Beyond Bubba: Most C-stores Could Broaden Customer Base

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Beyond Bubba: Most C-stores Could Broaden Customer Base

By Barbara Grondin Francella

ATLANTA -- Convenience store operators could grow sales by looking past the industry's stereotypical customer profile and offerings, and better positioning themselves to capture more of the convenience business -- which means more than simply offering a quick in-and-out shopping experience, according to a recent report.

Different types of shoppers value different shopping experiences, and retailers that best tap into these values and shoppers' needs will capture a greater share of the convenience business, which is no longer confined to c-stores outlets, according to "Fast Forward: Emerging Opportunities in Convenience Retail," a new report from the NACS/Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council.

The report categorizes c-stores as one of three types:
-- Neighborhood stores, considered an essential part of the community, whose customers live close by and shop for fill-in items and specific category purchases;
-- Commuter stores, located on high-traffic thoroughfares and shopped mostly by blue- and white-collar commuters who buy fuel, drinks and tobacco and value safety, cleanliness, easy access and competitive fuel prices, and;
-- Interstate stores, positioned on major highways and frequented by long-distance travelers, professional drivers and locals who buy fuel, meals, snacks and beverages, and value nice restrooms.

To better customize their products and services, retailers need to better understand various types of shoppers, the report concluded. They were identified as:
-- Drop-In Daily customer, or the familiar "Bubba" who drops in daily as a break from work;
-- The Local Loyalist, who thinks of the stores as the center of the neighborhood;
-- The Over-Stretched Mom, who shops on the way home from work to fill in the gaps;
-- The Mobile Professional, who stops in during the commute for coffee and competitively priced gasoline;
-- The Highly Hesitant, who visits for snacks, but otherwise avoids c-stores, and;
-- The Long-Distance Driver, who drives for a living and wants familiar brands of gasoline and clean bathrooms.

To broaden the customer base and boost sales, c-store operators need to concentrate on the fundamentals of convenience retailing; offer a broader range of goods and services to impress occasional customers and turn them into high-frequency shoppers; and connect products and services with social, economic and cultural trends, in efforts to build a brand and image that engenders customer trust and loyalty, the report said.

CSNews Online Senior Editor Barbara Grondin Francella questions why c-stores aren't adhering to this basic mantra of retailing in today's CSNews Spare Change blog post. Click here to view her thoughts, and share your own.

Some of the NACS/Coca-Cola report's suggestions for providing a more hospitable shopping experience include such fundamentals as removing signs (such as "No Loitering" or tow-away warnings); bake fresh products that have enticing aromas; and create clean, attractive bathrooms.

C-store operators also should focus on consumers' desire for greater simplicity and ease in their lives. Among the tactics retailers may want to consider: offering bike servicing and repairs; sampling prepared foods at the pump; having a full-service fuel island for moms with kids and offering massage chairs for travelers.

Regardless of the store location, retailers can build loyalty and a feeling of community, according to the NACS/Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council. In neighborhood stores, for example, operators may want to support community causes, sell locally grown produce and display the work of local artists.

In commuter stores, retailers should consider cleaning the restrooms every hour, making fresh coffee every 15 minutes, and promising made-to-order sandwiches in five minutes or less. Customers may also like recharging stations for portable devices. At interstate stores, operators may want to offer free dog treats and pet "potty areas," and offer free shipping on some items.

The reports findings will be presented in more detail at the NACS Leadership Forum, Feb. 25 through 27.

Members of the NACS/Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council include: Cynthia Archer, Sunoco Inc.; Hank Armour, NACS -- the Association for Convenience and Petroleum Retailing; Gary Arthur Jr., Valero; Alain Bouchard, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.; Joe DePinto, 7-Eleven Inc.; Frank Gleeson, Topaz Group; Tony Kenney, Speedway SuperAmerica LLC; Dae U. Kim, NACS -- the Association for Convenience and Petroleum Retailing; Howard McIntyre, Petro-Canada; Darel Pfeiff, Turkey Hill Minit Markets; Jay Ricker, Ricker Oil Co. Inc.; Louie Sheetz, Sheetz Inc., Karen Stout, formerly of Longs Drug Stores; Roy Strasburger, Strasburger Enterprises Inc.; Sam Susser, Susser Holdings Corp.; Martin Todd, Exxon Mobil Corp.; and Bill Bishop, Willard Bishop.