The earlier purveyor of drive-through retail, Swiss Farms today is directing its efforts toward nutritious food offerings and modern customer service.
By David Bennett, Senior Editor
For a c-store that’s customers’ primary shopping experience begins and ends at the drive-through, Swiss Farms is in the process of re-branding its position within the marketplace.
The retailer’s compass for success has always been calibrated to its long-term capacity to provide quality products at affordable prices. The Broomall, Pa-based Swiss Farms, which has been operating for nearly 48 years, is now growing its business to include nutritious food offerings, digital upgrades and plans for future expansion.
Its future direction is in the hands of Scott Simon, who took over as president and CEO of Swiss Farms earlier this year. Before, Simon was chief operating officer of the Heavenly Bowl, a chain of restaurants in California and Nevada specializing in healthy food options. He has also served as director of food and beverage for Harrah’s Philadelphia and CCR Resorts in Las Vegas.
The latest move allows Simon to get back to the Philadelphia area, but more importantly, head up a company that has grown within a community where it has been operating for generations. Swiss Farms currently has 13 drive-through locations throughout the Philadelphia area in Delaware and Chester counties.
“Swiss Farms is an extension of Philadelphia for us; it’s a local company that’s been around for 47 years and it’s family driven,” Simon said. “Swiss Farms has a natural lure to values my wife and I personally identify with, down to the products that we sell, the fabric of the culture and being a staple in the community.”
The new CEO brought with him a straightforward agenda, which includes a significant commitment to employee training, and strategic planning and management. Another operational area that Simon is addressing is Swiss Farms’ foodservice program.
Simon’s planning team understands that one of the biggest challenges to achieving a healthy lifestyle anymore is time and convenience. To ease those challenges, the company is engaging customers by providing more viable shopping solutions, including healthier food offerings.
“There has been a shift toward more health information being available, which means more people looking to take better care of themselves. We all have to eat and we all have choices,” Simon said. “At Swiss Farms, the friendly, relaxed personal shoppers are set up to make the experience seamless, fun, easy and memorable. We want to up the ante of the Swiss Farms convenience factor, which has already existed for so long, by starting to implement newer prepared, packaged and private label foods along the way and swivel outside the lines of what is typically expected of convenience store offerings.”
That means some popular items have remained and others are getting a fresh look.
“We certainly have our staple core products, milk and teas just to name a few,” Simon said. We currently sell fresh fruit, fresh hoagies, fresh macaroni and cheese, fresh pasta salad with a full line of meal replacements starting sometime in mid-August, including a fresh food entrée for under $10 nostalgic of something your mom would have made with a protein, a starch and a vegetable all freshly prepared. As we continue to source and produce locally, Swiss Farms foodservice guarantees the highest level of integrity for a fresh meal solution.”
At Swiss Farms, criteria for what’s fresh and healthy go deeper than just the presentation of the product. Other considerations include origin, naturalness, safety and price. Since Simon came on board, there has been a more stringent requirement from suppliers that prepared food offerings—as much as possible—be free from artificial flavors, colors, preservatives and sweeteners, GMOs, high fructose corn syrup and trans fats. Also, dairy products are free from hormones and antibiotics.
It has only enhanced the opportunity to build more customer loyalty by partnering with local food producers that in turn, enable Swiss Farms to offer healthier choices.
“Navigating this marketplace of selling ‘better for you’ products in a convenient drive-through setting is very exciting to be a part of,” Simon said. “As a parent, having raised three girls, I realize what a hassle it is to get in and out of your car and what a relief it is to find a business that can cater to those folks, like moms, that have so much on their plate, trying to multi-task during the day. Swiss Farms is such a staple within the community it would lend itself in every neighborhood in any setting, in any city.”
Swiss Farms has always distinguished itself from competitors with its drive-through program—an integral part of its customer service philosophy: convenience coupled with an old-fashioned, personal touch. The company does employ outdoor LED reader boards that flash graphics and the latest promotions. However, there’s a real cashier that assists customers who then pull up to the window to pick up their items, whether it’s a Swiss Premium milk, a gallon of tea cooler, a bag of chips or a complete dinner offering.
To increase the convenience factor, the Swiss Farms recently rolled out a comprehensive c-store app available in the Apple App Store and in Google Play Store, which is free to download and use. The app allows patrons to place their orders ahead of time and they are ready for purchase when they arrive.
The app also gives users 5% back on purchases—$1 for every $20 spent.
“There is a $3 welcome credit for downloading the app and $3 refer-a-friend credit, and many custom offers available only to app users. There are currently over 6,000 loyal app users. As a result of the successful loyalty program, the average spend per transaction on the App is $2 higher, and further increases by an additional $2-$5 when a guest is earning or redeeming a loyalty credit,” he said.
The company is in the process of remodeling seven stores before the end of 2016. However, the c-store chain hopes to double its footprint by next year.
“We are all eager for growth and have been exploring several different opportunities,” Simon said. “Nothing is solidified, but we are working with a possible acquisition, involving 14 petroleum stations and re-branding them all Swiss Farms,” Simon said. “They are all here in Delaware County with a couple outliers and a few in Chester County and Bucks County. Each store will be modeled differently. Some of the stores would have a hybrid drive-up and walk-up while others would be primarily walk-up.”
The company, which used to have franchises in years past, today is 100% self-financed, with no current franchise or license deals. Going forward, Simon sees taking on future affiliates if the opportunity is viable.
“We are receptive to finding good partners in the future who understand the industry and what it takes to be successful,” Simon said.