The National Advisory Group (NAG) Conference began its third day on Tuesday, March 29, with educational sessions on relevant topics, followed by information exchanges.
The first educational session, “Driving Targeted Business Outcomes,” included speakers Ieva Grimm, chief operating officer of Jim Dandy Stores; Rachel Puepke, vice president of marketing at CEFCO; and Sorin Hilgen, group chief digital officer and chief information officer at EG Group. Steve O’Toole, vice president of sales and business development at Stuzo, moderated.
Sandra Sydlik, marketing specialist at Stuzo, introduced a survey which asked retailers about the types of business outcomes they were looking for in 2022.
Installing self-checkout kiosks was the most popular response (65%) in terms of digital and customer experience initiatives planned for the year, tied with launching/overhauling a loyalty program.
The loyalty and payments programs goals, specifically, entailed increasing membership enrollment (77%) followed by increasing basket size (71%) and increasing member visits (65%).
“Personalization is key, and it’s exactly what customers expect today,” said Sydlik, in response to the survey results.
The panel speakers discussed brand strategy, vendor relationships, consumer interactions and business outcomes that they have personally been successful with. One strategy stressed to retailers was choosing two or three goals to focus on and drive.
“Actually settling on fewer (outcomes) that we really want to move has probably been the biggest success driver,” said Grimm.
The panelists noted the importance of tapping into vendors, both to give them the opportunity to help retailers achieve their desired business outcomes as well as to explore the wealth of information their research departments collected.
Hilgen defined business outcomes as “the effort and the resources spent to obtain an expected state.” He outlined the need to align with the targeted outcome, measure its status over time and find patterns that can be turned into actionable items.
Puepke used the example of growing CEFCO Kitchen — every new store being tied to the made-to-order-style kitchen, which includes kiosks — to demonstrate one example of a successful business outcome she helped implement. The concept is now launching to all CEFCO’s kitchens.
The retailers all agreed that targeted busines solutions will be effective with trying new ideas, being bold and growing and maintaining connections.
“We’ve got a lot of competition out there, so we all have to stand out,” said Puepke.
The second educational session, “Lessons from COVID — How the Industry is Recovering from a Pandemic,” moderated by Erin Del Conte, executive editor at CStore Decisions, featured speakers Colin Dornish, director of operations at Coen Oil Co. and Derek Gaskins, chief marketing officer at Yesway.
Dornish gave a brief introduction of Coen Oil, including showcasing its recently opened location in Steubenville, Ohio. The location has Coen’s smallest kitchen format to date and is the latest installment in Coen’s rebranding initiative.
Operating since 1923, “the 99-year-old startup company” is focusing on continuing to push the brand across the entirety of the chain.
The main focuses for the store have been its “food first” mentality —promoting its famous never-frozen, fresh, hand-made chicken — and launching its loyalty application.
Gaskins also gave a brief background on Yesway. With 402 stores in nine states, the company’s strategy is all about acquisitions. When Yesway acquired Allsup’s, one of the biggest challenges the company faced was merging two cultures.
“The challenge for us was we had just made a huge acquisition … and this unplanned for, unprecedented virus comes and literally wreaks havoc,” Gaskins said, regarding COVID-19.
However, when the pandemic hit, the company was forced to accelerate the coming together of the two brands. Culture, teamwork and trust were facilitated.
Gaskins spoke about measures Yesway took in response to the pandemic, such as launching its Hospitality Heroes program. Through this, team members were loaded with store-use credit. Front-line workers were rewarded financially for excellent service and compassion for customers. Photos of these workers were placed on social media to showcase the humanization of the community and boost morale.
Dornish also noted Coen’s recognition of its workers during the pandemic and emphasized the Coen family.
“It’s not a labor market, it’s a labor war right now,” said Dornish.
To attract potential employees and show appreciation for current staff, Coen emphasizes a culture of winning, empathy and compassion. It also maintains a healthy work-life balance.
He also mentioned the importance of communication and feedback, a focus that is ongoing at Coen.
The speakers encouraged retailers to consider working with smaller brands, especially for private-label items, if the supply chain is struggling with larger brands. Additionally, they advised predictive thinking when possible, a spirit of positivity and community engagement.
Later in the day, two more educational sessions will take place, along with an awards reception.