The Mayberry Factor

'Hometown' mindset ranks Bosselman No. 1 in CSP/Service Intelligence Mystery Shop for chains with fewer than 100 stores.

By
Melissa Vonder Haar, Tobacco Editor

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Goliaths May Have Upper Hand

Smaller chains need work; ‘outliners’ blur results in new twist for study

In a new twist in the annual CSP/Service Intelligence Mystery Shop study, researchers grouped seven regional c-store chains with 20 to 110 stores, seeking to understand store-level operations for chains of that size and to see how smaller chains compare to larger ones.

On a whole, the results were mixed, in part because the grouping’s overall top rated chain, Bosselman Pump & Pantry Inc., Grand Island, Neb., did significantly better than the rest of the chains. (Seecharts in this story.)

“If you were to take out the outliers say the top two—Bosselman and Rutter’s—then the smaller chains did not doas well on a whole as the larger chains,”says Cameron Watt, vice president andgeneral manager for Service Intelligence,Ft. Mill. S.C., the firm that conductedthe study in partnership with CSP. “Youwould have expected [smaller chains] tohave a tighter focus of control.”

The difference is not so vast as to raiseconcern, he says, but called it “interesting”that smaller chains rate lower.

“I don’t know if [bigger chains] havebetter written standards or engrainedprocess,” he says. “If you ask yourselfintuitively whether a big chain would dobetter than a [smaller], local … chain,you’d probably think [local], but itdoesn’t seem to be the case.”

That said, Watt cautioned extendingthe analysis too far. Taking out twochains out of seven can skew resultsaltogether.What larger and smaller chainsappear to have in common is a penchantfor picking the right people. BothLa Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip andBosselman—the top chains in the twostudies—go to great lengths to fi nd candidateswho have innate people skills.

For the industry overall, demand forthese instinctively caring individualscomes from channel blurring, says foodserviceconsultant Ed Burcher. Havingworked with the likes of Wawa Inc. andPetroCanada and its Neighbours stores,Burcher says quick-service restaurants,drug chains and mass merchants arestarting to sell the same things—be theypackaged snacks or hot pizza.

What sets chains apart is customerservice. “Standards are important, butpeople will do business with people theylike,” says Burcher, president of BurcherConsulting, Oakville, Ontario. “Fromease and simplicity [of shopping] tobeing able to help them through the dayand make them feel good, we’re in thehospitality business.”

Putting the right people in the rightjobs is critical, he says. Entering a c-storeat 6:15 a.m. before a recent plane trip, hewatched an employee work diligentlyto face product and get the store readyfor the day. “At 6:15 in the morning, he’shustling to make the store look great,”Burcher says. “You don’t get that froma [manual].”


Interior and Exterior Cleanliness

For Charlie Bosselman, cleanliness is a foundation for offering foodservice. His Pump & Pantry chain within Bosselman Pump & Pantry Inc., Grand Island, Neb., took the No. 1 spot in the two categories of interior and exterior cleanliness.

“It’s the same philosophy as havinga restaurant,” he says. “The conveniencestore needs to be as clean as a restaurant.That’s one of the things we emphasize.”

And Bosselman isn’t alone. Jere Matthews,vice president of operations forYork, Pa.-based Rutter’s Farm Stores, sayscleanliness starts from the moment thecustomer steps into the lot.

“We prioritize … the forecourt withgas pumps, garbage … because that’stheir fi rst impression,” Matthews says.

Bathrooms, he says, are importantat Rutter’s, with newer stores havingrestroom facilities more in line with anupscale restaurant. Besides high-end tileand fixtures, the equipment is touchfree,with the overall look promptingpositive feedback from customers. Tokeep standards high, Rutter’s has itssupervisors conduct store audits. Whenthey fi nd defi ciencies, they approach staffimmediately.

And exceptional execution getsrewarded. At Rutter’s, such recognitionhappens throughout the year. Monetaryrewards await many at the end of theyear as well.

Matthews believes cleanliness is partof the company’s history, which datesback to the 1920s. It’s a brand perceptionthat speaks to the larger customerexperience.

“When people pull into the lot andsee the garbage cans emptied, the pumpsare clean, the fl oors are clean, the store isstocked and clean inside—in additionto being treated well—they perceive thatas a good experience and will choose tocome back,” he says.


Merchandising

For Matthews of Rutter’s, properly merchandising a store means being “ready for business.”

As a store operator, “we always wantto be ready for business,” Matthews says.“We’re checking, making sure our coffee area and fountain area are stocked, cooler area is stocked and that we have product available. If you’re out of a product, you’re losing a sale and maybe making a customer unhappy.”

Many individuals—foodservice supervisors to marketing managers and store managers—are checking specific areas of any particular store, hunting for out-of stocks.“It’s a standard we have in place,” he says. “We’re all looking for the same things.”

Multiple supervisors have come up through the ranks at Rutter’s, so they know what expectations are, he says. “We know when we walk in the store, we should have all types of coffee available, all fountain flavors available,” Matthews says. “Maybe a certain store doesn’t sell all flavors, but the expectation is still that the store is in stock.”

Those standards have also evolved, especially as the store format has grown over the years, he says. Store managers and associates have had to learn to adapt. He says the knowledge of food-handling regulations and other health and safety requirements have grown exponentially. These innovations include the use of fryers for hot food and ovens so stores can bake their own bread. A number of Rutter’s stores have woks used to make higher-end fare.

“You have to change your standards as you evolve,” Matthews says. “You must …continue to up your game.”


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