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CSNews Exclusive: Sheetz Customers Take Marketing to Next Level

ALTOONA, Pa. -- Thanks to its devoted -- and talented -- customers, Sheetz Inc. is enjoying social media fame without having to do a thing except sit back and enjoy.

While the convenience store company is in the process of building a more proactive social media plan -- including a Facebook fan page and YouTube channel -- Sheetz customers have taken the job of marketing and advertising into their own hands.

Exhibit A: a customer produced music video called "My MTO," a rollicking tribute to the company's made-to-order sandwiches. More than three minutes long, the video is the work of a group of young men who took the time to write lyrics, shoot footage at a Sheetz store, and create a video that is not only funny, but its chorus -- "It's my MTO, oh, oh. It's my MTO, oh, oh" -- sticks in the mind.

"I remember being down at our distribution center and seeing people huddled around a computer watching it and laughing out loud," Fred McConnel, director of brand development at Sheetz Inc., told CSNews Online in an exclusive interview.

The video made its way to the Sheetz offices after a retired Sheetz family member sent the link to Louie Sheetz, vice president of marketing, who forwarded it to McConnell. "I sent it to a bunch of people, and then other people discovered it, and sent it to more employees in the company, and within a day the majority of the company had seen it," said McConnell.

In rap style, the catchy song includes lyrics like "selection and prices that can't be beat, and sitting areas to rest my feet," and "I get what I like; I like what I see; there is just no place I'd rather be."

McConnell has already reached out to the video's creator and thanked him for it. "He expressed to us that he liked the brand, and that he and his friends frequent Sheetz often and thought the video was a cool thing to do," he said.

The "My MTO" video is not the only Sheetz YouTube video circulating the Internet. Old Sheetz television commercials posted by customers can be found on YouTube as well. McConnell added that when he was researching the company before he began working there, he came across one woman's video chronicling her trip to a new Sheetz location that had reopened in her area.

"The great part about our brand is advocates find ways to include us as a part of their life, and as a result, we are shared with other online communities and other customers," he explained. "We didn't drive the creation of it, but when you have fans and advocates telling your story for you, it's great."

Since discovering the impact its brand was having on social media without any involvement from the company, Sheetz created a "listening channel" where McConnell can go to view a collection of daily tweets, and Facebook and YouTube postings mentioning the brand.

"We know that everyone is out there talking about us, and we recognize that we need to be a part of that storytelling because it shows up in Google searches, and it's out there," said McConnell. "It's evidence our consumers are talking about us, and we need to be a part of that discussion."

The company's Sheetz Bros. coffee truck is currently tweeting its locations for customers to receive free smoothies or mochas, and it travels across the six markets the company operates. But the goal is to take an even more active role in social media in the future, McConnell noted.

"For example, if someone tweets, 'I just had a Sheetz Bros. coffee and it was awesome,' we can insert ourselves into the conversation and say, 'Thanks. We are glad you enjoyed it, and here is a coupon.'"

In the meantime, the company continues to enjoy the proactive nature of its customers, and the buzz created by their innovation. "We like that it's happening, and we would never want to stop it," said McConnell. "It's great to see that we are relevant and that we have an exciting brand that people take and use in their lives."

Enjoy the Sheetz MTO video on YouTube, but beware … you may be hearing it in your head for the rest of the day!

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