Would You Like Wi-Fi With That?

Wi-Fi is a trendy offering customers are clamoring for, and it’s starting to appear at more c-store locations, including BP, Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes and Rutter’s Farm Stores, especially as chains expand their foodservice programs and look for new ways to pull foot traffic into the store.

Coffee shops, such as Starbucks have long attracted customers into their locations with help from free wireless Internet options. As QSRs follow suit, c-stores with competing foodservice offerings are starting to feel the heat.
Beginning in mid-January, McDonald’s restaurants became one of the nation’s largest providers of free Wi-Fi Internet access as part of a new deal with AT&T. The QSR chain now provides free Internet access to 11,000 of the company’s 13,000 U.S. locations. AT&T charges $2.95 for two-hours of Internet access, but customers who already have a wireless plan through AT&T get free Wi-Fi access when they visit an AT&T hotspot, like McDonald’s. 

“A lot of customers want free Wi-Fi. Since we are on a busy interstate we feel it’s a nice perk to offer customers who have been on the road,” said Chris Savard, operator of Mighty Mart Convenience Stores in Fort Morgan, Colo.

At the grand opening of the company’s new store off Interstate 76, the company debuted its new free wireless service to entice customers. The store also has high speed diesel pumps to appeal to truckers. Having operated his own trucking businesses for 20 years before embarking on his c-store venture, Savard knows well that a wireless offering will appeal to truckers and other commuters. “We have a little lounge they can sit in with a sofa and chairs, so they can check their email and take a break from the road,” he said,

Fare Game
Savard is also hopeful that the wireless option will drive the store’s foodservice offering. The 2,800 square foot Mighty Mart sits on the site of a former Loaf ‘N Jug that closed two years ago and also includes an additional 2,800 square feet of restaurant space left from an A&W restaurant. Savard is using that space for a food court that includes Chester’s chicken, Hunt Brothers Pizza and a proprietary burrito program.

While the wireless service at Savard’s store is free, he may consider adding enhanced high speed Wi-Fi at an additional cost. “We know other truck stops do it, but for right now we just opened and are trying to get people in the door, so we’re making it a free service.”

Larger chains are investing in similar strategies. BP, for example, has an agreement with HarborLink to provide free Wi-Fi at participating retail locations and has installed wireless hotspots at more than 100 BP sites across the U.S. and more are planned in the coming months.

Rutter’s Farm Stores, which has more than 55 stores in Pennsylvania, has been offering wireless for about eight months now at its 37 or so stores that offer foodservice. “We look at it as a unique offering for customers that sets us apart from other stores, particularly restaurants,” said Scott Hartman, president of the York, Pa. chain.

More importantly, Rutter’s customers have expressed gratitude for the service. “We get emails from customers thanking us for it, or if we’re having some sort of network issue we get customers asking about that and wondering when it’s coming back up. So the customer response seems quite positive,” said Hartman. “We see the same people drinking a cup of coffee and connected to the Internet day after day, so it has an appeal to a group of people and that is good for business.” CSD

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