Friday, June 26, 2009

Building a More Postitive Customer Experience

Campus stores are continuously trying to close the gap between the expectations that are established with customers by mainstream retailers and what we can offer in-store on limited budgets, fewer staff resources, and finite space.

An short article in the June 2009 DDI Magazine ( offered "5 ways to build a positive in-store customer experience" that is some food for thought of campus retailers--even within sometime-staggering limitations:

1. Analyze your target market. Use the data, shopping habits, research, and other sources of information at your disposal (including asking them!) to know your customers, what they like, and what they respond to. This will allow you to better plan store layout, signage, and merchandising.

2. Direct the messaging. Tailor, tailor, tailor. Use signage, color, graphics, and product tags that communicate effectively and efficiently to your target audience(s).

3. Position the signage. Understand the traffic flow in your store and place signage and graphics in appropriate locations. Remember to consider the three focal areas--eye level down, eye level up, and 10 ft. above to ceiling.

4. Create custom designs. Use in-house, campus, or community resources...hire students or bring on interns, if needed...but have professional-quality graphics. Every 20-something and younger consumer has seen professional, polished graphics since they entered this world. Your visual messages have to be creative, use color and images effectively, and MUST be authentic.

5. Focus and re-focus. Within your target audience(s), your customers are also part of cultures. You must maintain a "read" on these cultures (Pop culture, student culture groups, etc.) and continously shift your messaging as needed to respond to changing customer attitudes and values.

~ The Retail Muse

Monday, June 22, 2009

Changes in Convenience Categories

As convenience categories continue to prove profitable for many campus stores, I thought you might be interested in some statistics on year-to-year changes (2007-2008) for some lines. All these come from The Neilsen Co. via a March 30, 2009 article in Convenience Store News (

Packaged Beverages: The full category had only 1.3% change, but was -3.6% in unit volume. The leader in this category, clearly, was the Alternative sub-category--"energy" drinks.

Beer: Just kidding!

Candy: The category had a 3.9% change, but a -4.3% change in unit volume. The non-chocolate bars/packs sub-category lead in $ sales change (6.3%), but still fell in unit volume (-1.5%). More on this sub-group later. The novelties/seasonal sub-group had 5.3% change and 1.3% in volume...but most campus stores don't do too much in this area.

Salty Snacks: The full category had the best reported change in dollar sales at 4.4%. And the change in unit volume, while still negative, was only -0.9%. A winner in this category was "packaged ready-to-eat popcorn" at 13.9% change in dollar sales and 7.3% in unit volume.

Alternative Snacks: Another ho-hum set of results at 2.6% in sales and -2.8% in unit volume. However, the "granola / yogurt bars" sub-group came in at 5.6% change in sales and 1.0% in unit volume. Maybe the healthy eating trend is indeed here to stay.

I promised more about cereal and granola bars. A sidebar item in the same issue of Convenience Store News offered some interesting statistics from Mintel Int'l Group Ltd.:
  • Among users, granola and cereal bars are thought of as snacks (85% and 75%, respectively)
  • Cereal bars are more often chosen as a "meal replacement" (59% vs 39%) and use highest among 18- to 24-year-olds (66%). You hear that campus store folks with a traditional aged student population?!
  • Consumers 18-24 and 25-34 are most likely to consume both types of bars while working and traveling. Between class and studying?
  • Cereal bars are more likely to be consumed at breakfast (96% vs 78%), while granola bars win out at lunch time (41% vs 62%)
  • Survey respondents ages 25-34 were more likely to eat either type bar for breakfast.
  • Men are more likely than women to eat bars for lunch and dinner.
Happy snacking!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Reaching Young Shoppers

Walter Loeb is a New York-based consultant, long-time retail expert, and member of the NRF Board of Directors that authors a regular installment in STORES magazine ( Despite his apparent age (from his pic in the May 2009 edition) he offered some expert insight into reaching today's teens (tomorrow's freshmen). No judging a book by its cover....

Summarizing his thoughts:

1. Gen Y is not Gen X
Gen X was well defined, but Gen Y is more ellusive. They are intensely dedicated to their peer-group and circle of friends--even beyond their parents. And once something is approved by their posse (likely via sharing pics by txt msg or Facebook walls), it's 'in'.

2. In's and Out's change quickly
Yesterday's Juicy Couture and Abercrombie & Fitch is today's Forever 21 and Aeropostale. To some extent, these are the usual top picks trading the highest positions on the list. But in a tight economy, it's important to note that these teens move like a flock of birds and quickly take their much-sought-after spending power with them.

3. Everthing has to Pop!
You have to be up on your pop culture to be a part of their scene. So be vigilent and fast!

4. Keep it real
This crowd is, like some of its predecessors, appreciative of openness and honesty from its retailers and socially conscious. Do the right thing and tell them about it. If you gain their approval rating, it will pay off for you in the end.

~The Retail Muse

Friday, June 12, 2009

Keeping Up on the Chatter

Looking for another way to scan your environment and listen to what people are saying about your store, your campus, or topics of interest to your operation (like textbook prices)?

A college store colleague recently turned me on to Yack Track. It is a consolidated search engine for Twitter, Technorati, Google searchs, and more.

Try it out at http:/// and see what folks are saying.

The Retail Muse

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Focus and Determination Cuts Through Turbulent Times

We are all serching for answers to the challenges of these turbulent times. The economy is struggling, expectations are increasing, consumer confidence is weak, and we're all worried.

So what is a business to do? Focus, keep your eyes wide open, and spend time on strategy.

At a recent NACS (the other--convenience store--one) leadership forum, an exec from a major player in their business offered his thoughts on understanding your business and being true to who/what you are in order to remain successful. Here are the four tenets, his company's take on each, and a few thoughts from me on each:

1. Know your core purpose. For his company it is "simplify customer's lives". For campus stores it could be quite similar...perhaps adding " the pursuit of education."

2. Understand and live by your corporate values. In the case of this exec's organization: Delight customers, value people, passion for winning, do things right, do the right thing, and embrace change. Pretty darn good list if you ask me!

3. Know what you can be best in the world at. Do you know what this is for your organization? If not, it's time to invest some time in a good ol' fashioned SWOT analysis. Or at least the Strengths and Weaknesses of that traditional Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) model.

4. Know what drives the economic engine. In the case of the mainstream convenience store industry this is customer transactions and increasing profit. Wait a minute?! That sounds like the same as campus retail! Could be that we're worrying too much on digital content and leasing and too little on the core issues of how to increase customer transactions (and basket or spend per transaction) and increasing profit (e.g., new products and categories, inventory management, turns, GMROI, and so on)?

These four items are simple and complex all at the same time. The bottom line is that in tough times we need to take the time necessary to understand who we are, what we're about, how we're going to do business, and the business we should be doing.

If you need a crash course in SWOT analysis, try out this great 5+ minute how-to video on You Tube:

The Retail Muse