The Pulse of the C-Store

The convenience store front counter provides the perfect canvas to showcase a mix of hot new items and profitable impulse buys that will grab customers’ attention. But experts agree that this area is among the most underutilized selling place in the entire store. Boosting impulse sales at the front counter is extremely important because the products displayed near the checkout offer a high turnover and strong profit returns.

Organization is Key
Krause Gentle Corp.’s Kum & Go stores, based in West Des Moines, Iowa, sees more than 360,000 customers pass by its front counters on any given day throughout its 450-store network, which spans the Midwest.

A traditional Kum & Go location offers customers two checkout aisles with impulse items strategically placed in front of the registers and to each side of the checkout lane. Surrounding the customer with merchandise greatly increases the chances that a product will catch their eye while approaching the checkout.

“A customer’s impulse purchases are most often fueled by curiosity,” said Dana Sump, marketing category manager for Kum & Go. “If a product appeals to the senses and is brightly colored, it has a better chance of selling.”

Some of Kum & Go’s best selling merchandise at the front counter includes two for $1 beef jerky, BIC lighters, over-the-counter HBC products, single cigars and candy. These items represent a wide variety of different categories that have the most potential to sell in an impulse environment. Often, monthly “suggest sell” items from suppliers are placed there to test out their movement potential.

“The front counter is a great place to feature a new item if the footprint isn’t too large,” said Sump. “Margin potential is also a consideration for whether the product gets placed on the counter or in another location.”

A variety of different display vehicles are used to merchandise Kum & Go’s front counter, keeping it neat and organized so that customers can easily select products. The chain uses a combination of wire racks, Plexiglas cases and plastic racks to maximize the limited amount of valuable space.

Suppliers, such as BIC and Novelty Inc., present their products to retailers whenever a new item is about to hit the channel. The margins can be high on timely items, such as movie-themed candy, or ones that carry popular subject matters, like a drink series lighter. It also helps that suppliers provide premium display sets that are specifically designed to maximize front counter space.

When organizing the front counter so that it doesn’t become too overcrowded, Sump helps identify select selling zones and the items are placed on a prioritized basis. The chain makes sure that items are rotated regularly to ensure a fresh, full look for the customers.

According to Todd Green, president of Novelty Inc., the key to increasing front counter sales is to really drive the rotation of a product and keeping the selection appealing and new.

“As long as the counter is clean, organized and non-obtrusive, the customer is happy,” said Sump. “Those who want to browse can do so, while those that want speed of service can get on their way.”

Several factors play into a customer’s choice in purchasing an impulse item, like if national advertising has caught their attention or if the item is perceived as a value. Sump feels that suggestive selling by store employees is the best way to encourage front counter impulse sales since it gives another dimension to the shopping experience by allowing for personal interaction.

Testing the Waters
The front counter remains a great spot to display new items in small quantities before retailers have to commit to a larger
order. Adam Wilson, president and owner of AJ Convenience in Largo, Fla., tests out new items about every two months to gather
enough sales data to determine if the product is worth keeping for the long term.

“Some of the products at our front counter that start out as impulse buys can eventually transform into destination items,”
said Wilson. “For example, the liquid energy shots have become very popular and people are starting to specifically ask for it.”

AJ Convenience also carries single-serve candy on the front counter. The candy’s low price points of 15 to 25 cents encourage
customers to toss in several treats with their purchase. Wilson has noticed many established candy treats, such as the Zero candy bar, that have disappeared and recently come back with items that can spark nostalgia in older customers.

The company tries to supply a mix of products that appeals to everyone, basing its merchandise selection on profitability and size. One of the main concerns for all c-stores retailers is making sure that their front counter space is stocked with all the necessary impulse items while keeping the area aesthetically organized.

“Most items are arranged to optimize limited counter space,” said Wilson. “When a product complements another item, we can structure the space to really attract the customer.”

Wilson stocks food items that are generally non-perishables, such as beef jerky and novelty candy, but also sells single-serve fruit selections like bananas.

Safety First
First Choice C-Store, in Safety Harbor, Fla., said its primary concern regarding the front counter is to keep items that are prone to theft stored behind the counter. Items such as cigarettes, phone cards and medication are stocked above the cashier’s head so they are in plain view, but a customer must ask for the item.

“High-ticket items are usually kept out of the customer’s reach,” said Fady Hanna, owner of First Choice. “It’s a preventative measure to avoid theft and also keep inappropriate items out of the hands of children.”

Competitive pricing can make all the difference on the front counter, according to Hanna. First Choice is one of four competing c-stores within a two-mile radius, and he always tries to stock the newest items with the lowest prices. Hanna will almost always try out a new product and secure a spot for it as long as it’s selling consistently.

Hanna stocks items that people may forget to purchase if it wasn’t sitting in front of them at the checkout, such as gum and lighters. He prescribes to the same philosophy as Kum & Go and AJ Convenience, that if an item isn’t moving from the counter, it doesn’t belong there.

“The front counter items should promote themselves,” said Hanna. “The key to selling impulse items is the right product mix so that you have something for all your customers.”


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