One of the biggest challengesconvenience store owners continueto face is developing aneffective product assortmentthat fits into a small footprint while makingsure it still meets the customers’ needs.To overcome this challenge, more retailersare putting a heavy emphasis on displaysand merchandisers. And with foodserviceemerging as one of the store’s hottestcommodities, suppliers are answeringthe call by providing a new array ofmerchandising options.
Sharon Townson is one retailer whounderstands the importance of an efficientdisplay unit. Townson co-owns andmanages the 1st Stop Convenience store,which operates inside a busy federalbuilding in Dallas. The store is considerablysmaller than the industry average at1,000 sq. ft., meaning Townson has to getthe maximum value out of each inch ofselling space in the store.
“We use a lot of one- and two-doormerchandisers to carry a variety of graband-go products,” explained Townson,who relies on an array of True brandmerchandisers. “The refrigerated openairmerchandisers work best for sellingour sandwiches.”
Placement of the displays and merchandiserscan sometimes cause an issuefor retailers, since a few feet of space canbe the difference between an item meetingsales projections or being completelyignored. Townson realizes her storethrives on the time-starved breakfast andlunch dayparts, so she focuses all of hergrab-and-go foods towards the back.
“When you walk into our store, all thefood is on the right towards the back,”said Townson. “Because of the location ofour store, we have a captured customerbase of about 3,000 people who are lookingfor a quick lunch solution. By puttingthe lunch products in the back, we’re gettingthe customers to look at everythingelse the store has to offer on the way.”
Catching the Customers Eye
Little General Convenience Stores, a 40-store chain based in Union City, Tenn., isanother chain that has a heavy emphasison foodservice. Like 1st Stop, the companyreceives a strong repeat daypart businessas a result of its proprietary food line,which includes fried chicken and a largevariety of made-to-order sandwiches. Butunlike many chains that focus their foodservicedisplays in the middle of the storeor even toward the back, Little Generalkeeps them upfront in close proximity tothe cashier and supports them with a systemof countertop warmers.
“We wanted our food to be right inthe customers’ face from the momentthey walked into the store,” said DawnLampkins, foodservice director. “We positionthe food where it is easy for employeesto access the warmers, while still keepingit convenient for the customers.”
Along with making it easier for customers,Lampkins said the positioninggives a sense of flow to the customers’shopping patterns.
“Many customers who come in immediatelywalk toward the cooler doorsor the fountain, which lands themin front of the countertop displays,”Lampkins said. “It’s important that the store has flow and customers can easilyget what they need and get out in atimely manner.”
The sense of flow the store createsworks well. Due to the position of thecountertop warmers, the chain routinelysells out of its pre-made proprietarybreakfast and lunch sandwiches. Thekey, Lampkins added, is the large varietyof sandwiches that the countertopwarmer is able to hold in small amount ofspace provided.
Pay to Play
Hot and cold merchandisers are anintegral part of the foodservice programat Kwik Chek Inc. The 34-store chainbased in Bonham, Texas is partnered witha number of popular foodservice brandssuch as Hot Stuff Foods and Subway aswell as its own proprietary service, TheKC Grill, which offers a menu of madeto-order burgers, sandwiches and salads.The company uses everything from openaircoolers to countertop warmers from avariety of companies like Hatco, HennyPenny and Alto-Sham.
But while merchandisers are a powerfulasset for the chain, it can sometimesprove to be a costly one as well. Electricityand energy costs are something that havebecome more of a concern for the chain when it comes to the use of merchandisingunits and heating or cooling displays.
“A problem we run into with equipmentis not only the electrical requirements, butalso the heat it puts off,” said Kevin Smartt,president of Kwik Chek. “Even if you’replacing something like an open-air reachinbox into your store, you really have toconsider the sales volume it makes comparedto the electricity it requires, alongwith how much heat it could put offwithin the store, which can hurt us on anumber of levels.”
For many years, the chain struggledwith the downside that came with theseunits. About four years ago, the companyinvested in not only more efficient units,but also developed new ways to approachthe problem.
“We developed a calculation for determiningour electricity and refrigerationcosts,” said Smartt. “We are also sure tokeep in touch with our heating and airconditioning department to make surethat the costs from running all this equipmentalong with the air conditioning isn’tgoing to put us in a bind.”