Bottom Line: Car Washes Increase Revenue

By Jennifer Hoffman

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With convenience stores selling an estimated 80% of the gasoline purchased in the U.S., adding a car wash may seem like a good idea. It gets even more promising when 86% of U.S. car wash equipment manufacturers reported a collective revenue increasing of 20% last year, according to a 2015 industry survey.

The study appeared in a Convenience Store Decisions article about car washes becoming a high-margin opportunity for convenience stores. “Presuming there is a market to be served and the site has the ability to process the demand, the car wash can contribute significantly to the bottom line,” Eric Wulf, CEO of the International Carwash Association, told CSD. He added that convenience store operators have more options than ever before due to new models and technologies. From mini-tunnels that minimize land usage to RFID technology that automates payment, more retailers are having success by increasing their throughput of cars per hour.

Car Wash Fundamentals

Like the convenience store or gas island, a car wash must be clean and functional, and offer a positive customer service experience. Car wash promotions are connected to the store’s marketing efforts and can tie into loyalty programs; the profit margins are intertwined.

CSD profiles Idaho-based Stinker Stores, which operates two touchless and eight soft-touch car washes. The select number of stores offering those services is notable, considering Stinker Stores operates 65 locations throughout the state. All of the systems have upgraded equipment to maximize efficiency and ensure that customers are getting the best experience.

Remember the Nationwide insurance commercial which depicted a rather large human baby as a car? Don’t mess with your customer’s baby! They will take to social media to complain, including on platforms like Yelp, and this can damage your brand.

Honk if You Have a Process

Whether installing or maintaining a car wash operation, it’s essential that you audit your operations both for functionality and marketing program compliance.

Sample audit questions:

  1. On average how long does it take a car to be washed, from the time it arrives at the terminal to the time the customer is ready to leave?
  2. Is equipment operational? (Can be more specific: brushes, rinsers, wipers, blow dryers, etc.)
  3. Is the car wash terminal an inviting, well-lit environment?

If the survey was built with Zenput, an answer of “no” to questions 2 and 3 would elicit a photo or explanation that could alert senior management that service is needed. Senior management could also set the average service time for Question 1. Therefore, they would receive an alert when the service time was taking too long. There might be a malfunction inside the tunnel or simply a traffic jam on a bright, sunny day when everyone wants a wash.

We usually say Zenput provides store-level insights. In this case, wash-level insights—down to a lack of soap—could be accounted for during an audit. It’s yet another example of how mobile technology can empower business operators to explore profit-building opportunities—without the fear of losing your shirt in the wash!

Topics: C-store

Raising the Bar on C-Store Restroom Cleanliness

By Brian Harris

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As I sit on an airplane reflecting on restroom cleanliness, my friend has just stood up to use the facilities. (Inconveniently, he has a window seat.) It’s the reason why I wouldn’t join him in having a coffee before the trip. I tend to avoid public restrooms whenever possible, but sometimes you don’t have a choice—like when you’re 30,000 feet in the air!

How important is bathroom cleanliness in the world of convenience retail? According to a recent report by Convenience Store Decisions, it does impact your business.

“Bathrooms likely have a larger impact on inside store sales than some retailers realize,” David Bishop, managing partner at consulting firm Balvor LLC, told the magazine. From working with a c-store retailer, he learned that one out of every 10 customers walking into the store visited the bathroom. However, none of these customers indicated that using the bathroom was the primary reason for their trip. “In other words, having great restrooms isn’t pulling customers into the store like a good promotion does,” Bishop explained. However, a dirty bathroom can “push customers right back out the door—especially if the customer had interest in prepared foods where both your hands and a stranger share a sandwich through touch.”

Why are restrooms so memorable? Probably because they put most of our senses on guard, including sight, touch, sound, and smell. That’s how you should be auditing—in consideration of the senses.

Sight

  • (Safety first): No smoking signs are posted.
  • Smoke detectors are present and working (should have indicator light).
  • “Employees must wash hands before returning to work” signs are posted in correct location.
  • Toilets flushed and seats clean.
  • Toiler paper is present in each stall.
  • Stall doors lock.
  • Trash cans are emptied.
  • Floor is mopped.
  • Mirrors wiped down.
  • Sinks are free of debris.
  • Hygiene products, if offered, are stocked.

Touch

  • Soap containers are filled and working.
  • Hand-dryers/soap dispensers are working.
  • Cold/warm water is working and at safe temperatures.

Sound

  • Light music is playing. (It could help diffuse the sound of sinks and toilets.)
  • Smoke alarms are installed.

Smell

  • The bathroom is properly deodorized.  
  • The bathroom smells like smoke. (That should trigger an alert/action from senior management.)

Other important things to audit:

  • Is there an employee schedule/checklist to ensure the bathroom is being cleaned periodically?
  • Are the proper supplies available to clean the restroom?
  • How does the temperature of the bathroom compare to the rest of the store/restaurant? (Is the customer comfortable here?)

Ratings and Photos

Some of the variables above may require more than a “yes” or “no” answer. That’s when it’s helpful to have more options, including a ranking system. Zenput allows senior management to set parameters on restroom audits. For instance, you can set the bar that all of the restrooms throughout your network must be rated a “6” or above on cleanliness entries.

With maintenance issues like dirty floors, a full trash can, or defective stall doors, field managers can take a photo and upload to their audit. Based on this photo, a task can then be assigned to fix this problem. The manager or staff addresses the problem and a new photo is shared for verification. Once verified, the task is marked complete.

Restroom audits come down to employee accountability and a brand’s definition of “clean.” If you rely on your staff to clean restrooms, make sure that the same person isn’t getting stuck with this task. A good employee could get frustrated and leave if other employees aren’t pitching in to help.

Define “clean” as a company/brand. Don’t forget that you set the bar by having clearly defined parameters. Developing a restroom audit can help you define those parameters, so go ahead and get started!

Topics: C-store

How CPG Rebate Verification Grows Your Brand

By Vladik Rikhter

supermarket-cpg-rebate

CPG (consumer packaged goods) rebate verification works a lot like the "gold star" system in grade school. When retailers are compliant and correctly execute the program the CPG company rewards these retailers with a monetary incentive. Both the retailers and CPG company benefit from improved sales.

Here is what a field merchandising rep should be looking for verifying a CPG rebate:

  1. Are the correct SKUs set up according to planogram?
  2. Are promotional displays set up correctly?

No free lunch: Of course, these two items should be part of the rebate agreement. Did a retailer actually meet sales and volume criteria by following the planogram? Is there enough product available, and is the facing correct?

When done correctly, CPG rebate verification programs will save your organization the money and time critical to growing your brand.

3 Advantages of digitizing CPG verification for rebate programs:

  1. Eliminates the “middle men” of paper sheets and Excel. There are no duplication of efforts in recording notes, taking photos, and sharing them with your team. All of this information is collected on a central platform.
  2. Easily verifies time and place. Mobile platforms use GPS location and timestamp, ensuring that your team knows when and where these photos were taken.
  3. Quickly generates reports with actionable results. The right program helps you work smarter, not harder. Ideally, you can set the system to alert you of exceptions.  

Remember: You know best when it comes to your brand! The CPG company needs its own process for verifying that retailers are reaching sales and volume criteria according to the agreed upon terms—the methods that are best for your growth.

Need Proof? Don’t just take our word for it. See how Zenput helped Jack Link’s capitalize on its large direct and indirect teams

Topics: C-store, CPG

Drone vs. Ground Delivery: Where Does Convenience Retail Stand?

By Scott Hill

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You may remember the classic line from “A Christmas Story”: You’ll shoot your eye out, kid! A 2015 version might be, “You’ll take a power line down, kid!”

Drones are increasingly in demand, in fact topping eBay’s list of The Hottest Holiday Gifts of 2015. They’ve captured the imagination of kids and adults alike. Now, these remote-controlled flying devices are also on the radar of today’s largest companies.

Amazon delivery drones will soon be taking a test flight in the city of Chiba, Japan, where the government declared the city’s airspace a deregulated zone. Meanwhile, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, wants to begin delivering packages via drones to consumers by 2017, while Walmart has applied to U.S. regulators for permission to test drones for home delivery.

These companies will have to overcome many hurdles, given the Federal Aviation Administration’s strict regulations on American airspace’s. Drone delivery may be a reality in Europe first where companies will find a more relaxed regulatory environment. But according to one aerial vehicle interviewed by Time, U.S. customers shouldn’t hold their breath. He foresees drone delivery being as common as Fedex or UPS by the late 21st century. In other words, he doesn’t think we’ll be alive to see it!

It also raises the question, by the time drone delivery becomes legal and regulated, will customers still care? Will some new innovation have taken its place?

The Immediate Future is Better Logistics

The other day, a friend of mine posted on his Facebook, “Should I tip the Prime Now driver for delivering a $1.89 Powerade?” I read, laughed, and knew that the future had arrived. (If you research this topic, you’ll see this is up for debate. )

In the immediate future, ground logistics take precedence. Instead of looking to the sky right now, c-store retailers would be better positioned to keep their eyes on the road. They should start to study companies like UPS, who are investing big money in technologies like Orion that mathematically determine the most fuel efficient ways to deliver goods.

7-Eleven has taken an early lead on home delivery, partnering with startups DoorDash in five cities and Tapingo in college markets.

Here are two important questions convenience retailers need to consider when thinking about delivery:

  1. If you were to offer a delivery service, would you be able to move goods from the floor quickly and complete the order accurately?
  2. Even delivery services from Amazon Prime Now take an hour or two. Is it going to be possible to reduce that window to the amount of time it takes an employee from the corner store to deliver?

That’s where convenience stores are uniquely positioned and can profit in the short and long term. Geographically, they have more locations and can beat larger retailers, Internet or big box, in a foot race.

If your convenience store network can handle it, you may want to start weighing your options for local delivery. Buy the drone for the office this year, but consider buying into technology that can help you understand your operations better.

Topics: Retail, C-store

7-Eleven's Mobile Delivery Is Brand-Focused

By Brian Harris

tapingo-7-eleven

Branding to a younger, Millennial generation is the name of the game when it comes to the convenience of the Internet. This is just as true when it comes to the convenience store, and retailers like 7-Eleven are learning they can benefit from branding their technology to college students.

7-Eleven recently partnered with delivery service Tapingo, and will focus on users at or near participating colleges in Arizona, California, Maryland, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. It’s convenient and, perhaps most importantly for this age group, it’s cheap.

Tapingo offers a browse of the aisle of the neighborhood 7-Eleven. Users pay a $2.99 delivery charge but no additional service fees. In light of Tapingo’s low cost and high revenue potential, more colleges are considering applying the app to campus dining programs.

Targeting the Audience

Big players like Amazon (with it’s Prime Now food ordering app) and Grubhub have already proven the food delivery model, and the market has been inundated with a variety of smaller niche players, like Caviar. The more companies in this space, the more the customer stands to benefit. It’s literally the “Hunger Games”: May the least expensive service with the best options and customer service win!

7-Eleven is taking it a step further by targeting young consumers who wants inexpensive items through an inexpensive service. Items like energy drinks, ice cream, and packaged snacks have wide appeal to this age group. On college campuses, where many students may not have cars, the need for delivery service is even more important.

As the college dorm economy is driven more and more by technological advances, brands like 7-Eleven have more to gain by appealing to those advancements. It’s not just a chance to sell more Slurpees; it’s a chance to build a lasting relationship with a customer.

The Takeaway

In order to increase market share, 7-Eleven’s venture into delivery was a necessary step towards integrating the brand with the modern definition of convenience.

Once again, 7-Eleven has shown how it’s a brand that understands and delivers on the needs of its core customers. Other competing convenience stores are sure to follow, but success will largely depend on how well these retailers know their business at the store level, including the needs of their target customer.

To learn why one of the largest franchisees of 7-Eleven stores in the U.S. chose Zenput to improve daily operations, click here.

Topics: Retail, Franchise, C-store

Zenput’s ‘Tech Temperature’ at the 2015 NACS Show

By Vladik Rikhter

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It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of the convenience and fuel retail industry’s annual NACS Show, especially when it takes place in Las Vegas! That’s why it’s important to take a step back and reflect on the experience. We were certainly thrilled to exhibit for the first time this year, and met many new and familiar faces.

One of the familiar faces was Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Content Development Coordinator for CSP. You may recall his 2014 article on Mapco’s network-wide implementation of Zenput. The great thing about NACS is that it allows you to put on a bit of a mini-show for passersby at the booth. Our mini-show focused on, of all things, a chicken sandwich!

As Angel explains in this NACS tech overview, Zenput showed how a hand-held gauge can read the temperature of food and how data can flow into our app and onto the cloud. He’s referring to Zenput’s recent integration with Bluetherm probe thermometers. By working together, these technologies eliminate the need for foodservice workers or managers to manually log temperatures and guarantee exact readings every time.

Taking Our Own ‘Tech Temperature’

The great thing about a trade show is that you get to take your own temperature as a company and compare it to some of the other trends on the show floor. Angel’s article highlights some of those trends, and Zenput is on point:

Big Data – Data is being used to assess customer shopping habits, manage inventory, and measure performance.

Branding – This is especially hot right now in the foodservice arena, and it really comes down to execution of in-store signage programs. How well do your stores execute on any given day? That’s where mobile reporting at the store level is especially handy.

Connectivity – That’s how you share information about in-store signage and inventory control. It’s all about staying connected while staying secure. This is where having GPS and timestamp and a secure cloud-based technology is useful.

Customer-relationship management – While the signage and in-store promotions are a component, it’s much more than that. It’s about responding quickly to problems that can arise in a store on any given day, from inventory control to maintenance. How well does your store respond to a shortage of the new CPG or a broken latte dispenser? Do they even have that capability? That’s where real-time exception reports and notifications can make a difference in a retailer’s bottom line.

To learn more about Zenput’s application in the convenience channel, click here.

And be sure to read about our recent partnership with Alon Brands, the largest 7-Eleven franchisee in the U.S.

Topics: C-store

C-Stores Need to Compete in Health & Beauty Care

By Scott Hill

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I was about to sit through a book reading by one of my favorite authors, and all I could think about was my dry lips. I needed a ChapStick, pronto. Once you feel your lips are chapped or your breath is bad, you can’t stop thinking about it. It’s so distracting! I had a few minutes before the show started, so I walked to the closest store—a 7-Eleven. Before I left, I also bought a bag of M&Ms. I was a happy camper for the rest of the evening.

Despite channel blurring, convenient stores still trail their mass, drug, and dollar store counterparts in the health and beauty care (HBC) category, according to a recent Convenience Store Decisions report. C-stores need to do something about this; it’s too good of an opportunity to pass up! As CSD points out—and as I know from experience—time-strapped customers don’t have time to wander for a Chapstick or a couple of aspirin. C-stores have a clear geographic advantage in that regard; they’re often the closest store.

A Growing Category…With Small-Sized Products

According to research by Mintel, total HBC retail sales are expected to increase 12% from 2014 and reach $42.5 billion by 2019. As CSD reports, many retailers are having success with smaller-sized products. Cosmetics maintain the highest market share at 25%, and some retailers report success with eye liners, lipsticks, hair sprays, and small-sized conditions. The strategy of offering travel-sized products for a lower price also works well for feminine hygiene products, headache powders, and even diapers.

Retailers also report that placement is key. Some reserve a small amount of space at the front of the store with recognizable brands.

The Case for Private-Label Products

In time, more convenience store retailers could develop their own private-label HBC brands to profit more from the category. Ric Anderson, managing partner of Retail Think Tank, says that c-stores can succeed if they take the time, effort and strategy to build private brands that mean something to the customer.

These products should also be in different section of the store with different visuals—a destination rather than a point-of-sale grab. By under-pricing national brands, private-label products can create a value that the customer understands and accepts.

In order for c-stores to even consider this option, they would have to have a very firm grasp of their retail metrics, including inventory control, SKUs, and product facings. Store operators would have to know what products are moving faster than others, and how customers respond to product placement in the store. They would also have to account for changes in their store planogram, and how growing HBC might affect other categories in the store.

So yes, there’s a clear opportunity here for c-stores—but only if the process to get there does first!

Topics: C-store

How Fresh is Your Retail Cold Case?

By Jennifer Hoffman

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Cold cases are one of the most important areas in the convenience retail business and also one of the most crucial to maintain. Having fresh, grab-and-go food is challenging, but when done correctly, this offering can yield healthy profits.

Unlike a store shelf or beverage cooler, the cold case is not an area of your store that you can simply “set and forget.” Store employees must regularly audit this area for three things:

  1. Appearance of the food
  2. Date packed and freshness
  3. Temperature stored

Before we discuss these factors, here’s a brief list of some of the foods commonly seen in a cold case:

  • sandwiches
  • wraps
  • salads
  • sushi
  • fruit/cheese cups
  • hard-boiled eggs
  • yogurt

Appearance of the Food

Does the food in your cold case look appealing? I’ll use an example from my own travels: a brie and apple sandwich on raisin bread. Sounds tasty, but the cheese looked moldy and the apple made the bread look soggy. In this case, the upsell on premium ingredients didn’t work.

Food doesn’t need to look completely gross not to sell, either. It can just look disproportionate. Is your parfait mostly granola and little fresh fruit or yogurt? Does the turkey sandwich look mostly bread with a chunk of meat crammed in between the slices? Poorly assembled food won’t sell, either.

Careful on quantity: Your cold case is a focal point of the store and should appear as a cornucopia of goodness. It’s a bit of a balancing act to not only offer items in quantity, but also to make sure that it doesn’t appear messy. Also, overstocking goods can lead to a risk of some items not receiving adequate refrigeration. Make sure items stay in contact with the cold surface of the case.

Date Packed and Freshness

When I picked up that apple and brie sandwich, I, like most customers, checked the date of the freshness before making a purchase. It’s important for retailers and QSRs to make sure that every date is checked and rechecked. Old or molding food can be a health hazard, but it’s not as simple as just keeping records of “best by” or “sell by” dates. Food safety really starts in the kitchen with monitoring food storage temperatures.

See also: Conducting a Food Safety Audit: 7 Principles of HACCP

Temperature Stored

Fact: Refrigerators grow old, break down, and can prematurely spoil food that requires storage at a certain temperature. Check whether or not the temperature in the cold case is set correctly. Again, this audit carries to the back of the house, where ingredients are stored.

See Also: How to Calibrate a Kitchen Thermometer

In addition, cold case dairy products, pudding, yogurt and cheese are all hypersensitive to mold, and should be regularly checked. The coldness of the case will also affect the freshness of fruits and vegetables, including the lettuce in wraps and salads.

Make sure your refrigeration is up to date and make sure that the salads, wraps, and yogurts are being stored correctly. Check labels and check the refrigeration daily as part of the self-auditing process for the store.

The Takeaway

Customers rely on cold cases for a quick selection and fresh food. They are supposed to serve as an antithesis to greasy, hot fast-food. It’s imperative to deliver on that expectation of fresh ingredients. Create checklists that account for each of the items in your cold case and audit daily for appearance, freshness, and storage.

Topics: Grocery, C-store

Bridge the Gaps in Planogram Verification With Zenput

By Scott Hill

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A planogram is a visual diagram that details where every product in a retail store should be placed. No detail is spared when creating a planogram. The schematics usually present a flow chart for the particular departments or sections of a store, and what aisle and what shelf each product is located. A planogram also shows how many facings are allocated for each SKU.

What does a planogram look like?

It can be as simple as a photo of a preset section or more detailed with numbered peg holes and shelf notches. Of course, the complexity can vary by the size of the store and the needs of the retailer.

See Also: How to Implement and Verify a Planogram

Other than helping with product placement, what is a planogram’s purpose?

Here are the two realities of retail in today’s world: 1. Competition is increasing. 2 Channels are blurring. A planogram assigns selling potential to every square foot of space, helps to maintain tighter control of inventory and can serve as a effective communication tool for staff-produced displays.

However, planogram creation doesn’t occur in a vacuum, nor does planogram verification.

Zenput bridges three gaps in retail execution:

  • The gap between creating a planogram and verifying it.
  • The gap between planogram verification and identifying actionable results.
  • The gap between identifying actionable results and carrying them out.

With Zenput, a planogram audit is carried out in four steps:

1. On their desktop or mobile device, a senior manager uses Zenput’ flexible platform to create the Planogram Audit Form  with prompts and fields of measurement. Some questions may be simple “yes” or “no” responses, while others may require an employee to input a price or scan a barcode. Ideally, the planogram audit also requires photos of a completed promotional display.

2. The senior manager attaches the visual planogram for reference. There’s no need to email or print out copies; this file is accessible on Zenput’s cloud-based platform.

3. The senior manager uses Zenput to create a new planogram auditing project with a deadline. The task of verifying the store planogram is assigned to all store managers. The senior manager can track submission statistics, and Zenput’s integration with Google maps pinpoints tracks when and where each submission occurred.

4. Senior managers can verify planograms once the forms are submitted. Real-time exception notifications can alert the retailer to a problem in a store. For instance, if a store in the network does not submit photos for verification, the senior management team will be alerted to find out why. Or, perhaps photos were submitted but the senior manager notices something is awry in the product display.

Either way, auditing the planogram results in actionable insights. Error in retail execution can be addressed that same day, rather than waiting for a weekly sales report to reveal problems in merchandising strategy.

Sample Planogram Implementation Form

Topics: Retail, C-store, CPG

Bluetooth Thermometer Probe: The Next Generation of Food Safety

By Vladik Rikhter

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On Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized the first two of seven major rules under the bipartisan FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA). The agency calls it “one of the most significant steps in decades” to prevent foodborne illness.

The rules require human and animal food facilities to develop and implement written food safety plans that indicate the possible problems that could affect the safety of their products and outline the steps the facility would take to prevent or significantly minimize the likelihood of those problems occurring. Ultimately, these rules make food companies accountable for monitoring their facilities and identifying and preventing potential hazards in their products.

The FDA’s announcement coincides with one of Zenput’s biggest announcements to date—full integration of our mobile solution with ThermoWorks’ BlueTherm Bluetooth Probe. This brand-new feature enables restaurants, franchises, and other multi-unit foodservice businesses to instantly measure and log temperature readings for all prepared foods. Much like the FDA’s rules, this preemptive solution is a way for restaurants to monitor their facilities for potential hazards.

The BlueTherm Bluetooth Probe optimizes Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) inspections in three ways:

Increases the accuracy of readings

The thermometer probe’s integration with Zenput’s mobile solution eliminates the need for food service workers or managers to manually log temperatures, guarantees an exact reading each time, and ensures customers receive quality food in accordance with HACCP regulations enforced by the Food and Drug Administration.

Reduces procedure time

Employees no longer waste time writing down temperature estimates. Readings with exact measurements are instantly loaded into Zenput and distributed to managers. Zenput and BlueTherm integration offers senior executives the ability to easily communicate readings, maintain a historical log to assess performance, and save temperature-taking time needed in manual processes.

Decreases the risk of cross contamination

It’s the beauty of wireless Bluetooth technology – there are no wires or cords that will drag or pick up food. There’s no need for pencil, pen or paper either. The employee simply holds their phone in one hand and the wireless BlueTherm Bluetooth Probe in the other.

From convenience stores to grocery stores, more retailers are focusing on formats that offer fresh and healthy food. With foodborne illnesses widely reported, some retailers may be hesitant to offer such options. BlueTherm integration increases retailer confidence, enabling them to focus more on customer service and menu innovation.

Topics: Product Announcements, Restaurants, C-store