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CJ Express Pumps Up The Big Screen


A single-store operator in rural Kansas drives business with free, pump-dispensed movie tickets

The average consumer spends 100 seconds refueling a vehicle. During that time, he or she usually contemplates passing traffic or stares into space. This puts refueling on the same mind-numbing scale as watching paint dry. Among the few people in America who can escape such brain drain are the 3,500 residents of Marysville, Kan.

Since November, CJ Express has engaged patrons' minds — and wallets — with pump-mounted video displays. Via a 10.4-inch screen, the Applause Media System shows movie ads, c-store deals and dispenses free cinema tickets. Since the single-store operator is near a highway outside of town, promotions also appeal to residents of adjacent rural communities.

"People hear about the movie coupons and it draws them," said Operations Manager Chad Kramer, who launched CJ's self-serve gas business 10 years ago and the accompanying store five years ago. "Then they see the stuff on the screen about the store. This can drive them from a low-margin product like fuel to a higher-margin category like deli or other items. I have 300 to 400 customers a day who see these ads."

Two other c-stores operate in CJ's market. But the Applause Media system has differentiated CJ and made it more of a destination, said Kramer. "When you're in a small town, you get a lot of word-of-mouth advertising. It helps retain existing customers and encourages new customers to return," he said.

Supplied by Greensboro, N.C.- based Gilbarco Veeder-Root, the Applause pumps replaced Gilbarco's Advantage pumps. CJ operates four gas dispensers with eight pumps, and two diesel dispensers with four pumps. The store is 3,200 square feet, and the business is owned by Kramer Oil Co.

Vince Holbrook, project manager, marketing communications for Gilbarco, said CJ is the only gas client that has developed such a "unique, creative application" for Applause. The idea, said Kramer, came about when he and Alex Schultz, a friend and owner of the local Astro 3 movie theater, were discussing ways to promote business.

Schultz purchased the circa-1912 downtown theater a few years ago. He wanted to highlight the historic restoration and attract patrons from Marysville and surrounding towns. "There's been lots of excitement," said Kramer. "It's not just about seeing a movie — it's about seeing something new. There have been stories in the local paper and it's something people are talking about."

Kramer and Schultz entered a "mutually beneficial barter agreement." The first 25 to 30 seconds of the 100-second pump presentation is devoted to Shultz' business. There is a screenshot of each of the three movies playing. When customers finish refueling, they can push a button and receive a two-for-one movie ticket coupon which is valid for Monday nights, a historically slow time. Most people requesting coupons are couples in their 30s or 40s.

Remaining time is devoted to promotions from CJ and its suppliers. CJ's self-serve soft ice cream is often highlighted, along with deli sandwiches and Paradise frozen drinks. Drinks and ice cream are not widely offered elsewhere. "The store ads make the customer think about more than beer and cigarettes," noted Kramer. New items, such as iced coffee, are also featured, as are price promotions on beer, Gatorade, energy drinks, snacks and other merchandise. "If there's a store coupon involved, they usually buy something in addition to redeeming the coupon. If it's a coffee special, they'll buy a doughnut or fresh pastry."

Applause has extensive audio/visual capabilities as well. Kramer can create material or use outside clips. Gilbarco, he adds, supplies stock art for "almost every c-store type item." It also provides 150 videos of current ads from companies including Planters and Anheuser-Busch. Anheuser-Busch's popular squirrel TV ad has been featured. All changes can be made online.

Kramer updates movie and store promotions monthly, and rotates them by time of day. Afternoons may focus on beer or Gatorade, while snacks work well late at night. "It's important to keep it fresh," he added. Fuel pumps are open 24 hours, and the store operates from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Kramer said it is difficult to calculate the exact return-on-investment on Applause: his store is only five years old, the technology has been in place less than a year and there have been dramatic fluctuations in gas prices and the economy. Generally, though, the impact has been positive.

Fuel sales increased 10.8 percent in June 2010 compared to June 2009, and store sales grew 9 percent. Heavily promoted categories including bottled water, Gatorade and energy drinks have each seen 25-percent increases. Deli, including ice cream, grew 13 percent, while beer gained 9 percent.

Out of 646 store coupons printed during June 2010, 154 were redeemed. In overall sales, CJ now accounts for half of total revenues generated by Kramer Oil. Created in the 1940s, Kramer Oil supplies bulk fuel to farmers.

Promotions have taught Kramer how to be a better merchant. "It has made me pay attention to what customers like and whether a promotion is working. It has taught me to stay away from generic things people know you have. It's more important, for example, to tell them that you carry four types of juice since they may not think of you for something like V8," he said. "The idea is to grab people's attention."

A Round of Applause

In the c-store segment, the Applause Media System is most commonly used to promote foodservice, consumer packaged goods and other popular categories. While CJ Express is the only retailer to offer movie discounts, a handful of other Gilbarco customers have found some innovative ways to use the product:

  • Grayslake Shell, Grayslake Ill., runs ads for everything from the local Harley-Davidson dealership to community garage sales. "[Owner] Tim Tahaney may be able to rival Chad Kramer as the most innovative user," said John Williams, Gilbarco's merchandising specialist.
  • Gateway Gas and Deli, Snoqualmie, Wash., puts its money where the mouth is. It aggressively courts dentists and wine shops. It also implemented an "Athlete of the Week" program with the local high school. Snoqualmie itself was put on the map when its waterfalls were featured in a backdrop for the TV show "Twin Peaks."
  • RH Smith/Smitty's Paradise, East Rochester, Wash., teamed up with a formerly underperforming Quiznos sandwich shop, local real estate agency and limo service. The company, which received a good deal of opposition when it opened, has used the system as a community outreach vehicle.
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