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Three Retailer Road Maps to Getting Stuff Done

CRU speakers detail their strategies for excellent customer service, promotions, ops

DALLAS -- Coming up with successful plans for in-store promotions and certain categories is tough enough. Executing them at the store level is a whole other wad of jerky. At Convenience Retailing University (CRU) in Dallas, in the Operational Success session moderated by Christine Lavelle, manager of CSPedia for CSP Business Media, three convenience store operators shared their road maps and plans for getting stuff done the right way in their retail outlets.

Christine Lavelle CSPedia Chuck Miller Colette Blount Frank White CRU (CSP Daily News / Convenience Stores / Gas Stations)

After Landmark Industries/Timewise bought 72 Shell locations in the Houston area about eight years ago, the company wanted to make sure consumers in the area knew the sites had changed hands.

"We wanted to get the [Timewise] name out there," said Chuck Miller, operations director for the Houston-based chain, which now has 210 stores. And so began the "Welcome to Timewise" campaign. The name was branded on signs, bags, uniforms and anything else that put it in front of customers, and employees were asked to greet people with that phrase.

Simple enough, right?

"It was tough," and it took a lot of follow-up in the stores, including corporate-level employees watching recordings of store interactions to make sure the message was being communicated to customers, Miller said. But after three months, it was making a difference. Miller said a pleasant surprise was customers calling the corporate office to compliment the service and friendly greetings.

Since then, Landmark has created two marketing coordinator positions. Once a marketing plan is created, Miller meets with territory managers two weeks before the promotions begin, and the marketing coordinators visit stores to examine the execution of the promotions. "They're another set of eyes," Miller said.

Colette Blount, director of marketing for Johnson Oil/Tiger Tote Stores, Gonzales, Texas, has a regimented plan in place for her stores' proprietary deli Mama's Kitchen. The delis, which are in 10 of the chain's 22 company-owned and -operated convenience stores, account for 18% of inside sales, so correct execution is critical.

Blount plans out limited-time offers (LTOs) for the delis three to six months in advance. After she and her staff choose the items, they test cooking methods and times, packaging and hold times, and they take photos of the items for signage. In monthly deli-manager meetings, they test the food and the managers get build-tos, costs and signage for the promotion. Two weeks prior to the promotion, stores get product to cook and test. One week prior, they get the signage and scan sheets. On the first day of the promotion, every store is visited to make sure the product is available to customers.

"We expect full participation by 8 a.m. on the first day," Blount said. And she expects no more than 20% spoilage and no less than 50% gross profit on the items. She measures success with a proprietary dashboard completed by deli managers that incorporates scan data.

Frank White, director of retail operations for Tri-State Petroleum, Wheeling, W.Va., said his 30 convenience stores distinguish themselves by "making sure the store staff is the fabric of the community." When a mystery shop for all stores on the customer experience averaged only 79.1% in October 2013, however, he began a campaign to boost that number and improve the interaction between customers and employees.

Along with training for standard behavior in the stores, White uses positive reinforcement to influence employee behavior. He began carrying around $5-$10 Marathon gift cards so he could instantly reward employees if they "hit all the customer touch points" during a transaction. White also started to email all store managers if one store scored 100% in a mystery shop.

The result? By December 2014, that mystery-shop average was up to 87.1%.

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