A Fresh Check on Convenience

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A Fresh Check on Convenience

By Linda Lisanti

This spring, Quick Chek introduced an all-new brand identity and modern store prototype that conveys to consumers it's all about being "the leader in fresh convenience" -- and that means having fresh food, fresh coffee and employees with fresh attitudes, said John Schaninger, vice president of sales and merchandising for the c-store retailer.

"If you think about our industry, some people are in fuel, some people are in food, and we just wanted our customers to know exactly what we're all about," he explained. "With our background, food has always been our focus, and now, we want to position our offer for the future. We felt we needed a brand that would serve us well in the years ahead."

The centerpiece of Quick Chek's new brand identity is a new tagline, "Get Fresh. Go Fast," and a new logo that features a bright, lime green-colored "Q" with the tail shaped like a dark green leaf, representing the company's commitment to delivering a quality assortment of fresh food products in an elevated foodservice experience.

Focus group participants said upon seeing the new logo and tagline, they thought of words like fresh, fast and green. Quick Chek believes these qualities will continue to be important to customers, according to Schaninger. Also, he noted, both existing customers and prospects in these groups said the new branding has "the believability factor," something all c-stores strive and, at times struggle, to achieve.

The new brand is being carried through to a redesigned Web site with new features, such as nutritional product information, a gas price checker and an interactive "Create Your Own Coffee Concoction," as well as through updated private label product packaging. Quick Chek has plans to roll out several new private label packaged goods.

Where the new brand positioning really comes alive, though, is in a new store prototype Quick Chek unveiled in May. The 7,260-square-foot store in Lake Katrine, N.Y., is the chain's 114th location, and its third in New York. The new branding is displayed prominently throughout the site in signage, advertisements and point-of-purchase materials.

Quick Chek has been preparing for this for close to two years, Schaninger said. The chain has been working with design firm WD Partners of Dublin, Ohio, to revamp its interior store design, with New York-based brand strategy and design consultancy Lippincott on the branding and new logo, and with marketing communications firm Oxford Communications in Lambertville, N.J., on the new packaging and graphics execution.

The new prototype marks the first time all of these initiatives are coming together.

Continuing the Evolution
Quick Chek president and CEO Dean Durling -- joined by other company executives, store employees, local officials and "Q," the chain's first-ever mascot -- gathered at the new store on May 27, to celebrate with the retailer's traditional coffee toast ceremony.

In an interview with Convenience Store News at the grand opening, Durling said the new prototype and brand positioning is just another stage in Quick Chek's evolution.

"This is not a revolution, but an evolution. I don't believe in revolutions. They're just disruptive," he said. "We've been in the fresh foods business for a long time. As we grow the company, we're looking at what's the next level and now, it's fresh convenience. So when you walk into this store, you see the emphasis is all about fresh food, our famous, guaranteed fresh coffee, the fresh deli, fresh bakery case. We want to continue to be what we would call a fresh convenience marketer."

The No. 1 driver at Quick Chek is coffee, Schaninger said, noting a whopping 68 percent of its customers from 5 a.m. to 9 a.m. come in for the beverage. The chain is known for its 20-minute fresh coffee guarantee, and each store is equipped with sirens, audible to customers, that alert team members when a pot needs to be swapped out. Companywide, Quick Chek throws out more cups of coffee a day than many c-stores sell.

The chain's goals for the new store prototype were three-fold:
-- Elevate the look of the foodservice/coffee offering;
-- Better segregate the food/coffee area from the more-traditional superette offer; and,
-- Continue to respond to customers' desire for more open and bright stores.

One of the biggest differences of the prototype vs. existing stores is a more cohesive flow. Walking into the new location, customers are compelled toward the foodservice offer, with seating first, then the coffee bar, bakery case, sub shop and soup bar.

"It's very obvious what we're trying to communicate. If you come in once, you get it," Schaninger said of the prototype store, which will serve as a template for all future new builds and remodels. "We want to be the leader in fresh convenience, and we really think we're the best at it. If you look at our sandwiches, our soups and our great coffee offer, I don't think in either quality or experience, there's anyone close to us."

Quick Chek is now proceeding with a rollback plan to reimage its existing stores to include the new branding both inside and out. Stores are being prioritized based on their market, sales and current facilities. Over the next three years, all 114 stores in the chain will be reimaged. That's in addition to the construction of more prototype stores.

"If you go into a convenience store and it's the same, only Cokes and smokes, it's not so cool," Durling said. "We're looking for a whole new take on convenience."

Attitude First
For Quick Chek, delivering a fresh experience not only relates to its products, but also to its 2,400 employees, which is why the convenience retailer now hires for attitude rather than experience. When interviewing, store leaders look for key characteristics including a positive attitude on life and work, and the ability to work closely with others.

"We ask, 'is it in their DNA?' We believe you can't train someone to have a good attitude, but you can train them on everything else," said Bob Graczyk, vice president of human resources. "Before, we hired for retail or cashier experience, and sure, they might have had the experience, but they were miserable doing it. We don't want that. It's a special feeling when you walk in a store and get that connection with the employee."

To train new hires on how to bring their fresh attitudes alive at Quick Chek, every team member within the first 15 days of employment goes through the Customer Experience class. It's a five-hour program that teaches them how to interact with consumers and how to "make it right" for the customer, Graczyk explained, noting employees are told then they have the company's permission to help a shopper however they see fit.

Durling either kicks off the class or wraps it up to illustrate the commitment is from the top down. "There are many other stores that sell the same things we do. The difference is how you develop people," he said. "If you come into a store and people have a glum look, that's not too fresh. But if people have a fresh smile, a happy attitude, that's a great thing."

With a philosophy of "measure what you treasure," Durling also noted that Quick Chek is very serious about gathering customer comments. The chain surveys more than 10,000 customers a year -- about 100 surveys per store -- on freshness, speed of service, friendliness, etc. Each store leader's compensation is based on how well their location performs.

Year after year for the last six years, survey scores have improved, according to Durling.

Quick Chek does mystery shops three times per quarter as well. Anonymous shoppers visit each store and rate team members on such factors as customer interaction, store cleanliness, the transaction at the register and freshness of coffee. When a store passes, every team member there receives a bonus even if they weren't working at the time of the mystery shop.

"A lot of companies have great employees, but I'd say ours are the best. We treat our people right," said Graczyk. "Our mission statement is 'A Great Place to Work, A Great Place to Shop.' We believe it's not a great place to shop unless it's a great place to work first."