Finding the Passion

Boyett, Top Star Express offer examples of successful grass-roots marketing

Jennifer Bulat, Group Director of Editorial Production, CSP

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Tapping into customers' passion--and having them become passionate about a store's retail brand--is the key to successful grass-roots marketing. Two retailers shared how they are creating passionate customers in the breakout session "Grass Roots Marketing: Building Community One Store at a Time" at CSP's Convenience Retailing University in Glendale, Ariz.

For Boyett Petroleum, the process started with finding the right person for the job--someone who is passionate about connecting with customers, and perhaps well-connected in the community via media or [image-nocss] causes, according to Scott Castle, vice president of retail operations. Once it had someone to run the initiative, Boyett abandoned its old, tired website and created a new one behind its Cruisers retail brand.

The company established a presence on Facebook a year ago and on Twitter in January. Customers who "follow" Cruisers on Facebook are rewarded with a free refillable coffee mug. Soon the company will introduce a feature called Gas Genius in its Twitter feed, which alerts folks two hours before gasoline prices are changed at Cruisers locations, allowing them to fill up before a price goes up or wait a few hours until it goes down.

Boyett also gets in touch with customers by sponsoring local happenings such as the Gallo Arts Show. At that event, the company offered attendees a spin on the Cruisers prize wheel if they filled out a card including their email address. Castle estimates that for an initial investment of $695, the company's presence at that event was worth $65,000. After the event, sales went up in area stores by 6% to 16%.

The company also hosts B Green Collection Days, during which customers can bring in recyclable items; Boyett matches the dollar value of the items. The money raised goes to Modesto's parks and recreation department. Some of the funds will be used to build a dog park.

The key, Castle (pictured) said, is creating experiential or lifestyle events for customers that involve the Cruisers brand. "We want to be a part of their life--not just a point in the middle they go to in their daily life," he said. "If you can engage [customers] on an emotional level, you've got 'em."

Megan Stark, operations manager for Top Star Express, Allentown, Pa., has to get creative when planning grassroots events. Top Star does not have a budget for such things for its 30 stores, nor does it have the brand awareness of its three biggest competitors: Sheetz, Wawa and Turkey Hill.

Top Star frequently partners with local radio stations on events, which puts the Top Star name out there (for free) every time the event is mentioned on air. In one instance, it sponsored a local country-music station in a "penny war." At Top Star Express front counters, customers were greeted with bins asking them to donate their pennies to one of two local radio personalities. Once the voting was over and one personality was crowned the winner, the pennies were donated to St. Jude's Children's Hospital. The first year of the penny war brought in $6,000 in pennies. Top Star also partnered with another station to create a cookbook with local recipes. Radio listeners and Top Star customers sent in their favorite recipes, and the resulting cookbooks (including a Top Star coupon) were sold at Top Star stores for $5.

Getting involved with charities helps customers donate to events that may be close to their hearts. "Who you help has to align with your customer," Stark said. An added bonus of working with charities: They have huge databases of people who have donated in the past, including email lists, which they frequently will share.

A big part of getting customers involved with charitable endeavors includes letting them know how much of their money went to the charity involved, Stark said. For example, if a chain works to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association, customers like to hear how many kids were able to go on a trip or to camp because of their donations.

Stark also suggested creating an event calendar for each store, including activities such as local sporting events and church fundraisers. That way each store manager will know when to stock up on supplies that customers will need for the events--i.e., extra sports drinks in stock when there's a baseball tournament down the street.

"Take care of the people who take care of you," Stark said.

By Jennifer Bulat, Group Director of Editorial Production, CSP
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