Where did you have lunch on Friday? What are your plans for breakfast tomorrow? Do you just grab a snack or beverage a few feet away from your desk?
If you want to understand the competition you must get out of your office. It was Yogi Berra who said, “You can observe a lot by just watching.” You have a unique opportunity to observe what the competition is doing. It’s easy to do. Just go to their stores and restaurants as a customer.
Think about the most important locations you serve. Do you know which convenience stores and restaurants are operating within a 15-minute drive from those sites? If you don’t know it, shame on you. You need to become a regular customer at those places.
My recommendations are very simple:
- Buy breakfast inside a c-store between 6:00 – 8:30 AM. You’ll see constant hustle and bustle at the coffee counter – usually it is self-service. Pay special attention to how people customize the condiments they add to their coffee or tea, whether hot or cold. Count the number of coffee buyers who pick up a pastry, which is conveniently merchandised close by. Be sure to see how they are displaying and featuring take-out breakfast sandwiches and tacos.
NOTE: C-stores deliver on speed of service. Get ideas about merchandising and product adjacencies for faster selection at your micro markets. You need to provide “landing areas” at your sites. That is space for people to put down what they’re holding, food or a snack, to deal with their coffee or pick up napkins and utensils.
- Order breakfast from the drive-thru at a fast food restaurant. Before you get your car in the line, see if you can get a count of the number of cars ahead of you. A fast food chain executive told me that if it was five (or fewer) cars, he would use the drive-thru. But if it was six (or more) cars, he’d park and go inside since that would be faster.
NOTE: Waiting in line frustrates shoppers. At your micro markets you might need more payment points so that multiple transactions can run concurrently.
- Stop at a coffee shop between 10:00 – 11:00 AM or 2:30 – 3:30 PM. We often drive past a Starbucks in the PM break time slot. We’ll see six or seven cars at the drive-thru almost every time.
NOTE: You must know when your traffic peaks occur. Focus on ways to speed up transactions to minimize the line. You can increase items sold per transaction with combo offers of a beverage and snack. Be sure that it’s two items in one scan, so that the queue can move at a faster pace.
- Get a snack and beverage at a convenience store during the PM rush. That’s generally from 3:00 – 5:30 PM after parents pick up kids at school and as commuters are heading home.
NOTE: See what they’re buying. Did you see items that you’re not offering? Look at how the traffic flow is designed to create impulse purchases. There are lessons here for you if you’re paying attention. You should be selling the snacks and drinks before people leave for the afternoon commute.
- Have lunch at a fast food restaurant. Vary your visit time between 11:00 AM – 1:30 PM so you can see how well they deal with surges in traffic. Dine inside to see how fast they handle the lines. Use the drive-thru too. The big fast food chains have stores where drive-thru traffic accounts for 70% of sales.
NOTE: Lunch is often a fast-paced meal. Are people ordering take-out at the counter? How fast is the service cycle – from getting on line to walking away with your order?
- Have lunch at your own locations at least twice each week. This is the most important one on the list. You’ve got to see your stores in operation to understand what you can do to drive more sales. When you’re there check out the room. Are the table-tops clean? As in #5 above, what is your service cycle time? It will be different in vending and micro market locations. Pay attention to the proportion of people who sit down to eat in the break-room (lunch-room). Compare that to the “desk-top diners” – those who take their food back to their offices or workspaces.
NOTE: You might need to provide a paper tray or carrier so that people can carry a three-part meal (beverage, snack and sandwich or salad plus napkins and utensils).
You’ve got five work days each week to make these visits.
Get out of your office, beginning tomorrow morning. You’ll find ideas for better merchandising and new products.
In part #2, you’ll learn about some interesting places to eat from my perspective. It was fun to observe what these creative foodservice operators are doing. While some are not directly competitive with our channel, they’re all doing things you could use as a lesson plan.
It all comes down to selling more stuff.