csd brings retailers suppliers together at ecrm convenience conference

Nearly 300 attendees from 135 companies met in Los Angeles for one-on-one strategic planning sessions.

Ed Roitz said he came to the Convenience Store Decisions/ECRM Convenience/Front End/Checkstand Conference with an open mind. By the end of the first day, he had an open wallet.

That’s because Roitz, president and CEO of Fleming Petroleum Corp. (Pittsburg,Kan.) made three buys for his 11-store chain during the first day of one-on-oneplanning sessions between retailers and suppliers at the January CSD/ECRM conferencein Los Angeles.

“It was a good format for conducting business,” said Roitz, whose chain also serves as a Valero and Conoco jobber in three Midwestern states. “I found the one-on-one sessions to be very informative and an ideal way for me to connect with suppliers in a no-pressure setting.”

Roitz was one of 65 retailer attendees from the convenience store channel to join 70 supplier companies to share data and information aimed at making both sides of the business more profitable.

The Efficient Program Planning Sessions are category-specific events consisting of one-on-one meetings between suppliers and retail buyers to review new items, promotions, marketing initiatives and strategic direction. These meetings take place in the suppliers’ suites, which guarantees an uninterrupted 20-minute planning session. These sessions can replace the sales presentation in the buyer’s office, saving both suppliers and buyers time and money, said John Allen, vice president of sales for ECRM.

“The convenience store retailers we have assembled here have come for one reason,and one reason only—and that is to improve their business by expandingtheir relationships with some of the leading suppliers in the industry,” Allensaid. “This shows a tremendous amount of insight on their part for recognizingthe value of these oneonone sessions and using the format as an effective toolto grow their businesses.

“Our partnership with Convenience Store Decisions is also serving as a resource for suppliers and manufacturers both for the educational material the magazine has provided and its push to attract new attendees.”

Jim Monroe, a category manager for Gibsonia Pa.-based Handee Marts Inc., saidthe intimate setting provided by ECRM is constructive for building categorysales.

“At some of the bigger trade shows the message often gets jumbled and the surroundings aren’t as conducive to conducting business,” said Monroe, whose firm operates 70 7-Eleven stores in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. “The one-on-one format requires you to be disciplined and focused on cutting through the marketing and finding real solutions for growing the business.”

For the supplier community, the clear benefit is a steady three-day stream of key retail buyers that are prepared to purchase the retail solutions that best fits their needs.

“The quality of the retailers we are seeing is among the best we’ve ever seenat a retail conference,” said John Imbesi, president of North American Stationstores,RaceTrac, Ricker Oil, Sheetz and Thornton Oil Co. Crosschannel marketers included99 Cents Only stores, Barnes & Noble, Bed Bath & Beyond, Pathmark, Wegman’sand Tru-Value Hardware.

“I think the list of show attendees is representative of the quality event this has become,” said Jimmy Im, director of marketing for Really Useful Products Inc., a New Jersey-based novelty importer. “We have been coming here for the past four years and have seen the number of retailers double. It’s a great place to conduct business.”

Driving business
The event was kicked off by Pat Lewis, president ofOasis Stop N Go in Twin Falls, Idaho, who last year became CEO of the company’sKickback Points customer loyalty program. He urged retailers to consider developinga rewards program to drive new and repeat business.

“Loyalty programs achieve their objectives by offering consumers a combination of hard and soft benefits that alter the value proposition in a positive way and by utilizing superior information to market directly to specific customers,” Lewis said.

Once thought to be just for large-scale retail chains, more consumers are beginningto expect reward programs from small retailers as well, according to Lewis.He said the three goals of a solid loyalty program are:

  • Decrease customer defection. “If your competitor is giving loyaltydiscounts on fuel or giving a gallon of milk after 10 purchases, you needto have something in place that will give customers a reason to stay withyou,” Lewis said. “If not, you can’t blame them for shopping at a store thatis rewarding their loyalty.”
  • Increase frequency. Studies by KickBack rewards show that customerswere comfortable paying a few more cents per gallon on fuel if they believedthey were earning points for a free car wash or a specific prize, such asa free sandwich. “As a result, customers made our stores a destination forthe majority of their convenience needs,” Lewis said.
  • Increase ticket average. Since customers know they are earning rewards,they are more likely to buy milk, bread, cigarettes and other items on onetrip instead of making separate trips to the supermarket, Lewis said.

Other General Session presenters included Dorothy Allan, vice president marketing for Cannon Retail Technologies, who discussed consumer behavior once they are inside the convenience store, emphasizing the need to give customers multiple looks at high-margin categories in order to maximize revenue.

“There is a relationship between brand, space and financial performance,” Allansaid. “You need to challenge the notion that bigger stores are always better.The fact is that when stores are designed and merchandised to the demographicsof your customer base, shoppers are going to visit more and spend more.”

Cannon was enlisted by Ricker Oil Co., which operates 38 stores in Indiana,to recreate its retail offering. As part of the process, Ricker’s collecteddata via customer intercepts and focus groups to determine core customer behavior,better understand natural adjacencies and pinpoint which SKUs produced marginand turnover. Using that information, a new store configuration was developedto eliminate the “bowling alley” feel of the aisles in favor of a round “oasis”located in the center of the store, where product is stocked facing outward,forcing customers to walk around the entire store.

In Ricker’s Middletown, Ind., test store, a number of metrics improved whenmeasured against the chain as a whole, including: a 20% reduction in SKUs; customersatisfaction ratings rose 65%; visit frequency went up 51%; and the store wasrated “much more appealing” by 66% of customers.

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