I remember my first interview with a convenience store chain.
I had just spent nine fast-paced years with Little Caesars Pizza as the national marketing director. We had grown from 1,300 stores to 5,000 stores in less than five years, and had revenues exceeding $3 billion. My role was to oversee all of the field marketing for the company both at the regional and the grass-roots levels.
When an equally-large c-store chain approached me with the possibility of leading their marketing, I listened.
During the interview, the chief financial officer of this company asked, “How are you going to adjust going from essentially one product (pizza) to managing 4,000 SKU’s in a convenience store?”
At first, this seemed like an interview-killing question. Then I realized that I didn’t have to make any of these 4,000 products. And that is the ultimate challenge of foodservice marketing — delivering on the expectation of a product that is created every order and multiple times a day by different operators.
The real beauty of a well-executed proprietary foodservice program is that it can make your brand unique. Convenience store items, for the most part, are the same from store-to-store. Pricing, promotion and display can add some level of uniqueness, but essentially a Snickers bar is the same from c-store to c-store.
Foodservice marketing has to take a different form than simply putting up a sign in a window screaming a price point. On-site prepared food is a very personal choice for a customer. Be it a sandwich or pizza, we all have our likes and dislikes. While there are a myriad of marketing ideas for promoting foodservice, the ones that make or break your success enable the customer to taste the product firsthand.
Sample for Success
At Little Caesars, our local store marketing programs were built around the premise of “getting the product in the mouths of customers.” Every promotional event attempted to involve tasting the product.
A flyer or coupon will only go so far — customers want to know if the product tastes good to them. Our group sales programs to schools, our fundraisers and our sports sponsorships all involved eating the product at some point. This sampling by the customers, combined with our value proposition of “Pizza! Pizza!” created a winning combination.
When I left the convenience industry, I became president of the Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwich chain. Not surprisingly, this 2,000-store chain had its marketing built around the same premise — sampling. Built into Jimmy John’s daily operations is a sampling program where the store employees make eight sandwiches, divide them into thirds and deliver samples and a menu every morning to 24 businesses that surround the store. Day in and day out, the business community is reminded of the great tasting sandwiches less than a few blocks away.
Foodservice operators are competing for “share-of-stomach” and the dollars spent in the food industry are staggering in comparison to the c-store industry. Competing against the titans like Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and McDonald’s is futile if you try to outspend them. Where operators can succeed, is developing foodservice marketing programs that create opportunities to get customers in their immediate trade areas to sample their products on an ongoing basis. This product trial will create the routine for your customers provided that you can deliver a consistent product.
John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc., a strategic planning, operations and interim general management firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries. With more than 25 years of senior-level experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written Game-Changing Strategies For Retailers, which is available on Amazon. In addition, he has two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.