Spanning thousands of miles, Texas’ highway system has played host to countless weary travellers – commuters, road-trippers, and people driving for the hell of it.
Many of them have stopped in convenience megastore, Buc-ee’s, in New Braunfels. At 68,000 square feet, it’s the largest convenience store in the world – and it’s thriving.
It’s even got the cleanest restrooms in America.
“We invite everyone to stop in to try out our award winning restrooms,” said Buc-ee’s co-owner, Beaver Aplin, at the time of winning the title. “Maybe Buc-ee’s will be our city’s new claim to fame, the ‘Taj Ma-Stall’ of Texas…a tourist attraction in and of itself.”
While Aplin was joking, travel vloggers and journalists have come all the way to Buc-ee’s. A YouTube upload from travel vloggers, The Endless Adventures, has over 65,000 views.
Buc-ee’s is a superstore and something of a novelty for travellers, but it shows that convenience stores have an important part to play in their communities. So how can independent stores tap into some of that success?
Invest in new areas and additional services for better convenience store marketing
For Buc-ee’s, its big selling point is its huge selection of snacks and prepared foods. Beaver Nuggets and Buc-ee’s Nug-ees are two of its calling cards.
Irish convenience store chain Centra has seen good growth with its health food drive – its ‘live well’ products such as prepared salads and fruit pots have driven solid business.
The brand has invested heavily in the ‘live well’ angle as the main thrust of its convenience store marketing, with a website, recipes, a wellbeing blog, and partnerships/sponsorships from well-known Irish celebrities such as rugby player Donncha O’Callaghan who does video workout tutorials.
Additional services are a useful area to grow too: 7-Eleven offers parcel delivery services for Christmas, in partnership with ParcelMate.
Other potential service areas include key cutting, printing, Western Union, coin counting, dry cleaning pick-up, food delivery, an ATM, or a coffee machine.
In Marshfield, WI, Weiler Convenience Stores has gone a step further, offering a unique option to customers with its charge account plan. It’s particularly useful for local businesses which use a lot of fuel, or families who spend a lot on gas.
Customers fill in an application form in a Weiler location and if they’re approved, they get a card in the mail which can be used like a credit card at a store location. They’re then billed monthly – and if the customer pays before the 10th of the month, it’s at a discounted rate.
It’s a neat incentive and additional service for customers and local businesses – and it’ll bring them back to Weiler’s when they need to refuel.
Smart partnerships can also be big money-earners if you have the floor space: in Ireland, convenience chain Spar has teamed up with health food giant Chopped, so customers can buy their lunch while browsing.
Closer to home for U.S. retailers and Sheetz is a perfect example: while much of its business is in convenience, customers can order pizza and fast food in-store too. Visit the Sheetz website and you’ll see a bold design asking you to order now.
Scroll down and the messaging changes: Save up to 8c per gallon at Sheetz.
In another example, Japanese convenience store, Vegan Store, opened in late 2019 – and, as the name suggests, it sells vegan convenience items. A family restaurant and seminar/workshop space runs parallel to the store.
Convenience is now: invest in tech to help your customers
Amazon Go grabbed headlines around the world when it opened nine stores in 2018. The idea is ultimate convenience: shoppers go into the store, pick up what they want and leave. They don’t interact with a single shop employee or even pay in the store.
Instead, the person enters the store with the Amazon Go app on their phone and a complex system of cameras monitors what’s been picked up. Once the person leaves the store, they’re charged.
Right now, Amazon Go is a novelty, though more technology is rising in this space. Standard Cognition and Zippin are start-ups which provide robot-powered checkouts.
While there is a benefit in moving towards a cashier-less register, it isn’t something that’s going to happen immediately – or even something that most retailers need to implement as part of their convenience store marketing.
On the flip side, self-service checkouts have seen great adoption in stores around the world, as have self-service kiosks.
In some cases, a convenience store could invest in self-service kiosks to expand hours overnight and deal only in certain items: gas, alcohol, and chocolate for example.
Ultimately, the technology you use should service your customers. A better experience for them means they’re more likely to come back – especially in convenience stores, where customers often have little or no brand loyalty.
Marco Castelán is co-founder of The Navio Group, a business consultancy which works closely with retailers and he echoes the point of doubling down on customer service.
“While large chains will be relying on a huge corporate HR and hiring structure, smaller stores can focus on finding talented and service-oriented individuals who are trained through shadowing the owner and witnessing their values rather than clicking through a training video. There is no substitute for a caring, intelligent and empowered workforce – all things which are harder to screen for when you are hiring hundreds rather than a handful.”
The big problem for convenience stores and their marketing is finding new customers; often, people want low-value items or gas and they want it immediately. Similarly, it’s a case of what’s nearby or which store name they recognize.
One easy way to play into this is with Pointy, a retail startup that turns online searches into sales. Local people are constantly turning to their phones to search for certain products or for a ‘convenience store near me’.
If you’re not coming up in those search results, you’re losing out on sales – and not fully joining the dots for your customers. You can read our guide on turning these local searchers into customers here, but the short version is this:
- Have a website and make sure you’re doing everything you can, so it appears in search results.
- Set up and claim your free Google My Business account.
- Be on social media and do it well.
- Consider running ads on Google or social media targeting local people.
- Use Pointy to show local searchers that you stock what they’re searching for.
Connect to Pointy and your products are uploaded onto Google on a Pointy page, essentially an online catalog of your products. A person making a relevant product search on Google can see store opening hours and get stock availability, or get directions to come in-store and buy from you.
One of our Pointy retailers, Calandro’s Supermarket, a convenience store based in Baton Rouge, has thousands of its products on Google for many different product searches.
Tap into psychology to drive more sales in your convenience store marketing plan
Deciding what goes where in your store is vital to convenience store marketing: retail merchandising is one of your big plus points in getting customers to spend more money. This is particularly important in convenience stores where low-ticket items make up most peoples’ purchases.
However, certain psychology tricks can also make your customers put more stuff in their shopping carts.
It might sound exaggerated, but psychology has been used for decades to understand people and the brain – so there’s no reason why it can’t be applied to your store too.
In one major example, an experiment by a marketing firm found that doubling the size of shopping carts encourages people to buy more.
“We did an experiment with [shopping cart size],” said Martin Lindstrom, “We actually doubled the size of the shopping cart. And you buy 40 percent more. In Whole Foods, the shopping carts over the last two years have doubled in size almost.”
It’s a similar trick our brains play on us when eating: if we have a bigger plate, we’ll feel compelled to fill it and will eat bigger portions by default.
Most important of all is your shelf-stacking and the retail expression, “eye level is buy level.”
The book ‘Store Design and Visual Merchandising: Creating Store Space That Encourages Buying’ talks about the practice of splitting a shelf into four, from bottom to top:
1. Stoop level
People are lazy. No doubt, you’ll walk slightly further to go through an automatic door instead of pushing open a heavy door.
The same applies to having to bend down to get a product. Low-value items typically live on this shelf.
2. Touch level
This is ‘kid level’ as it’s roughly eye level for them. Products stacked here will be kid-friendly, eye-catching and hard for parents to say no to.
3. Eye level
If touch level is for kids, then ‘eye level’ is aimed at targeting adults. Stack the items you want to sell more of on this level. You’ll often find bestsllers and own brand items here.
4. Stretch level
In much the same way that people are often too lazy to stoop, they’re also less likely to stretch to reach a product. Products that you don’t move massive amounts of will go here.
To recap: grab attention on eye level for adults and cram your kid-friendly items on shelves about one meter off the ground.
The takeaway for better convenience store marketing
Finding new customers is tough for convenience stores, but not impossible. The right mix of brilliant customer-service, additional offerings, and smart technology will have people coming to your store instead of your competitors. Convenience really is everything for your customers, so play to that.