HUDSON, Wis. -- Never underestimate the impact of employee buy-in—and a great cut of beef wrapped in bacon. Such were the lessons learned by Erickson Oil during a summertime promotion for $1.99 Great American Steak Co. bacon-wrapped beef filets with any gas purchase.
The idea for the promotion, which ran from May to July and sold like gangbusters, started when the Hudson, Wis.-based company sat down with manufacturer American Foods Group.
"We were looking for an 'out of the box' idea to reward our customers for fueling at Freedom. We also wanted to drive incremental sales inside the store," says Darren Forbes, senior vice president of Erickson Oil, which runs 67 stores under the Freedom Valu Center banner in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and South Dakota. "Out of this brainstorming session came the idea that a $1.99 bacon-wrapped filet would be perceived as an extraordinary value and another reason to fill up at Freedom."
The filet is a single muscle, hand-cut steak marinated for extra tenderness and wrapped in hardwood-smoked bacon. For customers who weren't heading straight home or to a location with refrigeration, the stores also offered American Foods Group's shelf-stable Sheboygan Summer Sausage for $1.99. Forbes found that the summer sausage was more popular with customers on their way to work in the morning, whereas customers heading home often opted for the filet.
To promote the program, Erickson Oil rolled out pumptoppers and in-store signage. The stores' digital marquee signs also highlighted the special, and the company promoted it in a full-color store flier inserted into local papers that went to approximately 400,000 homes.
Once the promo launched, the rest of the summer was spent keeping up with demand. "It just absolutely went crazy," says Dale Christiansen, convenience channel sales manager for American Foods Group, who worked with Forbes on brainstorming the promotion.
"We far underestimated our volume and consequently were out of stock early on," says Forbes. "I will give credit to Dale and the folks at Eby-Brown for reacting with urgency and getting product to the stores ASAP."
Both items were not previously carried at Freedom stores, and the filet in particular offered stores a new product without cannibalizing existing sales of similar products or immediate consumables. While Forbes could not share any sales data, he pointed out that most customers typically ended up buying more than the filet or summer sausage, and that rural stores sold more than suburban locations.
The biggest impact of the promotion, in Christiansen's eyes, was its "ability to change the customer's perception about c-stores and what they can buy there. That they can buy high-quality grocery products in a convenience store at a great price point [and] value. Erickson has done a great job promoting that mindset."
What surprised Forbes most about the promotion was the impact the store employees had on making it a success. Prior to kickoff, store managers had the chance to sample the new products. "Never underestimate the power of suggestive selling," he says. "The store managers and sales associates are our ambassadors and if they believe in what we are selling--boy they can sell!"
The company is already planning to resurrect the promo in the fall. Given the success of the summer run, Forbes plans to keep an even closer eye on daily sales and purchase data. And, quite simply, "order more."