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LAS VEGAS — Good business sense and a strong will to do good are not mutually exclusive.
Two convenience store retailers discussed ways industry operators can advocate for their brand, and act to benefit the communities in which they operate, during the 2014 NACS Show, which wrapped up Friday at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
"When you are purposeful with your relationships, you provide benefit to your neighbors and become part of the community. In time, the community embraces your brand and your business benefits in countless ways," Roger Ahlfeld, vice president of human resources for Tedeschi Food Shops Inc., said during an educational session entitled "Cashing in on the Community."
This goes beyond a simple return on investment, he said. In an industry where many convenience stores are similar, or are perceived to be similar, community service is one way a c-store can distinguish itself from competitors.
To be successful at this, Ahlfeld recommended approaching community service initiatives practically. Companies should set strategic goals for what they want to achieve, design "framing questions" for all potential initiatives to help understand how they might affect the business, and define measures for success. Keeping records and evaluating an event after the fact are also important steps.
"Giving money is easy. Getting involved takes a lot of work," Ahlfeld noted.
Retailers should keep in mind the different costs and benefits of various community service initiatives, the panelists explained. Philanthropic donations are simple but direct, in that they involve just giving money or products. Paid sponsorships of local sports teams or other groups provide exposure, but companies should have an idea of what level of exposure to expect. Neighborhood events often work as great advertising opportunities for new products.
Local partnerships to offer locally-produced products are also worth considering from a community-relations standpoint, according to Ahlfeld. "A lot of New England people see Tedeschi as local market, not big chain store," he added.
Cultivating relationships through community service — which is "in the DNA" of Kwik Trip Inc., according to Community Relations Coordinator David Ring — leads to awareness, credibility and a positive brand image. This in turn can lead to better financial results, as a majority of consumers are more likely to visit a chain when they approve of its community involvement and feel like they are invited to become part of a brand's story.
"We cannot leverage relationships we have not created," Ring said, adding that "one-on-one gets it done."
Getting involved with the community can also mean connecting with legislative officials on a local, state and federal level to help them understand the convenience industry and their constituents who work in it. Kwik Trip regularly brings 20 to 25 employees to state legislative day events.
This face-to-face interaction is crucial to making a real connection, according to Ring. Communicating with representatives through email, letters and other means "enhances relationships, it doesn't develop them," he stated.