As gasoline remains at motorist-pleasing prices this year, convenience store operators need something other than low gas prices to make their spot the spot. This is where branding can come into play.
Some retailers already have a firm grasp on branding. For others, there are plenty of ways to improve their branding so that consumers pull up to the pump and then head into the store, according to Joe Bona, retail division president at New York-based branding agency CBX.
For c-store retailers looking to create a new brand, or for those looking to improve upon an unsuccessful brand, the first step is to focus on things consumers might immediately recognize, according to Bona. What's the name of the store? What does the logo look like? What are the colors? What is the architecture? "Those are the tangible things people see and remember when they walk away from the store," he explained.
Once these questions have been answered, an emphasis should be placed on something the c-store is known for. Regional powerhouses Wawa Inc. and Sheetz Inc. are great examples of c-store retailers that have become famous in the minds of their customers, said Bona.
FINDING THE SWEET SPOT IN CIGARS
Much of the buzz in the tobacco category today centers on vapor products and whether or not traditional cigarettes are on their way out. But let's not forget about cigars.
The cigar segment has seen an explosion of new brands, sizes and flavors, according to Chris Beaulier, director of retail operations at Cigaret Shopper, a chain of tobacco shops operating throughout the state of Maine.
Each cigar package size offers good and not-so good points, according to Beaulier. For example, foil pouches provide a wide variety of assortment flavors and are popular with young adult tobacco consumers. On the other hand, the sheer number of SKUs available and constant new product innovation add to the challenge of managing the cigar segment.
As for five-packs, they are staple items -- typically high-volume items that withstand the test of time and appeal to the mature adult tobacco consumer. However, their downside is that in higher-tax jurisdictions, these packages carry a higher price point.
What is the key to finding the sweet spot? The answer is to take cues from customers and follow the trends. Becoming obsolete as a retailer will "drive your customers to the competition," Beaulier noted. "All customers, regardless of base size, want choice. There is no way to know what the customer is looking for. The only way to know is to ask them, get their feedback."
Turkey is not just for Thanksgiving anymore. Turkey mentions in entrees on convenience store menus increased 11.7 percent in the first quarter of 2015, according to Technomic's MenuMonitor database.
And what's more, c-stores have a leg up on competitors in regards to turkey options. While turkey does not appear on the menu at all restaurants (only 47.8 percent), it is offered at the majority of c-stores (60 percent) -- the most common offering being sandwiches.
Several c-store chains have added signature turkey sandwiches in the last few months. RaceTrac Petroleum debuted two turkey sandwiches earlier this year: a Southwest Turkey Ciabatta Sandwich and a Turkey Club Pretzel Sandwich. Tedeschi Food Shops also introduced two turkey handhelds: a Blackened Turkey Pepper Sandwich and a Bold Blackened Turkey Caesar Wrap.