The Wow Factor | NACS – Magazine – Past Issues – 2012 – June 2012
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The Wow Factor

By Al Hebert

It’s that "something different" that can entice a customer to make the trip from the gas pump to inside the store. That differentiation is also what makes a convenience store a shopping destination. Finding that something different, however, is often easier said than done.

But one retailer in Sequim, Wash­ington, has found a way to capture a bit of magic that sets it apart from the competition. The Longhouse Mar­ket & Deli, on Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s 7 Cedars Casino property is the place to go.

Standing Out
The walk-in, cedar-lined, cigar humi­dor and beer tastings are unique offer­ings that make this store really inter­esting. "We have one of the best cigar selections on the Olympic Peninsula. People come across on the ferry from Victoria, British Columbia, looking for cigars," said manager Randy Lemon. "It’s a fun market for us and a nice niche. Customers tell me what they are looking for and I bring it in," he said.

Many convenience stores sell beer, but at Longhouse Market & Deli the fo­cus is on craft. An array of more than 140 craft beers attracts the curious and the connoisseurs. Retail prices range anywhere from $3 to $20 for a single bottle "We wanted to be a destination for these customers," said Lemon, add­ing that the store dedicates 16 feet of space to craft beers.

Customers can also sample and learn more about specific craft beers at spe­cial tasting events during the spring and summer with brewer representatives on hand to talk about their product and an­swer questions. "We host these in the deli and offer specials on sandwiches. This draws new and old customers into the store. They have a chance to try the food and see if they like the beer," said Lemon.

Big Surprise
Beer tastings aside, the 11,000 square-foot store often surprises customers who thought they were just pulling in for gas. The entryway is flanked by three massive cedar totem poles carved by tribal artist Dale Faulstic and his team. Inside the store, copper accents, satin black shelv­ing and stone countertops complement natural wood décor for a sleek, sophisti­cated and clean atmosphere.

"It’s fun to watch customers walk in and see the looks on the faces. It’s a big, beautiful store and it’s very clean," said Lemon. "Cleanliness and a friendly atmosphere are priorities. Our employ­ees pay attention to detail and most customers haven’t had an experience like this before."

Longhouse also places heavy em­phasis on superior ingredients. The store partners with familiar brands such as Tully’s for its coffee and Boar’s Head for its deli products. "The quality makes our deli just a bit different. We build the sandwiches here to our cus­tomers’ specifications and when people find something they like, they will trav­el for it," Lemon said.

The full-service deli offers custom­ers a variety of menu items such as barbecued chicken, carver sandwiches with sides and four soups each day. "Our panini sandwich is the biggest seller. We offer 13 different choices and we named them after places familiar to locals," explained Lemon.

And although flavor is important, so is serving healthy fare. Longhouse doesn’t cook with grease or fry its foods — even the corn dogs are made in a convection oven.

The market area is well stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, deliv­ering what customers might need on a simple shopping trip. "Truckers are even looking for something healthy to­day," said Lemon, adding that produce has been a learning process. "Over the years we’ve discovered which items appeal to customers."

Marketing Outside And In
Getting customers from the pumps to the store can be a challenge, so to tap into best practices and ideas for c-store industry, Lemon turned to the NACS Show. "We have been to several NACS Shows. We attended Shows a year be­fore opening our store [in 2008] to see the latest technology, marketing and merchandising ideas," said Lemon. And that investment has paid off.

Each of Longhouse’s 12 gas pumps features a 10-inch screen that allows Lemon to control the digital content customers see while filling up. "Right now, it’s fairly general — I want them to know about our humidor, coffee re­fills, store specials as well as the casino and golf course," he said.

The digital messaging continues on 14, 40-inch television screens through­out the store. "We promote beer, deli and store items and again, the golf course and casino," said Lemon, add­ing that soon a digital food menu will appear on the screens.

Social media is also a part of the store’s marketing plan. The Long­house Market & Deli’s Facebook page gives customers updates about spe­cials and craft beer offerings. "We are trying to cover all the bases by work­ing on club programs and punch cards that will deepen customer loyalty and reward people for their business," said Lemon.

"Customers are listened to here. We simply respond to them and they’ve re­sponded to us with their business."

Al Hebert, the Gas Station Gourmet, explores America’s hidden culinary treasure-gas station cuisine. Hebert shares these stories and a recipe or two at GasStationGourmet.com.