Experiences 2 Go
NACS Show's Ideas 2 Go video presentation reveals retail reinvention
ATLANTA -- From high-end ethnic cuisine to Internet ambiance, craft-beer taps to hand-crafted boots, retailers featured in the annual "Ideas 2 Go" video shown during the 2013 NACS Show this week in Atlanta sought to reinvent the notion of retail gas and convenience by bringing in products, offers and experiences beyond the norm.
Viewed by about 4,000 attendees at a general session, the 53-minute video featured retailers from Washington, D.C., to Bend, Ore., and spoke of the unique ideas that differentiate them from their competitors.
Brad Call with the Salt Lake City-based Maverik chain, like others retailers featured, found ways to boost the customer experience. At his stores, graphics focus on an adventure theme, with actual mannequins inset in the ceiling and posed in ski wear or in canoes to depict people taking on the outdoors
"Yes, we sell the same [soft drinks]," said Call, comparing his products to what the competition offers. "But hopefully this experience will be more fun; endorphins will flow, and ours will taste a little bit better."
Call also spoke of the company's "black" debit card, a loyalty program that takes advantage of cheaper interchange fees to both save money and reward customers. Encased in a sophisticated, fold-open pamphlet that describes the rewards system, the black, magnetic-stripe card gives customers six cents off of every gallon every day plus points for purchases. Customers can redeem points at the store or turn their points into dollars for local charities. The points also earn customers entry into various contests to win adventure-related prizes.
"We don't send out mass offers," he said. "We specifically target things they want. We can connect with them [so they think], 'You guys get me. You care'."
While Call operates a 244-store chain, independent operators also demonstrated creativity by reinventing c-stores through the use of ethnic cuisine. Several Washington, D.C.-area retailers each spoke of how breaking the stereotype of "trashy" gas-station food was important to the success of their locations. R&R Taqueria, Elkridge, Md., featured Latin-inspired flavors, while Fast Gourmet, Washington, Thai Pan, Leesburg, Va., and Seoul Food DC, Wheaton, Md., both focused on Southeast Asia and Asian-inspired food.
Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey's General Stores also mentioned food, specifically pizza. The chain has earned the title of the fifth-largest pizza chain in the country. Having developed a reputation in small towns across the country, execs of the 1,750-store chain spoke of improvements they have made to its locations in recent years, increasing cooler-door space and improving upon its pizza operation--often seeing 100% increases in foodservice sales after doing so.
Casey's also began testing pizza delivery, overcoming internal concerns about not having customers actually visit the stores. So far, the effort has actually raised awareness and increased pizza sales.
Single ideas often grow into new profit centers, as with Stop and Go Mini Mart, Bend, Ore. Already a hub for beer (with its spray-can foam and chicken-wire beer cave being an unusual sight for attendees), its owner, Kent Couch, bought into the idea of craft-beer "growlers," where customers can sample and purchase beer on tap to take home.
The store started with eight fountain heads about two-and-a-half years ago and since "exploded" to where it offers 36 different flavors. It changes the taps five times a day, trying to keep up with what they believe to be a new customer base, coming specifically for the growler program.
Couch is a one-of-a-kind retailer. Besides unique ideas like a small roulette wheel where customers can arbitrarily win prizes to a 40-foot fueling hose for vehicles that have to park farther away from the island, Couch sailed into the air several years ago in a lawn chair borne aloft by dozens of helium balloons. The stunt brought national attention to him and his business.
The Ideas 2 Go video also presented an Internet cafe of cushy fluorescent-green armchairs set in a test store built in Frankfurt, Ill., and operated by Atlas Oil, Taylor, Mich., as well as the "world's classiest truckstop," in Portland, Ore., that features an upscale restaurant, movie theater, concert venue and a boot store run by a trained craftsman.