There’s no point having a great store if people don’t know about it. Four Convenience Store Champions discuss marketing and promotion.

Susan Connolly, Spar Connolly, four stores in East Wiltshire

Advertising and marketing is a big focus for Susan in her role as business development manager

Chaz Chahal, Costcutter Bromsgrove and Kidderminister

Chaz focuses on showcasing good value and promotions when marketing his business

Shailesh Parekh, three forecourts in Wolverhampton (Lifestyle Express & Nisa)

Shailesh says support of a symbol group can help with marketing

Sandeep Bains, Simply Fresh Faversham, Kent

Sandeep is an advocate of using social media when marketing his store to customers and other businesses

Is advertising/marketing a focus for your business?

Susan: It’s a huge focus for us and a big part of my role at Spar Connolly. It’s one of the reasons I moved into this role from being a store manager last year so we could market the stores and increase their profile.

Chaz: It’s something that we’ve been doing for some time now as an everyday part of the job. It’s part of our daily schedule, be it leaflets, paper advertising or social media.

Shailesh: It’s not the biggest part of our business, but it’s something we have to spend more time thinking about as there’s a lot of competition out there and you need to stand out.

Sandeep: It is. We’ve been on social media since before the store opened, using it to build links with customers and creating links with other businesses. We also have leaflet drops, although they’re not as effective as they used to be. They’re more popular with elderly people.

Why is marketing something you have to consider?

Susan: It’s vital because it’s such a competitive marketplace. Even on our own doorstep there’s a lot of competition and we need to set ourselves apart from them and make sure people are aware of us and the offers we have.

Chaz: It can be tricky to see how financially important it is unless you’ve got a leaflet of promotions or a discount code, but it helps grow awareness of a business. This year I’ll be looking at quantifying what we spend on marketing so we can see if or how we should grow it.

Shailesh: The return of marketing and advertising can be difficult to measure against cost, but it is worth it to let customers know what you have in your store and keeps your name out there.

Sandeep: It’s all about awareness. You need customers to know that you’re there and what offers you have running.

Do you use social media to market your store?

Susan: Social media plays a big part of our marketing plans. We’re on Twitter and Facebook on a daily basis. I find that Twitter is good for building business connections, while Facebook is good for marketing to customers and letting them know what’s going on in the stores. Marketing is not something many businesses have a huge budget for, so using a free social media platform makes good business sense.

Chaz: We have Facebook pages for our stores that are controlled by a member of staff. She can set up the posts for the week and it makes it very easy to manage while growing engagement.

Shailesh: I don’t use it at all, I’m not convinced that it works yet, but then I’m not the target age for it. I did consider it a few years ago, but I didn’t think the time spent setting it up and managing social media was worth the effort. I’ll be investigating it further this year and it might be something I can give to another, younger member of the team.

Sandeep: It’s huge for us. It enables you to interact directly with your customers and engage with them one on one. I run the social media pages from my phone so if someone asks me a question, they’re right through to the decision-maker, whereas if someone tweets a multiple they’re in touch with someone in an office. Social media is perfect for independent retailers; it’s a great way of promoting our store for a low cost.

Does your symbol group support you with marketing?

Susan: Spar Appleby Westward offers us the opportunity to print leaflets that can be distributed in our area at a reasonable cost. It’s something we’ve cut back on to save a bit of money, but leaflets do still work. We used to regularly see customers come in with leaflets.

Chaz: Costcutter provides us with POS material and gives us the templates for leaflets. Costcutter Radio is sometimes taken for granted, but it adds to the ambience of the store and I’ve had more than one customer mention they picked up an item because they heard it was on offer on the radio.

Shailesh: Nisa organises the press campaigns and the leaflets, which we plan to increase to 5,000 this year. We contribute to the cost of the leaflets and go through the promotions with them, which works very well.

Sandeep: We work with Simply Fresh on our leaflets, which go out to 4,000 homes every three weeks.

Have symbol group and wholesalers’ national advertising campaigns benefitted your business?

Susan: The national campaigns do help. Customers see them and notice that Spar is on TV and it improves awareness of us. What’s more important is making sure that you stock all of the products or promotions featured in an advert, otherwise it could be quite embarassing.

Chaz: It’s hard to say that it benefits us directly, but it does create awareness and help with the perception of the brand. If people see the Costcutter campaigns, they’ll realise that there are deals to be had at Costcutter stores, so hopefully that encourages more people to shop with us.

Shailesh: Of our three stores, our Nisa site was the only one to show growth in January, while the other two were flat year on year. Even though this may have been a coincidence, Nisa has big advertising campaigns marketing their promotions.

Sandeep: When Subway posted out money-off vouchers to customers, we saw a 40% uplift in sales for our Subway. It was a huge growth and driven by this campaign.

Do you do local marketing yourself, or get a member of the team to do it?

Susan: I do it for all four stores, but will get store managers to help out. For example, I’ll come up with the idea for a tasting day or event and give the managers all the tools they need to carry it out. After that it’s up to them to make it successful.

Chaz: A bit of both. I’ll oversee the whole advertising and marketing of the stores, but it’s one staff member’s job to manage the social media pages for the business. It’s a good way of giving some responsibility to a person and getting them more involved.

Shailesh: It’s all done by me, but working with my wholesalers. Perhaps if we get involved in social media another staff member can manage it.

Sandeep: I do it all myself. The social media is run through my phone and I organise the leaflets with Simply Fresh.

Do you market local produce in the store?

Susan: We really promote when we have local products and we’ll try to make sure people know that this is something that the multiples don’t have. It’s important it’s done right, though. It annoys me when I see sloppy handwritten signs that could easily be done better on a computer and printer with a little bit of effort.

Chaz: We use a mix of homemade POS and Costcutter material to promote local products. It’s important to highlight something different so we use ‘sourced from’ signs to point it out to customers.

Shailesh: As we’re forecourts, we don’t have many local products. If we did, we would make sure to promote them as something different.

Sandeep: We’ll use bespoke POS material for the locally-sourced products to draw attention to them. We have a lot of local products so it’s important that customers know what’s there.

Do you pay attention to what your competition is doing in advertising/marketing?

Susan: We do. Our nearest competition is a Co-op so we’ll drop in and see what they’re promoting and how they’re marketing it. It’s more to keep an eye on the promotions than how they promote it as a lot of it’s driven from their head office.

Chaz: We keep an eye on it, but don’t let it influence what we do too much. We usually have a plan in place before we see the competition’s activity so we don’t panic and try to change or match it.

Shailesh: I think everyone does to some extent. I’ll look at what they’re doing or if it’s something different but I won’t let it influence me too much. It’s more to keep on top of what’s going on rather than inform our decisions.

Sandeep: I’ll pay attention to what they’re doing, but our budgets are so different it’s not comparable. It’s more to see what they’re doing than for us to react against.

Do you counter-advertise against local competition?

Susan: Not especially, we prefer to focus on what we’re doing rather than take on the competition in an advertising war. We’ll let customers know that something is available only in our stores; we don’t go out to try to make our competitors look bad.

Chaz: No, we don’t want to poke the bear! I know some retailers make a point of it and I’m sure that there are plenty of products that we’re cheaper than our competition on, but then there are some they have that are cheaper. I’d prefer to focus on doing what we do well.

Shailesh: No, they counter- advertise against us! A convenience store near us saw the promotions we were running and decided to try to better them. They also made a big deal about it. I don’t think it’s a good idea to get into a battle like that and we’re happy with our business and strong promotions. Let the competition react against us.

Sandeep: If we’re cheaper on our promotions than the competition then I’ll shout about it. It’s a good thing to have on a leaflet, plus a major multiple isn’t going to change their promotions to compete against us.

Do you market through local newspapers?

Susan: Not anymore. It used to be a good way to reach people, but now online is a much quicker, cheaper and more flexible way of getting to customers in an area.

Chaz: We do use local newpapers, but it can be quite costly. We only do it when we’ve got something really big to say rather than use it to highlight the normal promotions. People still read the local paper here, so it’s worth doing.

Shailesh: Local newpsaper advertising is still a focus for us. For our Nisa store, we’ll be given help in organising local press advertising so that we’re targeting customers in our area with promotions that suit them.

Sandeep: We looked at it, but it wasn’t right for us. The price of advertising our new Subway through a local newspaper was a lot and not a cost we could justify. Instead, we put posts about it on Twitter and then had a queue of people 200m long, which the local paper covered as a news story for free anyway.

Future plans

What new methods are you looking at using to market your business?

Susan: We want to push our online presence this year. We’re also looking at installing screens in some of our stores to show what promotions we have and potentially sell ad space on to local businesses, which would make it a revenue driver.

Chaz: Last year we had a ‘thank you’ deal for loyal customers who supported us, which included promotions on a few products we picked. I think we’ll be doing that again this year, but market it more as a promotion unique to our store.

Shailesh: When we finish refurbishing one of our stores, we’ll have a fête outside and invite the community around and involve some suppliers. It will be a good way of thanking customers who have supported us over the years.

Sandeep: We want to target mobile phones more and we’re investigating sending promotional material via near field communications (NFC) so people get messages when they pass the store.