C-stores Mixed on Black Friday Deals

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C-stores Mixed on Black Friday Deals

By Melissa Kress, Convenience Store News - 11/23/2011

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- It's the day that the retail industry prepares for all year long, and the same one consumers can hardly wait for: Black Friday. As ads touting Black Friday specials take over newspapers, television stations and radio broadcasts, there is no doubt that the day after Thanksgiving still holds the title of the most important day for retailers. But does it mean the same to traditional convenience store operators?

A quick scan of c-store companies finds mixed results. Some stores will be offering deals -- mostly on coffee – but others have decided not to join in this year's Black Friday frenzy.

For example, Thorntons Inc. has decided to sit this one out, after offering E85 flex fuel for 85 cents per gallon at stores in Kentucky and Indiana last year. "Last year, we had built out a number of stores with E85, so we looked at Black Friday as a unique way to introduce it to those markets," John Zikias, vice president of marketing, told CSNews Online.

Alhough the sale did drive some other purchases on that day, Thorntons was the only retailer in Kentucky offering E85 at the time, he noted.

Even without offering any deals this year, Zikias is still interested to see what Black Friday brings, especially since the company's stores don’t typically bring in high volumes on holidays.

"For us, because of where a lot of our stores are located, we do very well Monday through Friday and on Saturday, to some extent. But on holidays, the volume is down from a typical day," Zikias said.

However, he is waiting to see what happens this year with more retail outlets opening their doors earlier than ever before. If last year is any indication, Thorntons could see customers earlier than expected.

"Last year, our stores located on the way to malls or near malls did see higher coffee volume earlier in the morning," he explained. "But our usual early rush, between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m., wasn't normal."

Thorntons is not alone in leaving Black Friday deals to the likes of Target and Walmart. RaceTrac is also taking a pass this year, according to a company spokeswoman. Last year, the convenience store operator offered free coffee to shoppers in Atlanta and Dallas from midnight to 10 a.m., but RaceTrac decided against a similar promo this year.

Still, with shoppers expected to get an early jump on the day, the opportunity is there for c-stores to draw them in. A new Deloitte holiday shopping survey, polling 1,000 consumers from Nov. 17 to 19, showed that nearly half (44 percent) of Black Friday shoppers will start their shopping between midnight and 5:00 a.m.

Perhaps, it's those shoppers that Quick Chek and SavOn Convenience Stores plan to appeal to with their Black Friday coffee deals this year. Quick Chek is giving away free medium cups of coffee to customers all day. Similarly, SavOn will be providing complimentary 16-ounce cups of Green Mountain Coffee on Friday. And in a twist on the free coffee offers, Seattle's Best Coffee is delivering free coffee to the mailboxes of employees who have to work on Black Friday. To receive the java pick-me-up, people can go to the company's Facebook page to request a free sample. Shoppers can also find a $2-off coupon on the Seattle's Best Coffee Facebook page.

"We all know about the huge crowds on Black Friday, but it's often overlooked how many people are working on Black Friday to take care of them -- including the tens of thousands of part-time employees trying to earn a little more money for the holidays," said Chris Bruzzo, chief marketing officer for Seattle's Best. "We want them to feel appreciated and we hope that by giving them a free delicious cup of coffee, we might make their holidays a little brighter."

Not all specials are limited to Black Friday. The restaurants and gas stations located at the service plazas along the Florida Turnpike will be offering free coffee to traveling motorists several times during this holiday season. The giveaway will be available from 11 p.m. tonight through 6 a.m. Thanksgiving morning; 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Nov. 27 and Nov. 28; and starting at 11 a.m. on Christmas Eve, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.