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    Handy Mart Surveys for Success

    Shopper research leads chain to hone the basics and develop a new store prototype.

    By Renee M. Covino, Convenience Store News

    MOUNT OLIVE, N.C. -- And the survey says… that Handy Mart is one convenience store retailer that is benefitting from shopper surveys.

    The 41-store chain, based in Mount Olive, recently employed an in-store customer survey and discovered that although it received strong customer satisfaction scores, the business would benefit from working on the basics, specifically operational and merchandising basics. Handy Mart is now in the process of honing those basics and the retailer has initiated a new store prototype, too.

    All of this came about after the NACS/Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council (NACS/CCRRC) published its Playbook for Success report last year. That report caught Handy Mart’s attention.

    “We had been wanting to do another customer survey for a couple of years. We had previously done one with a professional outside firm, but it was costly,” explained Tony Noonan, vice president of retail for Handy Mart. “With technology, we knew there was a better way; the issues had always been setting up the structure, asking the right questions and having something to compare the results to.”

    When a survey process and 10-point scale was revealed in the Playbook for Success report, Handy Mart knew it had found its game plan.

    “A precedence was set that was easy to duplicate and execute,” Noonan told CSNews Online.


    In August of last year, Handy Mart queried customers in 36 locations for five weekdays during two different dayparts. The company hired college students equipped with iPads (already owned by Handy Mart) and utilized a survey created on SurveyMonkey.

    On the advice of the NACS/CCRRC report, Handy Mart offered customers a $2 bill for 10 minutes of their time. “We agreed that the $2 bill would pique customers’ interest,” Noonan said.

    It did and after all was said and done, Handy Mart had 440 completed shopper questionnaires for evaluation -- and that, of course, was the most crucial part.

    “We had the results pretty immediately. I was back here monitoring them. Once a survey was finished and closed, it was posted online and I could pull up a query in SurveyMonkey and see what was going on with the raw results,” Noonan recalled. “But there’s raw results and interpretive results, and we worked with [study leader] Bill Bishop [of Willard Bishop Consulting] and NACS to come up with a net promoter score to get interpretive results and then compare that to some of the NACS data.”

    Right off the bat, Handy Mart learned of some key demographic data needing no interpretation.

    “It surprised us to learn how young our customer base was. It really skewed to the younger side,” Noonan said.

    What did not surprise him was how male-dominant Handy Mart's consumer base is, “especially since we surveyed inside the store only; we did not survey the pump operations to keep the costs down.”

    Moving into more interpretive data, Handy Mart scored strongly in customer satisfaction, meaning customers believe it offers a safe environment. It also scored high in staff friendliness and hospitality -- areas the chain expected to do well in, but receiving confirmation was valuable input.

    “We’ve done mystery shops for 10 years in our stores with a private outside firm that verified our steps of service and cleanliness,” Noonan noted. “We’ve seen consistent improvement in those areas through the mystery shoppers, but that doesn’t always measure over to the satisfaction of our customers so it was really good to see where they rated us in satisfaction.”

    While the “safe” factor was a high score, the “cleanliness” factor emerged as an area of opportunity. “It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t ranking among the best and that’s an area we want to be best at,” stated Noonan.

    Another area needing improvement for Handy Mart, the survey revealed, is its in-stock position. “Again, it wasn’t the worst, but it wasn’t the best. And we want our customers to get in and out quickly with a frustration-free experience,” he added.


    Beyond cleanliness and in-stock positions, though, the top opportunity for improvement at Handy Mart is messaging a good value, the survey data revealed. “I think we have a very good value, but the message is not getting out there through promotions, pricing and deals,” Noonan said.

    And so, the chain has “fallen back to address some of the basics,” which he said includes daily shift basics, merchandising profile basics, operational basics and store system basics.

    While Handy Mart is still in the execution stage, it has already made improvements in cleanliness, in-stock position and an overall refinement of its store operating procedures.

    In fact, two stores were opened after the survey data was interpreted and they have now become examples of a new store prototype put into play for the chain — one with a more open feel, lower merchandising profile, larger emphasis on fresh food to go and a bigger focus on beverages to go.

    “Opening these stores was a big deal for us. We don’t do that a lot,” Noonan told CSNews Online. “So, we’ve been running hard for the last six months, and now we’re sitting back to take a look and see if we need to retrofit some older store sites toward that prototype.”

    Handy Mart is also anxious to conduct more surveys to glean valuable shopper insights and continually improve its business. Noonan would ideally like to do another one this August, one year since the original survey, but he recognizes not all the new store operating procedures have been implemented yet.

    “We haven’t finished all of the action items from the results of the first survey,” he said. “However, we know we want to keep doing [shopper surveys]. The frequency has not been determined, but I would like to do the next one sometime this year -- sooner, rather than later.”

    By Renee M. Covino, Convenience Store News
    • About Renee M. Covino Contributing Editor Renée M. Covino is a veteran researcher, editor and writer with more than 30 years of experience in the mass retail sector. Her articles and columns have appeared online and in print for dozens of industry trade magazines, newsletters, metro newspapers, Fortune 500 company reports and college textbooks. Covino is a self-named “store connoisseur” who not only writes about retail, but happily supports it.

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