Once Upon a Limited-Time Offer
New, different products can boost business—or cause heartburn
Fresh flowers sparked new sales at Landmark Enterprises’ Timewise stores, enough so that one limited-time offer has led to another.
“We brought in flowers from a local supplier for Valentine’s Day and might do it again for Mother’s Day,” says Martha Flint, category manager for Landmark Industries, Houston.
Landmark is hardly alone. The limited-time offer (LTO) is a staple across the c-store industry, from the one- and two-store operators to chains with hundreds. But execution and success vary wildly, according to those who watch trends or offer consulting services to retailers.
Some chains have a different LTO every month, while others find that three or four a year are manageable. A special offer can be a way to test new products that then become part of the regular offerings, from food items to candy, lighters or flowers. An LTO can also give retailers the opportunity to add variety while keeping the menu tight.
Seasonal offerings around food and beverages are common, and other popular categories for LTOs include candy, snacks, energy and general merchandise.
“People are looking for ‘new’ and ‘different’ all the time, and competition is high, so we have new offers all the time,” says Jennifer Vespole, director of foodservice for Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based QuickChek. “This winter has been a bit of a struggle” to keep traffic flowing into the company’s 138 stores amid ongoing lackluster employment in the Northeast and fierce winter weather, she says.
QuickChek’s biggest success came last summer with a premium sub sandwich— the Turkey Avocado Supreme—that enabled the chain to extend a line item at a good price. Vespole anticipates something similar this summer.
“We rotate LTOs in and out all the time. Key is finding items at $1.99 or less; that seems to be the magic price point,” she says. Cheeseburger Egg Rolls are proving to be a winner this year. “They really are good,” she says. Last summer, it was popcorn chicken that drew in customers.
Vendors, of course, play a main role in successful LTOs. Marketing support is a natural, but vendors can also be proactive in understanding the c-store consumer and developing products that fit well.
Nashville, Tenn.-based Hunt Bros. Pizza added a new pie for retailers this winter, starting the year with the Italian Meats pizza in time for the Super Bowl and winter Olympics. “The pizza features three layers of meats, holds up well in the warmer and is easy for store personnel to handle,” says Keith Solsvig, director of marketing for Hunt Bros. “Stores love that it’s all premade.”