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If there's one thing I've learned in my time covering the tobacco category for c-stores, it's that successful retailers have their thumb on the pulse of the category. They know how many units of a certain SKU they sold each week, and how many more (or less) that number is compared to last year, last month and last week.
And it's more than just item-level information. Smart retailers know their competitors' pricing, the latest news and new products in the pipeline, and where their strengths are as well as where the opportunities to improve lie.
But they don't do it alone. In addition to in-house tracking, many tobacco retailers rely on data from their vendors or research companies such as Convenience Store News' parent, The Nielsen Co.
One of the latest tools launched to assist retailers with their tobacco sections is R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.'s (RJRT) EngageRJRT.com, a new, password-protected Web site launched in June to provide the company's retail partners with 24-hour access to tobacco category information for use in "engaging adult tobacco consumers," according to the company. Retailers do not need a contract with RJRT to access the site, and can contact their sales representatives for login information, said spokesman David Howard.
The Web site provides retailers with information to optimize their business, including a "My Account" section with ordering information and customized store reports. This is the section that is most helpful for Curt Adams, category manager for Ayerco Convenience Centers, a 30-unit chain in the Springfield, Ill., region.
"I'm able to go in and check what the cigarette buydowns will be and view our payment information," he said, adding: "We have to stay on top of the day-to-day changes that this industry continues to have, so we can be competitive in what we consider one of our most important categories."
Adams has used the site for approximately three months, and noted its ease of use and wide variety of information available. "RJRT is reaching out to retailers and trying to pass on any and all of the information they have, not only on the industry, but with things such as FDA regulation and where they stand," he said. "This Web site gives us those insights to help us see what's going on in the future and what exists today."
The Web site is also home to training videos for store-level employees. This is an additional area of EngageRJRT.com that Adams finds particularly useful.
"We watch the training videos to help effectively communicate to the consumer," he said, noting he recently viewed the video on Camel Snus. "It allows our sales associates to know a little bit about the product because it is so unique, and it helps teach them how to pass the information along to the consumer as another [product] option for nonsmoking areas."
Consumer demographic information is also available, along with product management, and pricing and promotional information, RJRT's Howard said, adding the site "gives retailers tools they need to effectively manage the tobacco category and to maximize the category in stores."
Ayerco's Adams looks forward to using these resources more in the future, especially a tool that allows him to break down performance year-over-year and year-to-date at the store level. "It shows our strengths and weaknesses not only with RJRT products, but in the whole category. That's going to be a nice tool for us."
In addition, the Web site offers a "Modern Smoke-Free Tobacco" section that outlines the company's latest smokeless products, such as its Camel Snus and its dissolvable Camel Sticks, Strips and Orbs. It also links to the company's advocacy Web site, NoCigTax.com, and offers the latest tobacco industry news.