Where does a man in a lawn chair tethered to dozens of weather balloons and floating thousands of feet in the air cross paths with a chain selling almost as much pizza as Pizza Hut? Retailers featured in the annual Ideas 2 Go presentation reinvent the notion of retail gas and convenience by bringing in products, offers and experiences outside the norm.
The 53-minute video featured retailers from Washington, D.C., to Bend, Ore., and spoke of the unique ideas that differentiate them from their competitors.
Brad Call of North Salt Lake, Utah-based Maverik, like others retailers featured, found ways to boost the customer experience. Graphic elements at his stores focus on an adventure theme, with actual mannequins inset in the ceiling sporting ski wear or riding canoes.
“Yes, we sell the same [soft drinks],” said Call, comparing his products to what the competition offers. “But hopefully this experience will be more fun; endorphins will flow and ours will taste a little bit better.”
Call also spoke of the company’s “black” debit card, a loyalty program that takes advantage of cheaper interchange fees to save the company money and reward customers. Encased in a fold-open pamphlet that describes the rewards system, the black magnetic-stripe card gives customers 6 cents off every gallon every day, plus points for purchases. Customers can redeem points at the store or turn their points into dollars for local charities. The points also earn customers entry into various contests to win adventure-related prizes.
“We don’t send out mass offers,” he said. “We specifically target things they want. We connect with them.”
While Call operates a 244-store chain, independent operators also demonstrated creativity through the use of ethnic cuisine. Several Washington, D.C.-area retailers each spoke of how breaking the stereotype of “trashy” gas-station food was important to the success of their locations. R&R Taqueria, Elkridge, Md., featured Latin-inspired flavors; Fast Gourmet, Washington, D.C.; Thai Pan, Leesburg, Va.; and Seoul Food DC, Wheaton, Md., focused on Asian-inspired food.
Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey’s General Stores also spoke to food, specifically pizza, for which it has earned the title of the fifth-largest pizza chain in the country, having developed a reputation in small towns. Representatives for the 1,750-store chain spoke of enhancements it has made in recent years, increasing cooler-door space and improving upon its pizza operation—often seeing 100% increases in foodservice sales after doing so.
Casey’s also is testing pizza delivery, overcoming internal concerns about encouraging the customer to stay home vs. walking into a store. So far, the effort has raised awareness and increased pizza sales.
Single ideas often grow into new profit centers, as with Stop and Go Mini Mart, Bend, Ore. It’s already a hub for beer with its beer cave, made of spray-can foam and chicken wire, which was a unique and highly original sight for attendees. The store’s owner, Kent Couch, had the idea of adding craft-beer station The Growler Guys, which lets customers buy beer on tap to take home.
The store started with eight fountain heads and since has “exploded” to 36 different flavors. Taps are changed five times a day as a way to keep up with what employees believe is a new customer base coming in specifically for growlers.
Couch is a one-of-a-kind retailer, with features at his store including a roulette wheel that lets customers win prizes, and a 40-foot fueling hose for vehicles that have to park far away from the island. He also sailed into the air several years ago in a lawn chair made airborne by dozens of weather balloons. The stunt brought national attention to him and his business.