CHICAGO -- As college students anxiously pack their belongings and organize daily schedules for a new school year, one thing is certain: It’s officially back-to-school season. The school-year kickoff is not only important for universities, but also for convenience stores—especially those in communities where students make up a large segment of the population during the school year.
Ensuring students get their fix of energy drinks and late-night snacks equals big bucks for c-store operators, and noting what their young consumers look for in a quality establishment remains key.
Here are three c-store aspects that 18- to 22-year-olds—the majority of college students—rated with highest importance via Technomic’s Consumer Brand Metrics program. Consumer Brand Metrics surveys about 700 recent customers per chain.
1. Clean up
Technomic data shows c-store cleanliness is critical, as 44.2% of students say it’s important the kitchen—if visible—is clean, while 40.4% say the same for restrooms and 35.9% say so for the main floor. Cleanliness not only matters for the sake of bringing in customers, but also for keeping stores open in general.
A Los Angeles-based 7-Eleven, for instance, temporarily closed and had its health permit suspended earlier this year due to a cockroach infestation, according to a report in the Los Angeles Daily News. Although many college students are known to live in unsanitary environments, even this uncleanly trait would likely sway them from the closest c-store.
2. Enhance taste and quality
Over 45% of students say the taste and flavor of food served is an important aspect in their preferred c-store, while 42.2% say the same for food quality.
Circle K—the second largest c-store chain in the United States—recently installed a new made-to-order food model in a few Midwest locations, and it’s been a hit among consumers, the company said. Circle K Director of Marketing Mark Dalesandro said the model’s success is due to increased attention to detail regarding food production. “We make sure we keep our [pizza] dough, cheese and sauce fresh all the time,” he said. “This focus on fresh has helped create quality product.” Circle K’s Midwest division includes Bloomington, Ind., home to Indiana University, where the 40,000-plus students represent a hefty portion of the area’s c-store consumers.
3. Give some bang for their buck
Nearly 40% of consumers say it's important that c-stores offer good value through low prices.
East Coast chain QuickChek, for instance, offers a multitude of daily specials, including 99-cent handcrafted iced coffee, 6-inch sub sandwiches for $3, and a “happy hour” special featuring any size fountain drink for 99 cents if purchased between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Over 3,500 students at Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City, N.J., are just a few miles from the nearest QuickChek location in Bayonne, N.J., where they can serve as a main driver of consumption for the store.
College students—at times—tend to lack finances, so this is one factor c-store operators may ultimately benefit from.