Feeding the Soul

Full coverage of CSPs Outlook Leadership conference.

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Green Sheen

CSP honors Spinx, Boyett, Thorntons for environmental stewardship

In the three years since CSP launched its Environmental Stewardship Awards, “sustainability” has moved beyond a catchphrase, and the ideas that were transformational at that time have now become foundational to business.

Stewart Spinks’ interest in environmental projects began much the way many of his innovations started: by understanding what consumers want.

When Spinks, CEO of The Spinx Corp., first installed pay-at-the-pump in the early 1990s, he got a big hug from a customer who appreciated the fact she no longer had to haul her children into the store each time she got gas.

Ever since, Spinks’ determination to spur similar reactions has led to numerous innovations— from fresh food to cash acceptors in the pump, what he calls “making life easier for customers.”

But it’s environmental stewardship that has taken hold in a range of projects—from energy-efficient lighting and car-washwater recycling to motion-sensitive lighting, skylights, E85 and, most recently, being among the first retailers to test electric-vehicle charging at his stores in South Carolina.

“The simple matter of fact is that this is a viable alternative for automobiles in the future,” Spinks said. “But we haven’t figured out how we collect [on it]. … We just want to send the message to the consumer that if this is what you prefer, we’re there to take care of it for you.”

Retailer Thorntons Inc.’s commitment to environmental stewardship comes in the form of a promise: a “Green Promise” to consumers that highlights how the Kentucky-based chain is helping the environment.

“We’re telling our consumers that we want to be environmentally friendly. We’re trying to do more recycling, LED lighting, using less electricity in the store, but still having the store bright and safe,” said John Zikias, vice president of sales and marketing.

E85, biodiesel, LED lighting on the canopies and in the cold vault, separate dumpsters for trash and recycling, and daylight harvesting or the use of natural light whenever possible to cut down on electric lighting in the company’s stores: The list goes on as Thorntons finds green design equivalent to smart design.

“People say, ‘I didn’t know you we’re doing these things with LED lighting,’ ” Zikias said, “and in a lot of cases, that’s what we want. We want them not to notice the difference that we’re using LED lighting in the vault—only that it looks a lot better.”

During early discussions about capitalizing on the growing green trend, executives at Boyett Petroleum’s Cruisers stores outlined 117 ideas.

“We cut our paper use by 75% in the office,” said Dale Boyett, president of Boyett Petroleum. “But we wanted something that would get us out into the community so the community would know we were green.”

With this goal of localizing its environmental efforts, Cruisers developed the “B Green” initiative, which takes the form of a recycling program with immediate and recognizable results. In this case, those results came in the form of local dog park.

With fliers posted in stores and local radio stations as cosponsors, Cruisers has also held several B Green Recycling Days, during which the chain, working with the Modesto Junk Co. and others, collected paper, bottles, cans, scrap metal, electronics, printer cartridges and more to raise money by selling the scrap for recycling. Boyett Petroleum matches all the money raised, donating it to the City of Modesto “adopt a park program.”

Twenty tons of recyclable waste and $30,000 later, for Cruisers, the partnership has had another remarkable result.

“It’s great public awareness,” Boyett said. “At this point, when Modesto has an Earth Day [event], the person they contact to do all the recycling is the local petroleum company. … That’s a 180-degree change from what people would think of a petroleum company being.”

Working on First Impressions

Mystery-shop participants discuss elements that win customer loyalty

In its several years of existence, the CSP-Service Intelligence Mystery Shop has evolved from a special project that rated chains’ operational compliance to one that highlights the power of stellar customer service.

In a breakfast panel moderated by CSP group editor Mitch Morrison, three retailer participants in the annual mystery shop joined Darcy Paulsen, senior director of business development for Service Intelligence, in parsing the many factors that, combined, win a customer’s loyalty.

Dan McMahon, executive vice president of operations for Sheetz Inc.—winner of the 2011 CSP-Service Intelligence Mystery Shop—said the chain’s strong showing is indicative of the culture established inside each Sheetz store. “You can’t rule-book everything,” McMahon said.

“You have to make sure the store environment is conducive to that behavior.” Sheetz, Altoona, Pa., led a field of 10 chains in customer service and exterior cleanliness. It also ranked in the top three or four brands for most of the 27 metrics examined in the mystery shop.

“We have to use empowerment,” although retailers must give their employees the tools, said John Zikias, vice president of sales and marketing for Thorntons Inc., Louisville, Ky. For Thorntons—which clinched third place in the 2011 mystery shop—delighting the customer is a core value. In the past, however, store employees did not know what they were allowed to do to meet that objective. To make it easier, Thorntons added a “delight the customer” button to its POS so employees could account for any discounts or merchandise gifted to unhappy customers.

Paulsen agreed that “you can’t rulebook everything,” but said that employees do need to be coached on customer service. “Connect the dots between what their role is and what the company is trying to accomplish,” he urged.

The Pantry Inc., Cary, N.C., has been building customer loyalty through promotions aimed at supporting the military and celebrating college sports. Dave Henninger, vice president of marketing, said both are examples of “passion points.” The “Salute Our Troops” donation campaign is on track to generate more than $2 million to support the USO, Wounded Warrior Project and other military support organizations.

Meanwhile, the Battle for Bean Street coffee promotion—wherein customers buying a cup of coffee can choose between a Duke University, North Carolina State or University of North Carolina basketball-themed cup—has proven another success. The company’s Kangaroo Express brand ranked tops for having the cleanest coffee areas in the 2011 mystery shop.

“If you can find a passion point, you can take buying a cup of coffee to a whole new level,” he said.

When asked to share an “Achilles’ heel” of the customer experience, Henninger highlighted restroom cleanliness: “We have to find people who get hospitality. … We have to build a people culture that has great restrooms.”

Zikias of Thorntons said suggestive selling is an area for improvement. The chain actually ranked first in suggestive selling, although its rate was 38.9%. Indeed, all of the participants in the 2011 CSP-Service Intelligence Mystery Shop scored below 39% for suggestive selling—although some, such as QuikTrip, have a policy not to suggestive sell.

McMahon said speed of service needed some work at Sheetz. “We’re trying to balance customer friendliness with speed,” he said, citing that most customers will tolerate slower service as long as employees apologize for the wait and keep them informed. Part of the challenge is the inherent time-consuming quality of Sheetz’s made-to-order sandwich offering.

“It’s like being the 10th car in the drive-thru,” he said of waiting for a made-to-order product; that is, you sacrifice speed for another benefit—in this case, a custom-made product. However, customers still expect service to be “fast enough.”

Paulsen observed that from the perspective of a customer waiting in line, each actual minute feels like 3 minutes. “Once you build the customer experience, they’re more flexible with that,” he said.

Food Trucks: Driving Opportunity?

If Ray Villaman’s friends told him decades ago that someday he’d be in the food-truck business, he would have told them they were crazy.

Back then, Villaman, president of Los Angeles-based Mobi-Munch Inc., thought of them as the so-called “roach coaches” and “hot trucks” that provided a quick bite for construction and industrial workers.

But in 2008, everything changed when Roy Choi, who couldn’t afford to start a brick-and-mortar restaurant, launched his Kogi BBQ Taco truck. Promoting the truck and providing where it would be located using Twitter and Facebook, Choi had more than $2 million in sales his first year. Today, Choi has five trucks and more than 80,000 followers on Twitter.

More than that, however, in Los Angeles alone, there are now 4,000 licensed food trucks, with many gourmet trucks as part of the “modern food truck movement.” (The Mobi-Munch website helps customers track 400 of the gourmet trucks.) Villaman said, “Many people thought it was a fad; it’s a trend and it’s here to stay.”

Food trucks might be seen teaming up with venues, such as popular bars, that don’t serve food, or providing catering for events. They’re also often invited to the parking lots of big-box retailers, such as Home Depot, “because they know it’s a draw, they know it’s a traffic generator,” Villaman said.

And therein lies the opportunity for c-stores. While Home Depot might seek the traffic a food truck can bring, a c-store with a parking lot in a prime location could take advantage of that traffic, as well as make a profit from the truck itself. “If your property is that valuable, these food trucks would pay anywhere from an average 8% to 10% of their sales back to the business that invited them to that property,” he said.

Food trucks are not without their challenges—such as vendor and inventory management, maintaining and servicing trucks and stocking and cleaning trucks. But, Villaman said, “What a nice situation to be in where you’re mostly serving as a landlord because you have the right location and you have a high visibility—and there’s a multitude of cuisines you can provide to your customer and take a cut of their sales.” 




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