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    The Pantry Moves in a Unified Direction

    New identity for its Kangaroo Express chain is supported by changes in merchandising.

    By Laura Liebeck

    CARY, N.C. -- Like an athlete preparing for a big contest, The Pantry Inc. is focusing on retail fundamentals to better compete in today's complex, customer-driven marketplace.

    Now that the retailer has more fully digested its acquisitions and moved into a single store identity consolidated under the Kangaroo Express moniker, all 1,650-plus stores are moving in one direction, unified by chainwide merchandising and marketing plans. Technology programs have been implemented to facilitate information flow and tracking in nearly every conceivable area, ensuring that planning, ordering and pricing consistencies are successfully achieved. Both shelf- and back-room management are now tools for growth, fueled by verifiable and constantly updated information.

    Kangaroo Express has come a long way from its most recent past of dissimilar convenience stores with a menu of names scattered across the southern United States.

    Jon Bratta, vice president of merchandising -- packaged goods, told CSNews Online that at The Pantry, "Job one is more like job three" and all of the points intersect. "It's about improving our processes and function in three separate areas: category planning, space management and inventory control."

    Ultimately, it all supports one identity for consumers: Kangaroo Express.

    For Bratta, a relative newbie at The Pantry since he arrived less than a year ago from BP's ampm stores, the changes are all about good, basic category management.

    Bratta's job is to help maximize the growth in the packaged goods categories and ensure that all of the forces align with customer needs. "It all starts with a strong operational foundation," said Bratta. "The category plans are only as good as they can be implemented at the store level."

    At The Pantry's Kangaroo Express stores, the focus is clearly on taking care of business -- as it always has been, just better and more efficiently. And now with more up-to-date systems that link all the stores, regardless of when they were acquired, the chain functions as one cohesive unit and not as disparate entities. The management team, store-level personnel and the company's suppliers are working together through a defined, integrated planning process that begins with goal setting and moves to clearly defined strategies and tactics that are based on a thorough internal and external evaluation.

    In addition, Kangaroo Express is bringing in key suppliers to help its executives better understand consumer behavior and product trends so the growing chain can tap into the best resources available to aid its growth category by category.

    Equally important, noted Bratta, are the contributions of the company's internal stakeholders such as sales operations, information technology, finance and more, all of which are contributing their expertise to drive efficiency, sales and profitability.

    While the process is ongoing and will always be fluid, the early results are exciting: the chain is getting better at controlling and managing inventory levels by SKU and ordering more effectively for each merchandise category. In the case of the retailer's confectionery program, for example, the changes in minimum order quantities have meant on-hand inventory has begun to decline toward the projected levels with no negative impact on sales, and the available inventory is fresher.

    With regard to space management, Kangaroo Express is migrating from a supplier-driven approach to an internal driven model, said Bratta. The goal is to have a more hands-on approach that delivers programs fitting the customers and stores, and tapping into current consumer trends.

    Bratta said he's challenged his team to remake and modernize the stores' assortment to better appeal to today's customers on an everyday basis and to increase the overall appeal of the merchandise assortment to garner more "fill-in" or supplemental grocery shopping dollars in those categories where convenience stores are visited for mainly fill-in shopping occasions. In these categories, Kangaroo Express will add packaged goods items from outside the commonly-found c-store fare, offering more goods typically found in grocery stores. To accomplish this, Kangaroo Express is adding sourcing partners to help them evaluate products that best meet their goals.

    In the categories that are staples in the c-store world, Kangaroo Express will continue to optimize their assortment with new items and elimination of slow sellers or products where the assortment is deeper than sales levels indicate they should be.

    "Ultimately we're changing the process on how we think of categories and squeezing every penny we can in sales out of those categories by having a more innovative product assortment," said Bratta.

    For more on Kangaroo Express' merchandising approach, look for the "Inside The Pantry" Special Edition that will part of the November 7 issue of Convenience Store News.

    By Laura Liebeck
    • About Laura Liebeck

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