Utilizing modern means and methods are a necessary part of being a category manager in today’s convenience store industry. Travis Hanke counts his well-rounded industry knowledge as perhaps his sharpest tool.
By David Bennett, Senior Editor
Travis Hanke wouldn’t say he’s cutting edge, but in terms of the latest and greatest in category management, you might say he works near the edge.
The edge of adventure, that is.
“I’m very fortunate to be part of the Maverik Inc. team. Maverik’s ‘Adventure’s First Stop’ brand, new-build store growth, innovation and the team members are all amongst the best in the industry,” said Hanke, category manager for the Salt Lake City, Utah-based chain of 311 stores.
Specifically, he oversees the cigarette, tobacco and general merchandise categories. In a short period time—a little less than a year—he has brought his industry knowledge to Maverik, which has also brought a liveliness to a tobacco category that is often bogged down by government regulations.
Not only does he stay on top of the latest tobacco regulations, but he is using state-of-the-art methods to evaluate and respond to the latest industry trends.
Hanke also recognizes that consumers expect to be recognized and treated as individuals, and those expectations are spurring significant changes to all aspects of today’s c-store operation.
Counting the tangibles and intangibles he brings to the table, CSD is recognizing Hanke for his leadership in category management.
IN THE BEGINNING
Hanke started in the industry in June 1998 as a cashier at Flying J. During his time at Flying J, Hanke served in operations and category management roles for 12 years.
Afterward, Hanke’s career stops included experiences in both operations and category management. Prior to Maverik, he was a district manager/category manager at the convenience store chain Pump & Pantry, part of Bosselman Enterprises. His resume also includes a tenure with Buchanan Energy, which does business as Bucky’s and operates c-stores in four markets; Omaha Metro, Chicagoland, greater St. Louis and Houston.
So what does a category manager acquire after 20 years—aside from a lot of kudos and coffee cups?
Hanke brings much managing experience. At Maverik, he put that experience to work.
Changes in category management that have affected the scope of Hanke’s job include tools that capture consumer data. Accuracy is clearly a significant hurdle to many retailers’ abilities to harness analytics to drive decision-making and improve the customer experience. More and more c-stores are letting technology do the work, and Maverik is no exception.
“The retail sales data solutions available have significantly changed the game over the years. Knowledge is power,” said Hanke. “We’re making better decisions and moving in directions quicker based on actual measurable results and not perception, speculation or emotion. This evolution has also brought clearer visibility to cannibalization, duplication and space-to-sales opportunities. A win-win with our vendor partners can’t be achieved without it.”
In a short time, Hanke and his team have made improvements in the tobacco category, including the implementation of zone pricing within each state on cigarettes and moist smokeless tobacco. Maverik’s geographic footprint includes 11 Western states.
“This direction allows us to optimize sales and profits within each market based on competition,” Hanke said.
Of course, overseeing such a fluid category isn’t without its challenges.
“Earlier this year, the cigarette industry’s leading manufacturer announced its plan for a ‘smoke-free’ future,” said Hanke. “The category is evolving fast and we must be prepared to respond quickly to give customers the products they want.”
“The legislative tobacco issues are also a challenge,” Hanke continued. “The state tax increases have always been there, however the menthol restrictions and minimum purchase age changes have become more prevalent recently.”