Brand Auditing for Convenience Stores

By Brian Harris

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Previously, we’ve discussed the basics for building a brand audit for quick-service restaurants. While the same can be applied to convenience stores, we want to focus on a key aspect of brand auditing that’s especially relevant to convenience stores: brand identity.

How’s your identity these days? Is it strong and vibrant? Are you conveying to customers what makes you special? Better yet, are you wondering how on earth you can be expected to measure something like brand identity?

Well, there’s good news—it is possible to audit your c-store brand.

Consider this: QSRs have an advantage of being distinct from one another just by their signature food items. A customer isn’t going to McDonald’s because they have better ketchup than Burger King. They’re going because they have a craving for a Big Mac or a McFlurry. But it’s trickier for convenience stores that offer many of the same packaged goods and have a history centered around the gas island.

Fortunately, consumer perception of the industry—especially in terms of foodservice—is slowly changing. C-store retailers that are winning the brand identity game are those who have strong products and packaging. Think of the 7-Eleven Slurpee and Wawa Hoagie. Sheetz has branded its own Made to Order menu while QuikTrip offers QT Kitchens.

Promoting those unique products—whether it’s a fountain drink special or a proprietary snack—can be do wonders for brand identity in the short and long term.

However, clever marketing ideas are only as good as your ability to follow through and execute. So let’s revisit this idea of building a brand auditing survey, while taking a closer look at some areas a convenience store can check for compliance.

Brand Auditing with SWOT

You may already be familiar with SWOT, which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Completing a SWOT analysis at the store level may be the answer to finding out how your network can reach the next level of success. Here’s an example of building a convenience store brand audit with SWOT:

Strength - Individually branded/proprietary products

  • Quantity of product
  • Date packaged
  • Price
  • Placement in the store (Verify your planogram.)
  • Promotional displays and/or signage

Weakness - Cleanliness

For now, assume this is a weakness because it is a classic thorn in the side for the industry. No one wants to buy your food when they’re grossed out.

  • Cleanliness of fuel islands
  • Cleanliness/clarity of windows
  • Condition of floor
  • Cleanliness of counters/customer food prep areas (coffee bar/beverage dispensers/grab-and-go islands)

Opportunity - Increased Exclusive Product Offerings

  • Inventory quantity (Do stores have more floor/shelf space for more proprietary products?)
  • Product quality (freshness, dates, price, etc.)
  • Effectiveness of retail promotions (Verify promotions. Are products, signage, and placement correct?)

Threats – Competitive Promotions

  • Category awareness
    Vendors are your retail partners, but they are also competitors in proprietary products. How are they pricing products and what kind of products do they offer?  Knowing this can help optimize sales. An example is the success of Wawa Iced Tea. Wawa chose not to complete with major soft drink manufacturers in the soft drink space. Rather, there was more opportunity to compete in proprietary iced tea.
  • C-store competitor awareness
    Do you know what promotions your competitor down the street is offering? If not, it’s time to find out. Make this a part of your regional manager’s routine store visit.

The Takeaway

If you’re going to devote time to creating a brand audit survey, at least make sure it will provide actionable insights. Keep in mind it’s not about the quantity of questions you ask—it’s about the quality. Importantly, create a survey that goes beyond “yes” and “no” answers. Go in with the mindset that you want to fix any problem that may be uncovered. Ask for photos, gather data by scanning barcodes, and evaluate store conditions on a sliding 1-10 scale. Following this process over a period of time will reveal both exceptions and successes you may not have initially recognized.

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