The Pulse of the C-Store

The convenience store front counter provides the perfect
canvas to showcase a mix of hot new items and profitable
impulse buys that will grab customers’ attention. But experts
agree that this area is among the most underutilized selling
place in the entire store. Boosting impulse sales at the front counter
is extremely important because the products displayed near the
checkout offer a high turnover and strong profit returns.

Organization is Key
Krause Gentle Corp.’s Kum & Go stores, based in West Des Moines,
Iowa, sees more than 360,000 customers pass by its front counters
on any given day throughout its 450-store network, which spans the

A traditional Kum & Go location offers customers two checkout
aisles with impulse items strategically placed in front of the registers
and to each side of the checkout lane. Surrounding the customer
with merchandise greatly increases the chances that a product will
catch their eye while approaching the checkout.

“A customer’s impulse purchases are most often fueled by curiosity,”
said Dana Sump, marketing category manager for Kum & Go. “If
a product appeals to the senses and is brightly colored, it has a better
chance of selling.”

Some of Kum & Go’s best selling merchandise at the front counter
includes two for $1 beef jerky, BIC lighters, over-the-counter HBC products,
single cigars and candy. These items represent a wide variety of
different categories that have the most potential to sell in an impulse
environment. Often, monthly “suggest sell” items from suppliers are
placed there to test out their movement potential.

“The front counter is a great place to feature a new item if the
footprint isn’t too large,” said Sump. “Margin potential is also a consideration
for whether the product gets placed on the counter or in
another location.”

A variety of different display vehicles are used to merchandise
Kum & Go’s front counter, keeping it neat and organized so that customers
can easily select products. The chain uses a combination of
wire racks, Plexiglas cases and plastic racks to maximize the limited
amount of valuable space.

Suppliers, such as BIC and Novelty Inc., present their products to
retailers whenever a new item is about to hit the channel. The margins
can be high on timely items, such as movie-themed candy, or
ones that carry popular subject matters, like a drink series lighter. It
also helps that suppliers provide premium display sets that are specifically
designed to maximize front counter space.

When organizing the front counter so that it doesn’t become too
overcrowded, Sump helps identify select selling zones and the items
are placed on a prioritized basis. The chain makes sure that items are
rotated regularly to ensure a fresh, full look for the customers.

According to Todd Green, president of Novelty Inc., the key to
increasing front counter sales is to really drive the rotation of a product
and keeping the selection appealing and new.

“As long as the counter is clean, organized
and non-obtrusive, the customer is
happy,” said Sump. “Those who want to
browse can do so, while those that want
speed of service can get on their way.”

Several factors play into a customer’s
choice in purchasing an impulse item, like if
national advertising has caught their attention
or if the item is perceived as a value.
Sump feels that suggestive selling by store
employees is the best way to encourage
front counter impulse sales since it gives
another dimension to the shopping experience
by allowing for personal interaction.

Testing the Waters
The front counter remains a great spot
to display new items in small quantities
before retailers have to commit to a larger
order. Adam Wilson, president and owner of
AJ Convenience in Largo, Fla., tests out new
items about every two months to gather
enough sales data to determine if the product
is worth keeping for the long term.

“Some of the products at our front counter
that start out as impulse buys can
eventually transform into destination items,”
said Wilson. “For example, the liquid energy
shots have become very popular and people
are starting to specifically ask for it.”

AJ Convenience also carries single-serve
candy on the front counter. The candy’s low
price points of 15 to 25 cents encourage
customers to toss in several treats with their
purchase. Wilson has noticed many established
candy treats, such as the Zero candy
bar, that have disappeared and recently
come back with items that can spark nostalgia
in older customers.

The company tries to supply a mix of
products that appeals to everyone, basing
its merchandise selection on profitability
and size. One of the main concerns for all c-stores
retailers is making sure that their front
counter space is stocked with all the necessary
impulse items while keeping the area
aesthetically organized.

“Most items are arranged to optimize limited
counter space,” said Wilson. “When a product complements another item, we can structure the space to
really attract the customer.”

Wilson stocks food items that are generally non-perishables, such
as beef jerky and novelty candy, but also sells single-serve fruit selections
like bananas.

Safety First
First Choice C-Store, in Safety Harbor, Fla.,
said its primary concern regarding the front
counter is to keep items that are prone to
theft stored behind the counter. Items such
as cigarettes, phone cards and medication
are stocked above the cashier’s head so they
are in plain view, but a customer must ask for
the item.

“High-ticket items are usually kept out of the
customer’s reach,” said Fady Hanna, owner of
First Choice. “It’s a preventative measure to
avoid theft and also keep inappropriate items
out of the hands of children.”

Competitive pricing can make all the difference
on the front counter, according to
Hanna. First Choice is one of four competing
c-stores within a two-mile radius,
and he always tries to stock the newest
items with the lowest prices. Hanna
will almost always try out a new product
and secure a spot for it as long as it’s
selling consistently.

Hanna stocks items that people
may forget to purchase if it
wasn’t sitting in front of them at
the checkout, such as gum and
lighters. He prescribes to the
same philosophy as Kum & Go
and AJ Convenience, that if an
item isn’t moving from the counter,
it doesn’t belong there.

“The front counter items should
promote themselves,” said Hanna.
“The key to selling impulse items
is the right product mix so that
you have something for all your