandised side by side.

    For Avalos, one of BevTrac's key benefits is that it's reduced the time and effort she and her staff expend keeping the cold vault stocked and front-faced. Because there's such a high turn on the store's cooler, this was nearly a full-time job.

    "Before, we would have to have someone on the day shift tend to the cooler at least five or six times — and that was just to keep everything pushed forward. Now, we're good once per shift, just to get it stocked," she said. Avalos did acknowledge, though, that it took time for some of her employees to learn how to properly stock the BevTrac system. Training was necessary.

    The shelf management system also has helped minimize visual out-of-stocks. Previously, the manager said customers would approach her and ask whether something was in stock when in reality, the product was there, just not pushed forward on the shelf.

    "Now, if we're out-of-stock in something, you can tell right away," she said.

    Fitting additional facings on each shelf is also possible. Avalos found she can fit one more row of product when merchandising 20-ounce bottles, and is using the extra space for high-volume items, such as Mountain Dew and energy drinks.

    The Sapp Bros. travel center is seeing increases in its packaged beverage sales. Sales in the category are up between 8 and 12 percent from the previous year. Avalos said it's difficult to determine just how much of that is attributable solely to BevTrac since she made a few contractual changes around the same time.

    Still, she has no doubts that the store's now better-organized cold vault is an advantage, and it's possible the system could soon be added to Sapp Bros.' other travel centers.

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