C-stores upgrade foodservice programs
If you watch what c-stores are doing, the innovative companies are emphasizing upgraded foodservice programs featuring fresh food and creative ways to merchandise their hot and cold drink categories. That includes excellent c-store operators like Wawa, QuikTrip and Sheetz.
Two new entrants are opening stores on the West Coast – from Japan there is Famima – and coming soon from England it's Tesco. Having just visited the Famima store at Highland Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, I can say it is a fun place to shop. They describe the store as "the premium experience." On their Website, it's called a convenience store, a premium grocery store and a quick service restaurant.
From my experience there, they deliver 100 percent on their promise.
Your value proposition
Let's start from the beginning. What exactly do you, as the vending operator, bring to the table? Your machines offer a convenience. Vending is the most convenient shopping alternative. This gives you a leg up over other retailers. But is this your only advantage? If so, then that convenience had better be of monumental importance to the customer.
Convenience is an important factor, to be sure. But by itself, it won't generate consistent traffic from a large number of shoppers. Besides convenience, you also need to offer good price value, good quality, sufficient variety, and some sort of memorable buying experience.
Minimize your disadvantage
Your "value package" has to trump the competition in some area(s). You can't match the convenience store on variety, just as they can't match you on convenience. You can, however, minimize this disadvantage by having the best possible variety.
In most cases, it's as simple as having the top selling products. Here is where you need to have market research; you need to know what the best selling products are in the product segments you market.
Look at the fast feeders. They don't have the variety that the supermarkets or c-stores have, either. But they've got the right selections to cover what most consumers need, and they do a good job in price value. The successful ones also create a memorable meal or snack experience.
Fast feeders have redesigned their stores and introduced more comfortable seating; better ambience, including more visual stimulation such as video screens broadcasting cable TV; enhanced rapport by training employees to be more personable; and faster transactions via credit and debit cards.
Optimize your visual presentation
Vending operators can make the vend purchase more enjoyable by improving the visual design of the vending banks. Oftentimes, the site manager will be able to assist in this area, particularly if they are told that it is in their own interest to do so.
The competition is doing everything it can to minimize your trump card – convenience – by improving their own customer convenience. Obvious examples are credit card acceptance for small transactions and self-serve ordering kiosks. Some less obvious examples include changing their menus to cover more needs as consumers are eating and drinking around the clock.
There is no reason the vending operator needs to surrender anything in the area meeting consumer needs. The vending product manufacturers now offer just about everything that any retailer offers. The challenge is having the right mix, and having it available when it's needed. That means that out of stocks must be minimized – if possible, eliminated entirely. You cannot be out of stock on best sellers in convenience retailing.
Vending operators need to understand consumer needs
The c-stores have made a big play for coffee in the last few years. But not only coffee. They're also investing a lot in sandwiches for both the morning and afternoon. The fast feeders are fighting like mad to keep this franchise, and the c-stores aren't about to surrender it to them.
Coffee and sandwiches are two areas where vending operators need to offer better quality and value. Same old, same old won't win the sale as the competition keeps getting better.
Why is Coca-Cola getting into foodservice coffee with its Far Coast Café? They are responding to the market. The Far Coast Café has been described as a demonstration store for Coca-Cola customers.