NATIONAL REPORT — The convenience store industry’s single-store and small operators may not have the big marketing budgets or multi-person marketing teams that the larger c-store retailers do, but they still have the capability to draw in new customers and get more spend from existing customers through thoughtful, consistent marketing.
“To count on a great location to deliver a steady flow of customers can be a costly mistake,” GrahamComm’s John Graham, a marketing and sales strategy consultant and business writer, told Convenience Store News. “The difference is having customers and drop-ins who develop an emotional attachment to a store. This is the marketing task — one that never ends.”
Small operators must routinely spend dedicated time devising — and refining — a marketing strategy that works for their brand and for their shoppers, and that strategy doesn’t have to require a massive budget.
The key is to operationalize marketing activities, according to John Matthews, president and CEO of retail consulting firm Gray Cat Enterprises Inc.
“What I mean by that is just like how operators set aside time during the week to do inventory or clean, operators should also block out time to market their locations through local store marketing,” Matthews said. “This can be as little as one hour a day, but success is generally determined if it is a scheduled activity like other operational items. The more marketing becomes a task to be completed, the more it will no longer be an afterthought.”
He suggests creating a quarterly strategy that focuses on selling more to current customers and attracting new customers from within a three-mile radius of the store(s).
While small operators may not have the financial means to initiate large-scale marketing campaigns, there are some easy, low-maintenance, low-cost tactics they can implement.
Koupon, a digital coupon platform that enables brands, agencies and retailers to deliver single-use mobile offers to consumers, recommends that small operators utilize SMS.
“Promoting text-in campaigns through in-store signage is one of the easiest ways to reach and engage shoppers,” said Melissa Jordan, vice president of client success for Koupon. “This provides retailers who don’t have an app an opportunity to build a database of contacts and send offers.”
A strong online presence is also key for convenience store operators of all sizes. An easy and impactful place for small operators to start is by claiming their Google My Business listing, according to Jordan.
“This is a great way to be front and center with consumers looking for gas and convenience items,” she said. “Update your business category, add your business hours, a few photos and a phone number to get started. There are so many other business directories across the web. Pick the ones that are right for your area to help boost in-store traffic.”
Aside from these listings, an online presence is not complete without social media, too.
“Social is a great place to showcase offers and promotions to a group of consumers interested in your store,” the Koupon executive noted. “Then, once customers are in-store, using your physical space for marketing can help drive higher basket sizes. Add some signage at the pump and at the register to encourage purchases.”
Additionally, Graham points out that one of the biggest advantages a small operator has over a larger c-store retailer is their local connection.
He stresses that without question, the small operator is the marketer, and their goal should be to create a community center. One way to do this, he says, is by creating a “What’s Happening in the Neighborhood” bulletin board for posting notices. “It is simple, but essential,” he said.
Other community-focused tactics that the marketing and sales consultant recommends are supporting local/neighborhood causes; allocating store space to community efforts like food drives and bake sales; and running weekly ads in group-specific publications.
“They should also establish a neighborhood council with six to eight members of various ages and backgrounds to serve as your eyes and ears and be your ambassadors to give you advice and spread the word,” Graham added.