An Essential Rite of Spring

Joe Vonder Haar, Co-Founder, iSee Store Innovations

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As winter draws to an end, the rites of the season manifest themselves. Spring-break trips to warmer climates beckon as the Grapefruit League gets under way, holding the promise of warm summer days. For the convenience retailing industry, this season signals the time to change up the product mix for warmer sales. And the annual NACS State of the Industry Sum­mit must be right around the corner. As on opening day, we all celebrate the excitement and promise of the new season.

Prior to my first SOI, I asked my boss, “Do I have to go?” As an account handler, I was thinking purely of the selling time. But that first SOI changed my thinking dramatically. I was amazed at the metrics that told the story of this industry: credit-card swipe fees, break-even models for fuel sales, and razor-thin operating margins. It made me begin to think outside my own category. With beer part of the core store offering and a true destination, it became clear that to grow our business, we would need to have a deeper understanding of the overall business. The summit became core in driving our c-store sales.

In my previous life selling beer, SOI attendance became mandatory for anyone dealing with c-stores. Each attendee was required to come back with something unique that they had discovered. The port­folio of information we gathered, com­bined with existing market research and syndicated data, helped to put together powerful tools for all of us to use.

What the Data Can Do

For CPG companies, attending the meet­ing can help with selling to external and internal customers. The information garnered at SOI armed our team with hard facts to support investment in the convenience industry; it cost-justified several single-serve innovations, such as three-pack 24-ounce cans and the launch of the Chelada brand. The need for sup­port of foodservice initiatives became self-evident, and cross-merchandising for unique c-store products gained momen­tum. The SOI data laid a foundation for investing based upon retail realities.

Also, the SOI provided us with the tools for educating our distribution sys­tem. There is no better sales tool than an informed system. Ongoing updates on the unique situation facing all c-store operators better prepared our whole­salers. Sales calls could begin with the fundamental empathy that is the core of any successful sales relationship. Under­standing the importance of new products and foodservice tie-ins to the store helped to open a dialogue that set the tone for better business. At AB, we updated our wholesaler team quarterly on key indus­try trends outside of the beer category.

Finally, and most important, the SOI data was the foundation for our c-store strategy. The opening dialogue of every major top-to-top meeting started with, “This is how we understand your industry situation, and here are the resources we are bringing to help you.” This approach paid dividends because it demonstrated to our customers that we understood what they were facing.

Knowledge is a powerful resource, and knowledge deployment at the SOI Sum­mit keeps getting better. Previously, the limited time of the meeting, coupled with an abundance of data and insights, inhib­ited deep dives at the category level. With the addition of category breakouts, led by leading suppliers, the meeting now offers the opportunity to gain greater insights into the industry’s most relevant categories.

Make It Work for You

With the SOI Summit right around the corner, how do we continue to grow the value of this rite of spring?

For suppliers:

  • Be an internal c-store champion. Leverage the data and sell the value of this industry to those in your company who need to understand.
  • Continue to educate your total system on the unique fundamentals of the industry.
  • Ensure that your selling strategy starts with the situation that c-stores are facing.

For retailers:

  • Embrace the supplier community that is investing their time and efforts in this key event, and continue to allow them the networking that, by nature, all sales people crave.
  • Take advantage of the breakout ses­sions for a deeper look at how to improve sales in your most important categories.

I look forward to seeing you April 9-11, when you might find a supplier who understands exactly what you need.

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