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While targeting female shoppers has picked up as a c-store trend of late, focusing more narrowly on working moms instead of women in general might prove beneficial to convenience store retailers. Working mothers are an increasing segment of the convenience store market, steadily growing over the last 20 or so years as more and more women enter and remain in the work force after childbirth.
"The key differentiation between working moms and other female customers relates to the potential for the working moms to need to be able to quickly and easily obtain kid- and family-specific items, especially during the traditional afternoon rush, after-work time frame," said Russell McGilvray, president of McAllen, Texas-based Stores Inc., which owns and operates 12 c-stores under the Hop 'n Shop banner.
The challenge of balancing work and family is a daily struggle for these constantly on-the-move women, who may not have time to stop at three different places on their way home from work. A quick stop at her local one-size-fits-all convenience store could provide her with the last-minute groceries, six-pack of soda, take-home sandwiches and full tank of gas she needs — and all in a 10-minute span.
"We all know that time is a precious commodity, and what convenience stores can give to a working mom is the gift of time," said Barbara Caplan, partner at Chapel Hill, N.C.-based consumer research and consulting firm Yankelovich Inc. "In an ideal retail world, the convenience store can play a very big role from the standpoint of fitting expectations and needs of the working moms."
The first step in making a c-store a destination for moms is keeping all elements of the store spic-and-span. Keeping floors swept and mopped, shelves stocked and clutter to a minimum can give a store that welcoming touch that busy moms will appreciate — especially when they bring in their children, who like to touch everything in sight.
And that cleanliness factor isn't limited to the merchandise floor. Keeping the gas pumps, front windows and, most importantly, restrooms impressively clean will all be appreciated and remembered by this customer group.
"The No. 1 effort a c-store can make for its female customers is having an immaculate restroom," said Jim Callahan, director of marketing for Geo. H. Green Oil Inc., a Fairburn, Ga.-based c-store chain with 50 stores. "We work really hard to have upscale restrooms."
According to McGilvray, while making cleanliness a priority does indeed attract the working moms, it also resonates in the goodwill of every customer that enters through the door. "Clean, well-lit stores that have been properly stocked and staffed make all our customers have a more positive impression," he said.
Other than gasoline, the most likely product need a c-store can provide typical working mothers are items to fill in the grocery list between supermarket visits. And while time-saving convenience can be a great service, working moms are also looking at quality, assortment and freshness of products for themselves and their families.
"It would seem that this group would place a premium on convenience and service," McGilvray said. "This provides the retailer with the opportunity to have foodservice items ready to grab and go and family-oriented merchandise such as dairy products, cereals, eggs, baby goods and even toys stocked and readily available."
Food on the Fly
Ready-to-eat food programs are also a big plus with the working mom group, especially considering their constant state of time-crunching. At Hop 'n Shop, McGilvray said the stores offer foodservice options ranging from partnering with a traditional fast feeder such as Burger King to operating their own proprietary hot food area.
"Nobody plans out their meals in advance anymore — the days of Monday meatloaf, Tuesday spaghetti are gone," Caplan said. "If the convenience store has options that are acceptable to bring home for dinner, it would be a big help to this demographic. The chains that are doing this well will attest to that."
Working mothers may also represent different shopping trends during different dayparts, depending on whom they are shopping for. A mother purchasing sodas for a family of four on her way home from work, for example, may watch prices a bit more tightly than the mother stopping for a gourmet coffee for herself after she drops the kids off at school.
Green Oil recognizes both of these shopping trends and offers value propositions resonant with both. "Women — especially mothers — are more astute shoppers than men," Callahan said. "For the value shopper, we try to have a constant hot special on, whether it be Coke 12-packs at two-for-$5 or buy-one-get-one-free Dasani waters."
For the career-oriented mom stopping at a convenience store for her own needs, Callahan said the company tries to bring an upscale quality to its items to give moms some self-indulgence. "We have an upscale coffee offering with six different flavors of cappuccino and lattes," he said. "We also have something from Perfect Servings, where instead of having to open the sugars and creamers, you stick the coffee cup under the dispenser and it puts the sugar, Equal, cream, or whatever right into the cup. It keeps the store cleaner and provides one more step of convenience for those moms with kids in their arms."
It's All in the Service
Value-added services can make all the difference to a time-pressed mom running daily errands. Even things as simple as a fee-free ATM or baby-changing table in the bathroom can make a difference — anything that reduces the time crunches and allows having children with you to be a pleasure, rather than a burden.
Caplan recommends training employees to be able to help mothers expedite the shopping trip by navigating customers through the store, suggesting products and even assisting in carrying heavier merchandise to the car.
"We encourage our cashiers very much to address the children as well as the mother," Callahan said. "We also encourage them to say something nice to the mother about the children, because that's as good as it gets for a mother — to hear a compliment on her children."
The ease of finding things through good signage is another key element not to be understated, Caplan insisted. "Also, don't be afraid of technology," she said. "It'd be nice if a mother could sit down at a computer for a minute, or visit kiosks in the store that announce what's on special today. I think these things aren't as far off as we might think.
"It has to become a place where moms can not only get time-saving convenience," Caplan concluded, "but a place for really quality merchandise and services." n