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Foodservice programs are one of the fastest-growing segments of convenience store sales, but for some c-stores, they can be hit or miss. The potential for profit is strong, but only if you know how to get your employees involved in the sales process.
More than anything else, it's your employees who can improve your foodservice potential. They're the biggest difference between a top-performing foodservice program and a lackluster one. Your employees are the ones responsible for maintaining a clean, inviting environment. They're the ones in charge of making the food correctly and consistently. They're the ones customers are going to ask about the food quality. And, they're the ones you're relying on for suggestive selling.
The question is how do you unlock their potential? It's all about motivation. In my years of experience working with various foodservice companies and now at Hunt Brothers Pizza to help c-store owners maximize their food sales, I've learned that the key to boosting sales and running a successful foodservice program is keeping your employees positive and motivated.
Maintaining a Positive Store Environment
A positive attitude begins with an inviting, friendly environment. That's true for both employees and customers. Is your store clean and bright? Is there ample lighting? Is the store well organized? Does the aroma of food entice customers to check it out? Does the food look fresh and bountiful?
If the answer is yes, then customers will be inclined to spend more time in your store, which increases the likelihood they will purchase something. Employees will be happier, too. Sales opportunities will abound.
Cleanliness is especially important for your foodservice program and was one of the basic needs listed in the NACS/Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council's 2009 study, "Fast Forward: Emerging Opportunities in Convenience Retail."
The study states, "Some shoppers will still visit your store if it isn't clean, but they won't stay long enough to buy high-margin, high-profile offerings like fresh food." Our own focus groups have further identified that customers like the food preparation area to be visible, so they can judge the cleanliness for themselves.
Employees who work in a pleasant environment are more likely to retain that environment by keeping things clean and organized. Employees smile and talk more if the store gives off a bright, friendly vibe. When customers and employees talk, it's an opportunity to influence customers to buy that extra beverage or slice of pizza, and customers are more likely to report a satisfying visit.
Gay-Ann's Superette in Lamar, S.C., is the perfect example. Hunt Brothers Pizza facilitated an interior makeover and marketing plan after the store purchased new foodservice equipment. The owners also banned smoking in the store and brought in new colorful, clean marketing materials to decorate the walls and create a better foodservice environment. Coupled with some direct-mail advertising and a few fundraising events for local schools, Gay-Ann's was able to boost overall sales by 50 percent.
Training and Sampling
Motivated and positive employees are more likely to remember and implement their training on a daily basis. They can also help put your customer in a good mood, and happy customers are more open to make an impulse purchase such as a candy bar or a slice of pizza. When employees show enthusiasm for a product, customers are likely to pick up on that and give it a shot.
Perhaps most importantly, a motivated employee is likely to remember to use suggestive-selling techniques. Jonathan Munsell, founder of the Restaurant Success System, notes that 70 percent of guests don't know what they will order when they come into the restaurant. C-store customers are very similar, which opens the door for c-store employees to make suggestions and influence a purchase.
How do you keep employees motivated? In addition to giving them a positive environment to work in, you should also provide them with the right equipment and ergonomic layout to do their jobs as effectively and easily as possible. It is important to have an introductory training plan and refresher training sessions, ideally every few weeks. These sessions can be as quick and easy as showing an online video.
In addition to training, employees should also get a chance to sample the products. In the restaurant industry, all wait staff try the specials of the day and talk about them. If your employees enjoy the food you're offering, they'll share their enthusiasm with customers and it will make a difference in sales.
Sampling should be offered to customers on a regular basis, especially when you add a new product or remodel your store. When the Fast Track convenience store in Interlachen, Fla., hosted a two-day Hunt Brothers Pizza sampling event to show off an interior store makeover and new marketing materials, overall sales increased almost 20 percent.
Rewards and Incentives
Of course, another way to motivate employees is to offer them rewards, especially as part of a competition. We are all competitive and want to win. This drive can be used to your advantage with your foodservice program. Set targets on certain products and give prizes to individual employees or store locations that exceed the target. It's amazing how quickly employees will start engaging with customers in friendly conversation and suggestive selling.
The Express Lane stores in Florida recently held a contest where any location that could increase its Hunt Brothers Pizza sales by an average of 40 pizzas per week for more for 12 weeks would earn a 40-inch television. Employees at the top-selling location were so motivated to win the grand prize for their manager, who had been dealing with a personal tragedy, that they went above and beyond to ask anyone who walked into the store to purchase pizza. At the end of the 12-week contest, the employees were greatly rewarded for their extra effort when their manager received her 40-inch TV.
Keep in mind that prizes don't need to be as large as a TV to get results. Once the competitive spirit is kindled among your employees, just a $10 gift card and bragging rights can be a big motivator.
Bringing It All Together
So, what do your customers see when they walk in your door? Take a look around your store and consider ways you can improve. Cosmetic changes to your store's interior are a good first step. It affects both customers and employees. Bringing in new marketing materials can be an important part of that effort.
Keeping your employees motivated through training, suggestive selling and rewards is another surefire way to increase sales. Getting the community involved in special events, free samples, and fundraising events for local schools and nonprofit groups can also drive traffic through your door. Above all, stay positive and stay active. A bit of elbow grease and engaging your employees can go a long way in boosting sales.
Keith Solsvig is vice president of marketing for Hunt Brothers Pizza. He is responsible for all marketing, branding, promotions, research and sponsorships for the company's 6,400 locations. Prior to joining Hunt Brothers, he was a product manager for Tyson Foods. Solsvig also has more than 15 years of foodservice experience as the category manager of foodservice for both ExxonMobil On the Run and Thorntons Quick Café and Market stores.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.