How to Market Your Foodservice Business
By mixing a little bit of the old with a lot of the new marketing technologies and techniques available today, convenience store operators can more cost effectively market their foodservice programs with greater impact.
In the January issue, we discussed how to utilize the store property –– in-store and at the pump — to better merchandise and market your foodservice program, which is a critical first step in the plan because it builds program image, sales, profits and leverages the sales opportunities across the critical dayparts. Once the store and property is fully optimized and your foodservice image and reputation are developed, it’s time to think about extending the marketing plan beyond the store to reach new customers and increase shopper frequency.
But before you begin, Convenience Store News’ How To Crew experts caution operators to segment stores and fully understand the customer base and demographics, so you can best tailor marketing programs to the areas around your stores. For example, your stores might fall into three of four segments/types: highway, suburban/neighborhood, industrial/transient or urban. Each store type requires a tailored marketing plan.
“Marketing outside of the store is tough if you do not have an established food brand or reputation,” said former retailer Ed Burcher, now president of Burcher Consulting and a member of the CSNews How To Crew. “What we found [at the stores I used to manage] is that the residential population will use the store for breakfast, coffee and on the weekend. The daytime population (workers, transient and traffic) are the lunch and daytime snack target guests.”
For the morning business, direct mail, local newspapers with freestanding inserts (FSIs), and outdoor advertising such as billboards and bus shelters are effective tools to create awareness and interest in the offer, Burcher said. For all food marketing, be sure to use high-impact color photography. Great food photos, more than words, sell food, according to our experts. Some “guerrilla marketing” is required for the lunch and snack offers, he added. “Maybe it is visits to local businesses with a tray of cookies, brochures or coupons. This could be effective to help get to a larger number of employees.”
Several of our How To Crew experts caution against using direct mail to promote lunch to local residents for neighborhood stores since a majority are not home during the day and are not the target market. The focus in this case would be area businesses, educational institutions, senior centers, etc.
Operators near schools should consider sponsoring sporting events or teams and/or doing larger scale food deliveries/catering for practices and games. Marketing to local schools can be a great way to expand the customer base and create foodservice and brand awareness among students, parents and faculty. Sampling new items at community events and offering coupons is another way to increase programs/brand awareness and trial. (For more on sampling programs, see “In-Store Merchandising That Screams Foodservice” in the CSNews January issue, page 66).
Buying business lists for direct marketing is also an effective way to increase awareness and trial, but it can be costly. “These mailers need to have very attractive offers and make sure they can be tracked through the use of coupons,” Burcher said.
Direct marketing works to promote weekend specials, which can help increase foot traffic and improve awareness for your foodservice among the local population. “People have more time to interact with the store and its offering on the weekends vs. trying to interrupt the guest’s [weekday] routine,” Burcher explained. “But long term, the goal is to establish your store as a part of their routine.”
Several How To Crew members said radio remotes are effective marketing tools for new program launches and promotions for stores that are in more rural markets. Radio remotes are also very effective for new store openings and should include prizes, giveaways, sampling and coupons. The trick here is to be sure to select a radio station that fits the demographic you are targeting with your store and foodservice offering.
Cost-Effective Social Media
Increasingly, convenience retailers are experiencing tangible marketing results using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and SMS (text messaging). Some retailers are also developing their own mobile apps and using those platforms to more frequently interact with customers, offer exclusive deals and build loyalty.
Of course, one of the best attributes of social media is that it is free, but it does require attention to detail for proper execution. The biggest investment retailers will make in social media is labor by hiring editors to post and manage the content regularly.
Another great feature of social media is that it allows retailers to continuously interact and communicate with customers, according to our experts. Information that was once only shared via press releases and advertising is now communicated directly through Facebook posts and tweets. Social media is ideal for retailers because it’s all about interacting and communicating with your community and widening your reach digitally to expand your customer base.
Retailers who engage in social media, though, should develop comprehensive plans as they would for any other marketing program. Avoid lightly dabbling in social media until you have a strategy and a plan. A bad false start could leave a poor impression and hinder your social media launch when the time is right. Since social media is all about content, make a list of all the potential topics you would like to share with your users/viewers, including your company and your menu for starters (tell a story), promotions and specials, your ingredients, store associates, chefs, etc. But don’t always talk about yourself and your company, experts advise. Discuss topics you know are relevant and important to your community, such as school sports, local theater and concerts, fundraisers or other non-competing complimentary businesses in the community.
Education is another great content tool. You might want to educate customers about food safety and sanitation, and how important it is to the food business and to your operating procedures. You could also write about or show customers via video how to use new equipment in your stores (a cappuccino machine or milkshake machine, for example), and how fun and easy it is to create new flavors. You might tell a story about some locally-sourced ingredients you use in your food, relaying background about a local farm or new vendor. The key is to tell a story and make it conversational, steering clear of excessive promotional communication, which will turn users off.
And be sure to include your vendors and suppliers in the content mix. They often have great stories to tell, as well as artwork and videos to share that you could repurpose and use in your social media communications.
Hopefully your marketing plans will include a wide variety of the tools mentioned above, and remember that no matter which blend of tactics and tools you use, be sure to pull it all together by reinforcing all of your external marketing messages in the store.