Competing with the Big Boys

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Competing with the Big Boys

10/23/2013

After learning QuikTrip would be building nearby, Brewer-Hendley Oil took its Market Express stores up a notch

When Frank Valadez heard QuikTrip Corp. would be coming to North Carolina, he knew it was time to take it up a notch at his convenience stores — especially his high-volume store in Indian Trail, N.C., where QuikTrip planned on building.

He and his team immediately went to work to assess where they could improve and implement changes before the big competitor arrived.

“We heard QuikTrip was coming to Indian Trail and we knew we had to scramble,” Valadez, a dealer, account manager and marketing manager at Morrisville, N.C.-based Brewer-Hendley Oil Co., told Convenience Store News. The company operates 16 Market Express stores, 11 in North Carolina and five in South Carolina.

Having visited a few QuikTrip locations in South Carolina, Valadez knew he needed to make changes in order to compete. “We always maintained a good presence, but we really needed to up our game and make our stores even better than they were,” he said. “We started talking about what we do best and what we need to work on.”

QuikTrip opened in the area a year ago, but Valadez started making plans in mid-2011. Market Express’ high-volume Indian Trail store is located on Old Monroe Road, no more than 3.5 miles from the new QuikTrip, which is located on U.S. Highway 74, also known as Andrew Jackson Highway.

“The way QuikTrip comes into town is to offer low-priced fuel to get people into their store, so we reevaluated our merchandise plan and the design of our stores inside to start,” he said. “When we visited a QuikTrip and saw it was immaculate, we knew they had to be doing something right with over 600 stores.”

UPDATING THE DESIGN

The majority of changes at Market Express stores can be seen inside, but the outside got a refresh as well.

The company repainted, put new decals around the pumps and added LED price signs at some locations. The retailer also added more lighting and switched to Cree lighting to freshen up the sites at night. One location even got a new television screen to run specials, weather reports and Shell commercials at the pumps.

Inside, Market Express stores now feature new tile flooring, graphics, and cooler doors with LED lighting and signage. There are new checkout counters with recessed shelving and pegs for candy, along with a standalone cooler for sandwiches.

“People come in the store and want something quick, so now we have candy right where they are checking out, and there are also sandwiches there,” Valadez said. “We also consolidated the candy section and moved it by the register so it’s a lot closer than it used to be. As a customer is waiting in line, they can actually see the whole row of candy and gum.”

The chain pulled scan data from its stores and drilled down to see what was really selling or not selling — pulling and replacing low-selling items. Changes also were made to shelving and the overall merchandising of the stores to improve the flow of traffic.

“We took shelves that were straight and angled them,” Valadez explained. “We found it really gives the feel of more room for people to move around, and it flows better.”

The fountain drink section got a facelift as well — in some cases, expanding from eight or 12 fountain heads to 16. In select stores, the new fountain heads required remodeling of the counter area, and the chain also switched to a new brand of ice.

“One of the big things people asked for was chewy ice, which is a soft nugget. So, we listened to our customers and brought in the new ice,” he said. “Also, since we actually bought the [fountain] machines, we are able to offer all the major brands so we have Sundrop, Coke and Pepsi products.”

In addition, most of the Market Express stores previously offered two types of slushie products, but have now expanded to four varieties — red, blue, Cheerwine and Mountain Dew. A couple of locations offer f’real milkshakes as yet another beverage option.

UPSELLING & PROMOTIONS

In order to increase sales, Market Express revamped some of its promotions and brought in LiftRetail screens from VeriFone for suggestive selling at the checkout. The touchscreens engage the customer and in addition to suggesting additional products, Market Express provides a questionnaire about customer service.

“The screens track the upsells of each clerk signed in to the register, and we run competitions to incentivize our employees by offering prizes to the clerk who sells the most at the end of the week,” Valadez said.

Most of the stores have at least two registers and LiftRetail screens are installed at all of them. The screen faces the customer, and the chain can tailor the specials to each store. Some of the specials recently offered were fountain drinks for 79 cents, three Gatorade drinks for $3, and Monster Energy drinks at two for $2 or two for $5.

“It definitely increases sales, and we have very positive feedback from the customers,” Valadez noted. “Monster sales have definitely seen an increase.”

Furthermore, the chain partnered with Monster Energy — its 16-ounce drink is the chain’s top SKU in the energy category — to offer a contest with prizes throughout the summer months tied in with its Facebook page. When a customer liked the Market Express Facebook page and entered their email address, they were automatically entered into the contest. Every two weeks, the chain picked a new winner, notifying them by email and posting an announcement on its Facebook page.

“Every two weeks, we pulled a new winner for Monster Energy merchandise — T-shirts, hats, keychains — and it really helped us increase followers on our fan page,” Valadez said. When they started, the page only had 100 fans. By the end of the first month, that number doubled.

The chain has a few other contests with Monster lined up for the remainder of this year, including giving away a free year of car washes. Individuals can submit photos via Instagram or Facebook showing their dirtiest cars and trucks and be entered to win.

“We will be giving away 52 car washes — one per week — and will judge the photos for the dirtiest car,” said Valadez. “Where we live, mud racing is a big deal so it’s a good fit.”

The chain built another new promotion around the launch of its refillable ME fountain cup (ME comes from the initials of Market Express). Modeled after The Pantry Inc.’s RooCup, the ME cup launched in May. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, customers could go to any location and fill up the 20-ounce cup with a fountain drink or slushie for 25 cents.

“The Pantry offered a double-wall, plastic cup that is domed and called it the RooCup after its Kangaroo fuel, and our customers really liked it so we knew we had to do something,” Valadez said. “Next year, we will do the same thing with a different cup design.”

Additionally, Market Express expanded an existing fountain drink promotion that it began last summer: fountain drinks up to 32 ounces for 79 cents. Instead of offering this only for the summer months, the chain will continue the promotion through the end of this year and is considering keeping it in the future. “It has done very well for us and people love it,” he said. “It ends up being 84 cents with tax.”

HITTING THE WEB

Social media has become a bigger focus for Market Express in the past year, with contests helping to grow its online audience. The retailer is currently on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and eventually will start a YouTube channel.

“Social media has come a long way for this company, and we have to be on it. We really made a large push starting in late 2011, but it’s about content, not just throwing anything out there,” Valadez said. “I will put light-hearted things out there like, ‘What will you do this Fourth of July weekend?’ And we are doing something fun with our ME cup, having people submit pictures of it traveling to different states.”

While he does have it set up so that Facebook feeds into Twitter, Valadez will also post individual things just to Twitter, such as in-store specials. On Instagram, he shares photos of the ME cup, the exterior or signage of a store, and products in the store.

“We also have signage on our store doors that says, ‘Follow us on Facebook or Twitter,’ with our Twitter handle to let them know we are on there,” he said, pointing out that there is similar signage at the register.

In addition to social media, the chain revamped its website by changing the design, colors and content. New sections include store specials, company history, links to Facebook and Twitter, the types of fuel offered, the Market Express employment application, and more. The new site, launched in 2012, is updated with the latest promotions and offers as frequently as possible.

“It’s really important for smaller companies and even single-store operators to check themselves and make sure they are doing things right, and just as well as the big companies,” Valadez stressed. “They need to give people reasons to come into their store and not the bigger company’s location.”