CHICAGO — The coronavirus pandemic has flipped the traditional convenience-store operating model on its head. Given the new norm the virus brings, retailers need to know how to adapt—and get ahead.
To help kick off Winsight’s new Outlook Leadership Community, Brad Duesler, founder and CEO of Food Concepts Inc., Middleton, Wis., a designer and builder of branded merchandisers and store decor elements for the c-store industry, spoke about how convenience stores can adapt and evolve amid the coronavirus pandemic. Duesler illustrates new roller-grill strategies, the pros and cons of delivery and curbside pickup and how retailers can build their brands around safety.
- Click here to register for Duesler’s on-demand webinars to find his full report and insights.
Here are five insights from Duesler’s webinars …
Roller grill solutions
Retailers may benefit from turning self-serve roller grills into full-service or pre-packaged formats, Duesler’s said.
Where counter space is available, full-service—also known as crew-serve—would work for roller-grill sales, he said. Operators can also add acrylic barriers to the backside of the grill for extra protection.
“It’s also important to have staff to accommodate peak time volume spikes,” he said.
When it comes to pre-packaged roller-grill items, operators can place wrap them in foil and place them in either ambient warmers or open-air warmers, Duesler said.
“This all helps keep hot dog sales available in unique formats,” he said. “We did some time and temperature testing directly on the grills in a number of devices, and [the] product tested well.”
If pre-packaged or self-serve roller-grill items aren’t preferred, retailers can consider using combo warmers and grills for these products, Duesler said. These warmers incorporate both a top and bottom rack to separate food that is cooking and food that is ready to serve.
“We've seen a number of people test this product out very successfully, but the idea is that you prepare the product on the bottom and then move it to the top for holding,” he said.
Many operators have implemented curbside pickup amid the pandemic—so what are the pros and cons to it?
“On the pro side, incremental revenue opportunity, especially during COVID-19,” Duesler said. “It's a way to keep foodservice sales going in an area that may have some restrictions and not be able to otherwise be open.”
Curbside pickup minimizes exposure and potential spread to employees and customers, Duesler said. Beyond that, it provides an opportunity for targeted menus and may provide higher margins for some operators.
On the opposite end, curbside pickup can increase packaging and labor costs, Deusler said. It also requires more attention to mobile ordering systems and food prep, which can get difficult.
Delivery has taken the c-store industry by storm. For starters, it expands a retailer’s customer and loyalty base, Deusler said. Delivery also communicates social consciousness during the pandemic by telling customers their brand wants to minimize COVID-19 exposure.
“[Delivery is] an opportunity to bundle food service and grocery together, and c-stores have a unique opportunity to sell products from both categories,” he said.
On the negative side, delivery may cause margin erosion due to third-party fees, Deusler said. Additionally, even if the third-party service messes up, the retailer is the face of the order—and takes the bullet for any poor experiences.
“One of the biggest concerns for retailers is a consumer thinks that whatever happens is your fault, and there could be refunds and things that have to be taken care of,” he said.
Deusler’s emphasized how retailers have an opportunity to make their brand become synonymous with safety. This is done by following mandates for masks, in-store signage, plexiglass barriers and other precautionary measures, he said.
“The iconic poster child for the pandemic is face masks, and branded face masks convey a strong message of safety,” he said. “It shows your brand is committed to best practices.”