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Skin is In

Quick Chek is taking on branding in the most literal sense.

Dubbing it "skinvertising," the c-store chain is using skin stamping as an inexpensive promotional technique to generate trial of its foodservice offering and create brand buzz.

"We don't have a big advertising budget, so we have to come up with unique ways to drive innovation," said John Schaninger, vice president of sales and merchandising for the New Jersey-based operator of 120-plus stores in the Garden State and southern New York.

Last year, when the retailer was getting ready for the July launch of its new Texas Smokehouse Steak Sub, Schaninger said he and the company's advertising agency, Oxford Communications, were brainstorming how to generate trial of the new product.

"The first thing we asked was how do we get our morning customers to come back in and try the sub? How do we get that repeat visit and gain trial of this new item? The second thing we asked was how do we get customers who have never tried us?" he recalled. "Someone said, 'What if we branded people?'"

So, that's exactly what they did.

On July 7 of last year, customers in every Quick Chek store were branded with a "Claim Your Steak" hand stamp at checkout from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m. They could then return that same day and present their stamp to receive a free Texas Smokehouse Steak Sub.

"We considered giving out a coupon, but the great part about the skinvertising is if I get my hand stamped, I then go to the office and I'm carrying this [stamp] around all day. It generates a lot of discussion about Quick Chek," Schaninger noted.

The retailer's first-ever skin stamping promotion went so well that this May, the chain did another, but this time tied it in with the all-important morning coffee purchase. Customers purchasing any size coffee between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. May 7, received a "Sub Stimulus Plan" hand stamp at checkout, and when they returned from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., they were able to get one of Quick Chek's five most popular subs for free.

More than 10,300 people enjoyed a six-inch sub on the house, and Schaninger said an added bonus was that the stores experienced an immediate lift in hot breakfast sales. "I think people came in for their coffee, came back and realized what a great sub we have, and then the next day, they came in and tried our breakfast," he said.

This month, Quick Chek will do its third skinvertising promotion around soup. In the past, the company kicked off soup season in October with billboards and radio spots, but this year, it decided instead to focus its billboards and radio spots on value.

"But we still want customers to know we offer all these great soups," Schaninger said, noting the promotion will again tie in with the morning coffee purchase.

For Quick Chek, skinvertising has proven to be an inexpensive way to gain foodservice trial, build up its brand and reward loyal customers. Plus, since individuals can go to any Quick Chek to redeem their stamps, it's ideal for the many commuters who shop the chain.

"We plan to keep doing this," Schaninger said. "The more we do trial and free[offers], the more we realize the impact it has; and as long as our customers love it, we'll keep doing it."
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