Convenience stores can protect their tobacco sales by doing everything they are probably already doing. Protecting them from over-zealous politicians, unfortunately, remains a whole other matter.
Experienced c-store retailers know how to make the most of this essential category. Most of it has to do with adroitly managing the basics:
* Know the best-selling items and make sure they are in stock at all times.
* Don’t be afraid to stock newer items until you can determine whether they deserve a permanent spot in the set. In cigarettes, for example, organic and all-natural products are trending.
* Take full advantage of promotional programs.
* Make sure merchandising is neat, efficient and well maintained.
* Use eye-catching signage, both inside the store and at the gas pumps.
* Listen to consumers, and respond to their product requests whenever feasible. With so much of retailers’ tobacco business already regulated and controlled by the government and tobacco companies, the key is often simply listening to customers and giving them what they demand.
* Consumers love flavored tobacco products, so – unless and until they are legislated off of store shelves – keep them in stock. Likewise, carry popular package sizes to appeal to a wider variety of adult consumers.
* Make sure staff members can talk in an informed manner about the various tobacco products to help customers make informed choices.
* Know the relevant laws and regulations, and follow them.
* Make sure the cashiers are scrupulous about checking ID’s to avoid selling tobacco products to underage customers and the accompanying penalties.
Convenience store tobacco category managers must also not make the mistake of underestimating the popularity of OTP products, including moist snuff, snus (or pouches), loose-leaf and plug chewing tobacco and roll-your-own or loose tobacco. These products are extremely strong performers and continue to grow in popularity.
Retailers should also consider upscaling the store’s cigar offering with premium product to be merchandised in a humidor.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, becoming an activist against government overreach is arguably the single best long-range method for defending a convenience store’s tobacco business.
Convenience store owners and executives need to be involved at the grassroots level and through organizations like NACS, the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO) and others.