As competition increases from drug stores, fast-food restaurants and coffeehouse, communicating a clear branding strategy is timely and vital.
The forecourt is more important than ever, especially as gas prices are rising at a fast clip. Fewer trips mean fewer opportunities to market through the forecourt, so retailers must use every strategy to drive store traffic and grow in-store sales.
Whether it’s pumptoppers, interactive pump videos, vending machines at the fuel island or outdoor displays that offer 12-packs and washer fluid, c-store owners are finding new options to do just that. The key to success is having products visible and priced attractively.
The most impressive forecourt marketing results come not from one big effort, but from the cumulative effect of many smaller ones, said Rick Dery senior vice president of branded marketing and chief marketing officer for Gulf Oil. Since Dery assumed his post five years ago, he’s instituted a number of changes and improvements that have seen average monthly sales at Gulf retail sites soar by 30%.
One of Dery’s current marketing programs is “Making Green Miles,” a social networking program that allows people to go online and share ideas about what they do to offset their carbon footprint.
“We’re trying to reach out to a whole new audience,” Dery said. “Every year, between 12 and 13 million new drivers enter the market. We recognize that electronic communications media are a viable way to get our message to them, especially on an interactive basis.”
This marketing effort includes a growing array of forecourt marketing that includes beverages, automobile accessories and pumptopper displays to communicate in-store specials. “The marketing effort doesn’t stop once we communicate with the customer,” Dery said. “Then the tactic becomes executing transactions and keeping them as loyal customers.”
NOCO Express, a 30-store chain in New York State has added a propane tank exchange programs to the front of its stores through a partnership with Blue Rhino. The program allows customers to drop off any empty propane tank and pick up a filled one. “It’s an easy, turnkey program, and it doesn’t take up much space,” said Terry Messmer, NOCO Express merchandising manager.
7-Eleven is using forecourt space to promote Redbox DVD kiosks. For 7-Eleven and NOCO the primary motivating factor is driving business by offering convenience.“For the price of a single movie ticket, a family of four can rent a just-released movie at redbox,” said Kevin Elliott, 7-Eleven’s senior vice president of merchandising. “I think more and more people will recognize the great value of this new convenience.”
Every retail and franchise store has experienced the frustration of needing exterior signage on deadline. The problem is that large national sign vendors are simply not equipped to move quickly. When time and a personal touch are critical, some of the most respected retailers and franchises are choosing mid-sized sign vendors that are set up to deal with this very thing.
“When signage must be ready for new store openings or rebranding, ‘impossible’ deadlines must be met,” said Kevin Curry, president of Danby Gasoline Marketers in Meriden, Conn., a Gulf dealer that operates three stores and supplies 16 additional convenience stores throughout New England. “That’s when you need a flexible sign vendor to expedite that sort of work.”
Despite the importance that retailers and franchises place on getting exterior signage created on time and done properly, the process is more complex than it appears at first.
“Getting signage installed isn’t as simple as describing what you want and having someone make it,” Curry said. “Permitting and approvals are really the X-factors that determine how long it takes to complete a signage job. It depends on the building, the ordinances, whether it can be illuminated, and if there are special features involved. There are exceptions to every location that you may not have planned for. You have to be able to respond quickly, make the necessary adjustments, and get all the needed approvals under deadline.”
Dealing with Adversity
Dealing with these unpredictable circumstances is the primary reason Curry is a strong advocate of working with local companies.
“With the large sales volumes of national sign companies, you may not get the rapid turnaround and personal attention needed,” Curry said. “That’s particularly true if there are complications.”
For rapid turnaround and the flexibility to handle any required exterior signage changes, Curry, for example, uses Signage US, a one-stop signage provider based in his hometown of Meriden, Conn.
“A rapid response sign vendor like Signage US will make sure that all the details are handled: from surveys, photos and measurements, to meeting criteria and restrictions,” Curry said. “Not only will they do prototypes, drawings and design work, but also get landlord sign off, pursue city permit approval and make any needed changes.
Over the past decade, Signage US has expedited and coordinated the signs at each of Curry’s company-operated stores and a number of the stores he supplies. “They’ve done the entire signage process from start to finish—including initial design, permits, approvals, manufacture and installation—in as fast as one week,” Curry said. “ They keep us informed every step of the way.”
One factor that can delay even the best outdoor signage by weeks or months is the permitting process. Permit requests can seemingly disappear down a regulatory black hole, leaving frustrated retail owner-managers wondering when, if ever, proper permitting will emerge.
“Once they get the permit, they can get the sign built, shipped and installed in a week,” said Curry. “They’ll work directly with us on any custom work we need, which some larger vendors just aren’t set up to do. If anything gets hung up at any stage of the sign making process, they’re aware of it, keep us informed and handle it.”