With its expanded Anchor Café foodservice program, new store locations and stronger customer engagement, Ohio-based FriendShip Food Stores is charting its course for the future.
By David Bennett, Senior Editor
Situated between Toledo and Cleveland, the Ohio city of Port Clinton means walleye fishing, the dizzying roller coasters of Cedar Point and the eminence of Lake Erie.
It has also proved a conducive environment for FriendShip Food Stores to expand its retail footprint. Owned and operated by Fremont, Ohio-based Beck Suppliers Inc., the convenience store chain has its sights set on operational areas it anticipates will boost its growth in the coming years—none more so than its Anchor Café foodservice program.
Among the regional communities in which FriendShip operates, Port Clinton perhaps best represents the c-store’s blend of service philosophy: relaxed, fun, dependable and customer-focused.
All of these descriptors are on display at the company’s new 3,400-square-foot store, said Gregg Edwards, director of retail operations for FriendShip Food Stores. In the city of North Ridgeville, located about 25 miles west of Cleveland, the new store is the first to operate with the large Anchor Café logo, which is affixed beneath the store’s roof.
For years, FriendShip convenience stores has offered a wide variety of foodservice items, including North Coast coffee, Hunt Brothers Pizza and Charley Biggs Chicken, in addition to its own proprietary Anchor Café offerings. However, the company is putting less emphasis on its co-branded partnerships to grow its in-house foodservice program.
“We already had a branded pizza and a branded chicken program and our own frozen yogurt program and wanted to bring them under one umbrella with ability to expand to other programs as well, moving forward,” Edwards said.
Since December 2013, FriendShip has offered its proprietary Yogurt Paradise, a self-serve yogurt experience that offers patrons 15 flavors and 45 separate toppings.
While the footprint of the North Ridgeville store is smaller than other new FriendShip locations, which average about 800 more square feet, the North Ridgeville store still offers a big beer cave, wider aisles and a revamped coffee space.
Kevin Campbell, Beck’s retail marketing director, said the company hired a new food director to oversee its foodservice strategies and in 2016, FriendShip will be working with a consulting firm to further develop its foodservice programs.
Because the U.S. economy remains steady, Beck’s plans for more store construction projects are in the works. Looking closer to Cleveland, the company is planning another store in the city of Bedford this year.
Another project in Port Clinton involves Paragon Solutions, a Fort Worth, Texas design firm Beck worked with in 2011 to erect an earlier Port Clinton store—part of which
resembles a lighthouse.
Aside from the Anchor Café, the planned 4,500-square-foot location will feature a comprehensive security system run by Gulfcoast Storekeeper software, which actives a video camera any time a cash drawer is open. Like other FriendShip sites, the system allows Edwards to monitor any store from his office, capturing every transaction.
“The Port Clinton store will start construction at the end of next summer season,” Edwards said. “We want to capture all the tourist and summer business before we close the existing store.”
The company is also looking at existing locations to determine how those sites will be revamped to accommodate the foodservice platform.
“As we move forward we will revamp legacy stores to reflect the Anchor Café design strategy where space permits,” Edwards said.
Other FriendShip locations are equipped with drive-throughs, which will complement the Anchor Café program as the platform continues to roll out to new sites, Edwards said.
Beck is able to leverage the capabilities of its construction division when planning and building new FriendShip locations.
Beck Suppliers, one of the largest petroleum distributors in Northwestern Ohio, is multifaceted when it comes to services.
Not only does Beck do construction, the company also delivers propane to a number of counties in northwestern Ohio as well as sells and installs Belanger-brand car wash equipment.
FRIENDSHIP A PLENTY
The Anchor Café will also allow FriendShip to take advantage of its popular FriendShip Rewards loyalty program. FriendShip has found that consumers embrace the ability to save on the cost of fuel, regardless of prices at the pump, and rewards can be used on gasoline, Campbell said.
Rewards cards are loaded with the corresponding cent-per-gallon discount. When patrons are ready to cash in their balance, they can insert their rewards card into the fuel dispenser to get the total discount amount. Loyalty rewards are also stackable and can be used later.
Not only does FriendShip continue to cultivate its loyalty program, but it is employing digital tools to better serve patrons. The c-store last fall launched its company app, using OpenStore by GasBuddy technology. Based on their personal preferences, c-store patrons are receiving promotions and coupons directly through their mobile phones and social media.
According to Campbell, the digital approach has resulted in higher coupon redemption rates and increased in-store sales.
“We’re able to engage our customer and communicate with them,” Campbell said. “The app has a feature for customer feedback and we’re able to react rather quickly.” Both directors receive an email via the customer feature. No email goes unanswered, whether it’s returning a compliment or to quell concerns over a dirty bathroom, for example.
Increasing customer engagement means making more effort to connect to the communities that FriendShip stores operate in. The company assists local schools and organizations with improvement projects. In new or remodeled stores, the c-store also displays a mural celebrating the local high school’s name and mascot.
Edwards said FriendShip has implemented its own online customer-service training modules for employees called “Wicked Awesome Customer Service.”
Quality customer service is par for the course at the c-store, but the course is always changing. Because of that, FriendShip ensures it’s facing its future the right way.
“Every year, we refresh our strategic plan and aggressively attack it to make sure objectives are completed,” Edwards said.