Small Changes Can Make a Big Difference

Convenience stores are in a unique position in that they offer retail/grocery items and, increasingly, prepared foods. While prepared foods are not a new option for pioneers like Sheetz and Wawa, few concepts are as experienced at executing and sustaining these programs.

Q1 has developed five ideas for retailers, suppliers and stakeholders to consider as prepared foods continue to grow and become essential to satisfying patron demand.

1. Patrons buy with their eyes

Whether a convenience store is offering a prepared sandwich in a cold case, or if they are making the sandwich for the customer, some solid basics come into play. For a prepared food, make sure the expiration dates (or must use by dates) are clearly written on the item. Regularly rotate items so that a consumer returning at 2 p.m. doesn’t see the same ham sandwich in the same place that he saw at 6 a.m. High-quality, firm, clear, plastic packaging rates very high with patrons.

2. Delight the regulars

The segment intelligentsia preaches we must look for new users: the affluent, females, professionals. However, the majority of regular users are males making less than $30,000 per year and working in a blue-collar profession. Staff must know the names of these regulars and also be familiar with the items regularly purchased. It is the “Starbucks” phenomena — which is really just Marketing 101 — of having the favorite item ready when the patron enters the store.

3. Merchandise prepared foods with retail items

There are a set of patrons who never purchase prepared foods at a convenience store. The reasons for this vary and include limited knowledge (“never noticed cold case”) or flat-out rejection (“I got sick at a c-store once”).  The point is, there are a number of non-foodservice users in stores today that are prime candidates to convert. Enhance in-store marketing, provide samples and use store employees to announce specials or deals on coffee and prepared foods.

4. Maximize in-store promotions

Our recent field work showed that many consumers, even while looking at an in-store placard, were not aware of that “Two for Two Subs” deal in front of them. Many stores are cluttered with several messages — whether it be for retail/grocery products or foodservice products. As mentioned above, cut through the clutter by looking to staff members to help with a message. Perhaps it’s before they pay or after, but at least it captures a consumer’s attention.

5. Restrooms must be spotless

This means the floors are shiny, the grout is white, the toilets are stain-free, the soap is refilled, the plunger is nowhere in sight and there are no flying insects. Does this take time and resources? Yes. But patrons judge the kitchen based on the cleanliness of the bathroom. Also, a large portion of non-users of c-stores just use the bathroom. One bad experience perpetuates the gas-station image.

There are a number of other tips that readers are likely aware of, but these provide some of the general elements that Q1 believes can make a profitable difference if implemented.

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.