Handing Out Coupons at Fuel Pumps Brings in Customers at Chicago-Area Rmarts C-Stores

Old-school promotion method still works, says Marketing Operations Manager Dan Razowsky, who also discusses with CSP how monthly face-to-face meetings build team trust
Dan Razowsky, marketing operations manager at Rmarts
Photograph, logo courtesy of Rmarts

Looking to the future and building a foodservice program with love and attention, the effect electric vehicles might have on c-stores, and how handing out paper coupons at the pumps brings in business—and more—were among the subjects CSP’s At Your Convenience podcast recently discussed with Dan Razowsky (pictured), marketing operations manager at Northbrook, Illinois-based Rmarts convenience stores.

Rmarts is a family-owned and -operated Chicago-area c-store chain that started in 1951 in downtown Chicago. With 11 locations today, Rmarts has evolved to emphasize convenience and community, where open-faced coolers and bean-to-cup coffee machines have replaced the auto repair bays of yesterday.

What follows is an edited transcript from the podcast:

At Your Convenience: Rmarts is an 11-store chain in the Chicago area. How does your small size help your company?

Razowsky: We're able to know each of the managers, their names and their teams more on a personal level. Just being local, everything's within a 45-minute drive, so I think that’s a big, big benefit. We have a manager meeting once a month where we all get together, and I think that personal face-to-face really builds a big trust within our team.

At Your Convenience: I’m guessing you have more of a family feel to your company than some behemoth?

Razowsky: Yes, it's totally family. We are a family company, and I would say it’s like a larger family. Knowing every person's name, it does feel like family for all of us for sure.

“If we want to grow, we have to be more consistent doing similar things in every store.”

At Your Convenience: Does that pose any challenges being a smaller operation?

Razowsky: I think the big thing is just getting the operations and the step-by-step down. And, you know, there’s so many little pieces to the operations of each store doing their own thing, but we all have to start doing similar things so not every store is doing their own thing. Those are the biggest challenges that we face. If we want to grow, we have to be more consistent doing similar things in every store.

At Your Convenience: So you want continuity among your stores—like how a Big Mac tastes the same anywhere you go?

Razowsky: Exactly. We try to follow the chain of command, and it helps just who’s communicating with who and it helps to be more clear on direction with what everyone needs to be doing and whatnot.

At Your Convenience: Could you talk a little bit about anything you’re doing with foodservice, limited-time offers and how they may or may not be helping your business?

Razowsky: Regarding LTOs, I would say we’re on the smaller end of things. We have open-face coolers and planograms for those. We have a team member who manages the open-face coolers, and every manager meeting they talk about how we’re doing and how the top three stores are doing. And then we’ll adjust to see what’s working, what’s not working. When we go to trade shows or something like that, we’re always looking for new and exciting stuff, so that’s the nice thing about us too, is we’re able to react quickly, and if we want to try something, let’s try it. We’ll try one or two stores to see if it does well, and if it does, then we’ll roll it out to all the other stores. Two of our stores have a pizza program, and we’re actually expanding the second one starting Monday. And then we have a roller grill; we have two brand-new roller grills.

“I’m looking at things that are trending in the right direction, and foodservice is one of those things, absolutely.”

With our LTOs, it’s nothing crazy. We offer more of the top sellers. We haven’t quite gotten to that fancy route of LTOs yet. And I think the big fear for us as a smaller operator is will it work? How much waste is it going to be? I think that’s a big fear as a smaller operator: Just how much are we throwing away? And we’re working really hard not to think that way because we know that’s not how we grow this thing. We want to make sure everything looks full and the customer is not going to be taking the last item.

At Your Convenience: Can you give one or two examples of what’s going to be on the grill?

Razowsky: We have Ballpark hot dogs and then usually two different styles of Tornadoes. We try to have at least 16 things on the roller grill at all times. I’m in my early 30s, so I’m looking into the future, and I know we have to start working in that direction. Getting new equipment is a big step for us.

At Your Convenience: Can you elaborate a little bit on that?

Razowsky: I always look at it like: What’s the industry going to look like? Are electric cars going to start taking over a business, and will I still be doing what I'm doing 25 years from now?  I’m constantly looking at the 10-year vision, redoing things, looking at whether the gas volume and cigarettes are starting to trend in the wrong direction. I’m looking at things that are trending in the right direction, and foodservice is one of those things, absolutely. In the family business, we’ve never really focused on foodservice, and we know it’s important. Foodservice is new for us in the sense of us giving it a lot more love and attention. Creating planograms, that's new for us—and just giving it a little bit more attention with analytics.

At Your Convenience: Are there any trends in foodservice that you’ve seen in the last six months, one year, 18 months that you’ve embraced or avoided?

Razowsky: I would say the biggest thing is getting our team on board with it. We’ve been creating coupons and making sure a team member goes out to the pump and gives out at least 15, 20 coupons for a special deal, whether it’s a pizza program or the coffee program we’re rolling out, to get them from the pump to the door.

“We’ve been creating coupons and making sure a team member goes out to the pump and gives out at least 15, 20 coupons for a special deal.”

At Your Convenience: So they will literally go out and hand out paper coupons?

Razowsky: Yep. We just have a simple coupon—old school. We have signage and all that stuff, but you know, it’s more immediate and effective. It’s been a really good way for us to jumpstart these programs. We’ve been buying like 500 coupons, and we’ll give them 30 days. We’ll hand out 15, 20 a day at the pumps.

At Your Convenience: If someone’s buying a snack or a beverage in your store, do you have a strategy to get them to buy more foodservice to up the sales?

Razowsky: The biggest thing we do is we have a promotion sheet that I release to our managers, and we choose four top things we really want to focus on, such as a twofer on Red Bull. We really are trying to push categories in the right direction and kind of ingrain in our cashiers to talk about upselling.

At Your Convenience: Did you say there’s four categories you focus on?

Razowsky: Yes. We rotate the categories, selecting the four that need the most over a set period of time.

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