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    Getting Store Specific at CSNews' Future Forum

    Retailers and suppliers left the 12th annual event with a toolkit to increase future profitability

    ATLANTA -- C-store retailers attending this year's Convenience Store News Future Forum went home with a wealth of information and tools to help them increase profitability by getting store specific in their marketing and merchandising efforts.

    The event, which wrapped up Wednesday at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead in Atlanta, featured case studies from such retailers as Wawa Inc., Fas Mart Convenience Stores and Gasamat Oil Corp., as well as a store tour, networking events and in-depth presentations on word-of-mouth marketing and consumer confidence.

    Calling word-of-mouth marketing "the most influential form of marketing" over television, coupons and newspaper inserts, keynote speaker and brand autopsy marketing practitioner John Moore noted that 76 percent of consumers have become skeptical and don't believe traditional advertising. Word-of-mouth marketing is easy and fun to create, and since "customers are talking about you anyway -- whether you like it or not – wouldn't it make sense to be a part of it?" noted Moore, who has implemented marketing and branding ideas for Whole Foods Market and Starbucks Coffee.

    Some of his recommendations to create word-of-mouth marketing included:
    -- Give people a reason to talk, give them something special.
    -- Appeal to interesting people because they know other interesting people.
    -- Empower, equip and enthuse customers to promote the brand/product.
    -- Join the conversation, go beyond listening and start reacting to what people say.

    However, Moore cautioned retailers to "be confident in your products and services if you are considering embarking on word-of-mouth marketing since you can't control it."

    Addressing "The Resilience of the Consumer in an Uncertain Economy," Maureen Maguire, president and founder of ThinkResearch, told Future Forum attendees, "The consumer has been incredibly resilient through the turn of the millennium."

    In light of tenuous external events, including war and volatile fuel prices, the overall economy has shown considerable optimism and this has been particularly true of the consumer segment, where spending in recent years has often outpaced that of the business segment, she said.

    Maguire surmised the convenience industry is currently in a good position to face external challenges. As consumer spending begins to decline on big-ticket items, such as automobiles, housing and appliances, she said people will turn even more toward smaller indulgences, including cigarettes, alcohol and candy.

    Sponsors of the event were: Altadis U.S.A., Anheuser-Busch Inc., Brother, Boyd Coffee Co., Duke Convenience Group, Ruiz Foods, FireKing Security Group, The Hershey Co., The McLane Co. and Swedish Match.

    A full Future Forum report will appear in the Aug. 7 issue of Convenience Store News.

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