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    Market Express Chooses Fight vs. Flight

    The 16-store chain took proactive steps when a new competitor came to town.

    MORRISVILLE, N.C. -- When Frank Valadez heard QuikTrip Corp. would be coming to North Carolina, he knew it was time to take it up a notch at his convenience stores — especially his high-volume store in Indian Trail, N.C., where QuikTrip planned on building.

    He and his team immediately went to work to assess where they could improve and implement changes before the big chain competitor arrived.

    “We heard QuikTrip was coming to Indian Trail and we knew we had to scramble,” Valadez, a dealer, account manager and marketing manager at Morrisville, N.C.-based Brewer-Hendley Oil Co., told CSNews Online. The company operates 16 Market Express stores, 11 in North Carolina and five in South Carolina.

    Having visited a few QuikTrip locations in South Carolina, Valadez knew he needed to make changes in order to compete. “We always maintained a good presence, but we really needed to up our game and make our stores even better than they were,” he recalled. “We started talking about what we do best and what we need to work on.”

    Market Express not only enhanced its Indian Trail store, which is about 3.5 miles from the new QuikTrip, but also many of its other locations. The majority of changes can be seen inside the stores, although the outside got a refresh as well.

    The company repainted, put new decals around the pumps and added LED price signs at some locations. The retailer also added more lighting and switched to Cree lighting to freshen up the sites at night. One location even got a new television screen to run specials, weather reports and Shell commercials at the pumps.

    Inside, Market Express stores now feature new tile flooring, graphics, and cooler doors with LED lighting and signage. There are new checkout counters with recessed shelving and pegs for candy, along with a standalone cooler for sandwiches.

    “People come in the store and want something quick, so now we have candy right where they are checking out, and there are also sandwiches there,” Valadez said. “We also consolidated the candy section and moved it by the register so it’s a lot closer than it used to be. As a customer is waiting in line, they can actually see the whole row of candy and gum.”

    The chain pulled scan data from its stores and drilled down to see what was really selling or not selling — pulling and replacing low-selling items. Changes also were made to shelving and the overall merchandising of the stores to improve the flow of traffic.

    “We took shelves that were straight and angled them,” Valadez explained. “We found it really gives the feel of more room for people to move around, and it flows better.”

    The fountain drink section got a facelift as well — in some cases, expanding from eight or 12 fountain heads to 16. In select stores, the new fountain heads required remodeling of the counter area, and the chain also switched to a new brand of ice.

    “One of the big things people asked for was chewy ice, which is a soft nugget. So, we listened to our customers and brought in the new ice,” he said. “Also, since we actually bought the [fountain] machines, we are able to offer all the major brands so we have Sundrop, Coke and Pepsi products.”

    In addition, most of the Market Express stores previously offered two types of slushie products, but have now expanded to four varieties — red, blue, Cheerwine and Mountain Dew. A couple of locations offer f’real milkshakes as yet another beverage option.

    To further increase sales, Market Express revamped some of its promotions and brought in LiftRetail screens from VeriFone Systems Inc. for suggestive selling at the checkout. The touchscreens engage the customer and in addition to suggesting additional products, Market Express provides a questionnaire about customer service via the screens.

    “The screens track the upsells of each clerk signed in to the register, and we run competitions to incentivize our employees by offering prizes to the clerk who sells the most at the end of the week,” Valadez explained.

    Most of the stores have at least two registers and LiftRetail screens are installed at all of them. The screen faces the customer, and the chain can tailor the specials to each store. Some of the specials recently offered were fountain drinks for 79 cents, three Gatorade drinks for $3, and Monster Energy drinks at two for $2 or two for $5.

    “It definitely increases sales, and we have very positive feedback from the customers,” Valadez noted.

    For more on how Market Express is taking on the competition, look in the October issue of Convenience Store News.

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