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Learnings Abound at NACS Show Educational Sessions

Saturday’s packed educational sessions offered insights, best practices and innovative strategies for boosting sales, attracting customers and growing c-store brands.
October 13, 2013

​ATLANTA – With 58 educational sessions taking place at the NACS Show, there’s definitely something for everyone. Here’s a sample at the learnings that took place on Saturday afternoon:

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There isn’t a product in the country in which consumers are more sensitive than gas prices. By now most retailers understand this and price accordingly. But what else can you do to attract fuel customers?

That question turned out to be the crux of the conservation in the educational session “Gas Prices: Con$umer Perspectives.” Reviewing several years of consumer data collected by NACS, panelists shared how retailers can attract consumers beyond their gas price. Among the hints: consider partnering with school districts to offer donations per gallon sold, communicate your local story or better communicate that you sell a specific alternative fuel, especially to combat range anxiety.

And then there were some big ideas regarding the future: What if fuel retailers became fuel buyers, as new trends like vehicle-to-grid charging emerge? The future may not be that far off. As moderator Norman Turiano, a former Wawa senior manager of fuel business development noted: 16 years ago, Wawa didn’t sell a drop of fuel.

The emergence of social and digital media cannot be denied, but traditional marketing platforms — radio, billboards, in-store signage and direct mail, for example — remain viable business tools for retailers looking to create a unified marketing strategy.

During “How Old School Is Cool,” Ira Glaser, president of Amplify Marketing Communication, shared a few of the new rules for consumer engagement, which are much more interactive and conversational and less of the older “hit you over the head” approach. Successful marketing plans are no longer defined by impressions (a one-way dialogue), and instead rely on consumers driving the conversation (expressions). 

He emphasized how increasing brand engagement among your Brand Lovers, those who shop your store each day, can turn those loyalists into Brand Ambassadors and strong vocal advocates.

Krista Long, senior vice president and executive media director at 22 squared, outlined four key factors to driving traditional marketing success:
1. Develop clear communication and sales goals, the “where you want to be heading” aspect to your strategy.
2. Plan around your consumer audience and their shopping behaviors.
3. Understand what messaging should reach your consumers and through which media outlets.
4. Metrics matter: Measure what’s working and what’s not working.

A successful foodservice program begins with a company’s culture — not its strategy, advised Joe Chiovera, consultant at XS Foodservice Solutions. He also suggested that many retailers often take an “insanity” approach to their fresh grab-and-go offer: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, but without doing much differently to change course.

Chiovera, during the “Growing Your Grab and Go” session, also said that foodservice cannot be successful if you’re chasing margins. Instead, margins must be earned, which won’t happen overnight.

He outlined 6 Ps to help drive fresh grab-and-go success:
1. Product: What’s the functional intent of the product? Consider how it’s made, the quality, and the shelf life from creation to delivery to sale and consumption.
2. Price: Use price to sell units, not to increase margins.
3. Packaging: It must be treated as an extension of your brand.
4. Positioning: Get your program in front of the customer and not hidden in a cooler towards the back of the store.
5. Promotion: Plan 12 to 18 months out with your plan and shoulder the months leading up to strong selling seasons (i.e., coffee promos in early September ahead of wintertime rather than when it’s 0 degrees out and coffee is already going to sell). 
6. People: Train, train and train some more! You can’t have a successful foodservice program if your staff isn’t trained to run it.

Bart Stransky, executive director of food programs and offers at RaceTrac Petroleum Inc., echoed the importance of training: “Your employees don’t know what they don’t know,” he said. Like Chiovera, he agreed that a profitable foodservice program must be earned overtime through small, incremental steps. One way RaceTrac has found success is through daily logistics delivery, which allows the retailer to differentiate its offer, try new things and make constant changes.

Spoilage, Stransky advised, is a necessary evil of any fresh foodservice program. “You can’t manage your spoilage to zero,” he said, so retailers must track it.

Category Management
“Tis the Season for Seasonal Sales” dove into two key merchandise categories for c-store operators: candy and beer.

Tim Quinn, Mars Chocolate North America vice president of trade development, highlighted opportunities for driving incremental sales with seasonal candy, particularly around four distinct holidays that show strong spikes for most retail channels — except c-stores: Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween and Christmas.

“There’s no reason why convenience stores shouldn’t be taking advantage” of these seasonal selling opportunities, noted Quinn, pointing out how sales could spike from $600 million to $1 billion during Valentine’s Day for the combined drug, grocery and mass merch retailers, while candy sales see relatively no spikes in c-stores throughout the year. 

He suggested using points of interruption, such as display boxes and counter units housing seasonal candies that are available through supplier partners, which maximize impulse and incremental sales.

Jeff Schouten, director of channel marketing at MillerCoors, pointed out that there are nine “beer holidays” throughout the year for retailers to capitalize on: Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four/March Madness, Spring Break/Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

While premium light beer brands continue to be the bread and butter of convenience store beer sales, seasonal craft beers create excitement for the category and attract a different beer buyer, or entice non-craft buyers to sample a product that will come and go with the season it’s intended for (you won’t see a seasonal pumpkin ale on store shelves during the summertime). 

With these seasons in mind, and the explosive growth of craft beers in c-stores, Schouten suggested that retailers create a seasonal beer calendar focused on the five traditional holidays (Memorial Day, July 4, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas) the four non-traditional holidays (see above) and local events in your market, such as NASCAR races and pro sporting events and tailgates.

Presentations for Saturday’s educational sessions are available at nacsshow.com by clicking on “Educational Sessions” under the Schedule tab, then selecting the sessions you would like to view.