from bubba to betty

For a channel centered around serving blue-collar, 18- to 35-year-old men, how can it evolve to attract the finer sex while not alienating its existing customers?

It’s no secret that women are a mystery. Ask any man who has ever tried to figure out how to attract a woman or make her happy. Many thought the Mel Gibson movie “What Women Want” might hold some answers, but it just had movie patrons wishing they kept their $8.

According to a Clickin Research Inc. (www.clickinresearch.com) study, the two genders aren’t that different when it comes to their shopping lists. Female customers reported shopping at c-stores for a number of categories, ranging from gas to snacks to cigarettes—and for some categories, they reported greater c-store purchases than men. In particular, women more frequently reported shopping for candy, snacks, beer/alcohol and cigarettes compared to their male counterparts. The most relevant aspects of c-stores to female shoppers are safety, store layout, food quality and motorist services, the study said.

But in measuring c-store visit frequency, one noticeable difference arose: female customers are more loyal than males. Although women tend to shop more frequently and at more different locations than men, women are loyal to their c-store, the study said.

These findings suggest that females are looking to c-stores to offer a sort of safe haven shopping environment in which the store layout is appealing, services are available to maintain their vehicles, food is fresh and sanitation processes are noticeably in place.

Eye Appeal
Marketing for a c-store starts with the site itself. Retailers need to create an inviting location for female shoppers.

“You want to draw attention to your place,” said Tim Tilford, vice president of marketing for Martin & Bayley dba Hucks Food and Fuel (Carmi, Ill.). “If there are three stores on three corners, what draws them to your store? You want to create an inviting atmosphere when a driver sees it from the street. Everything else needs to be refined from that.”

Quantitative Research is a firm that helps companies with site selection and design based on demographics, location, traffic and competition. Consultant John Wasson said that when the subject of women shoppers comes up with clients, more often than not the focus turns to security, more lights and lots of glass.

As Waycross, Ga.-based Flash Foods continues to grow its chain, it’s carefully remodeling existing stores and paying attention to the needs of female shoppers as it constructs new stores.

“Our newer locations are designed to be bright and attract female customers. Hopefully the mother riding down the street with her kids will be attracted to the bright, well-lit, clean store,” said Jenny Bullard, CIO of Flash Foods. She also feels that the company’s colors—blue and green—are pleasing to the eye and play a great role in drawing female customers.

Food and Facilities
According to the Clickin study, fresh foods and food quality-are high on the list of priorities for women shoppers. Microwaved burritos may have been enough to satisfy patrons at one time, but now operators are moving to fresh sandwiches, salads and higher-quality fare to give patrons variety.

But to grow confidence in any foodservice offer, customers need to know that there are equally high-quality facilities on the premises; i.e., restrooms.

“Restrooms are always very high on everyone’s radar. Women are especially particular when it comes to clean restrooms,” said Tilford. “Any company that’s best in class has that as part of their offer—well-lit buildings, safe-looking environment and clean restrooms.”

Restrooms are equally important to Flash Foods as the chain cultivates each site.

“Cleanliness of our restrooms have always been a high priority of Flash Foods,” said Bullard. “For our older stores, the bathroom may be small, but it is always kept clean. As we build and remodel stores, we try to incorporate larger restrooms.”

Inside Matching Outside
In an attempt to become more attractive to female shoppers, c-stores are cleaning up their acts—designing stores with wider aisles, less signage, better lighting and less clutter. But that puts pressure on brands to deliver more pullthrough per square inch of shelf space. And retailers still have to give ladies a reason to shop their stores.

Maryville, Tenn.-based Calloway Oil had invested a few years ago to install coupon dispensers at its gas pumps. The investment was hefty— about $4,000 at each of its sites—but in one month the chain printed at the pump and then redeemed in-store 1,672 coupons for free milk and 1,800 coupons for a free pint of ice cream.

Flash Food Stores has had a loyalty program in place for some time and the chain utilizes it to promote femalefriendly promotions.

“One way [our marketing team] is reaching out to females is with the promotions for our loyalty customers,” said Bullard. “One promo is two gallons of milk for $5 with a loyalty card. It’s typically aimed at a mother buying for her household, but it’s about getting her into our stores and hopefully buying more than just milk while she’s there.

“We also run promotions for cents off gas if customers come inside to pay,” she added. “We’re hoping that the hot Georgia weather will bring them in to pay and maybe buy a fountain drink, where we can make a higher margin.”

Today the loyalty program has about 360,000 members from 180 stores across two states. When a customer signs up for our loyalty card, Flash Foods asks them if they’re male or female, so it can go into the database and determine which products each gender is buying.

“We haven’t fully utilized it to that degree, but we want to delve more into the data and understand,” said Bullard.

Health and beauty have rarely had a strong focus in c-stores, but most operators carry a basic offering customers can use to fill-in shop. Bullard sees that c-stores have to break the stigma of how the category was handled in the past.

“Many years ago, when you walked into a c-store and bought a bottle of shampoo, you paid dearly for it,” she said. “Now pricing in c-stores is more in line with drug and grocery stores. We also sell items in our stores like pantyhose.”

Hucks Food and Fuel isn’t only keeping its pricing in line with grocery and drug stores, but it’s keeping a close eye on both channels when it comes to creating a product mix. As the company has tried to enhance its offer with energy drinks for women and enhance its HBC category, the company watches its competition to find what works. Since the company doesn’t have a lot to invest in focus groups, it’s willing to be slower into the marketplace if it means making a smarter decision.

“Like the rest of the country, we’re growing our HBA section—we’re looking to add a few cosmetic items, like nail polish,” said Tilford. “Right now we really don’t know which way to go, so we’re looking at a few drug stores and what they’re most popular items are.

“Lots of times it’s not about being first,” he added, “but a real close second that counts.”

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