Targeting New Customers

Gaining market share has never been more important than it is today, when a tough economy is forcing customers to hang on to their money longer. This means that c-store retailers seeking new customers need to become aware of what specific groups need in order to improve their marketing strategies.

One such group is the nation’s swelling Hispanic population, which fortunately already appreciates c-stores.

“Hispanics absolutely love shopping at convenience stores,” said consultant Sylvia Melendez-Klinger, president of Hispanic Food Communications. “We go to the store every day. We may go once every couple of weeks to a bigger store, like a warehouse—type place, but for the things we need every day—a little bit of cilantro, for example—we are accustomed to going to a smaller, corner store.”

Also, many Hispanic moms in urban markers don’t drive, so they walk to the closest store, just as they did in their native countries before moving to the U.S., Melendez-Klinger said.

When marketing to Hispanics, try to be competitive in price, Melendez-Klinger advised, but above all remember two things: Hispanic consumers are intensely brand loyal and money is not a major factor in their food purchases. “Hispanics have the lowest incomes in the U.S., but their income is mainly spent on food,” she said. “They spend a lot of money on food and beverages.”

Market the Entire Store
Though marketing to Hispanics means expanding the product mix to include items this group wants, c-store retailers should remember that once they enter the store, there is an opportunity to sell them other products as well.

“We realized there was a growing Hispanic customer base here about five years ago and began carrying products they know and like, and our overall business grew because of it,” said Brad Eaton, category manager at Greenville, S.C.-based The Spinx Cos., which operates 66 convenience stores, as well as fast-food restaurants in the Carolinas. “They don’t just buy Mexican products, but beer, coffee and other things as well.”

Eaton said his company’s Hispanic market had been growing for the last four years, but the bottom fell out this year because cutbacks in building construction meant fewer available jobs. “Our Hispanic-based business has dropped about 40%,” he estimated. “We still have a decent business with that market, but it’s dropped significantly. However, Hispanic business has been good for us, and we’re confident that when the economy recovers we’ll get back what we’ve temporarily lost.”

Before its Hispanic customer base diminished, Spinx expanded its offerings to include some of the brands those customers crave.

“The market is very brand-loyal. Whatever they would purchase in Mexico, they want to be able to purchase here,” Eaton said. To satisfy this need, Sphinx stocks brands like Marinela and Bimbo cakes, Marian cookies and various other brands of Mexican pastries and tortillas, all of which are brought in fresh daily. The company also carries a small stock of Hispanic grocery items and lines of Jumex and Jarritos sodas and juices.

“We brought in a good selection of products our Hispanic customers were already accustomed to buying,” Eaton said. “In the upstate, Hispanic people know they can come to us to get what they know and want.”

Be Prepared in All Stores
Channel retailers should make a point of carrying the foods most Hispanics like and want to buy. “I live in a suburban area of Chicago,” Melendez-Klinger said. “My local c-store carries lots of Hispanic foods, and all the Bimbo bakery products, but convenience owners should also remember that Hispanics often shop in areas with lower Hispanic populations.”

Even though most of the homeowners where Melendez-Klinger lives are not Hispanic, she said her neighborhood is a typical portrait of Americana, where there are numerous day laborers, construction crews and other service people who work in the area and frequent neighborhood stores.

Spinx works with a local tienda that offers direct-store delivery (DSD) of Hispanic products to 48 of its 66 stores. In addition, the company added Spanish language advertising and signage, does some commercials on Muzak in Spanish and works with Coke and Pepsi, which mention its stores in their Spanish ads.

What Women Want
In addition to growing its offerings to the Hispanic community, Spinx is courting female shoppers as well, offering more salads and deli sandwiches and testing a fresh fruit and vegetable program.

“We’re trying to make our offering healthier in hopes of getting more women in,” Eaton said. “We want everybody to be healthy, and I think women top the list of health conscious buyers.”

Whatever your strategy, don’t pass up opportunities to cast a wide net to reach as many customers as possible, Melendez-Klinger counseled. This approach is predicated on making sure employees understand your strategy and are trained accordingly.

“Hire employees that are bilingual so customers feel welcome in your store,” Melendez-Klinger said. “Use Spanish in signage as well to make things easy to find, make sure that any flyers, coupons or other advertising materials your store puts out are in Spanish as well as English.”

Above all, remember that service is king when it comes to getting and keeping new customers.

“Be accessible and always remember to be nice,” Melendez-Klinger said. “The minute they feel disrespected, both female customers and Hispanics will go somewhere else and you’ll never see them again. Make them feel welcome and they will come back again and again.” CSD

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