When the Going Gets Tough…

Mary Ellen Kuhn

I like to think of imagination as an antidote to adversity. In other words, when times get tough, it’s a really good time to get creative.
For an excellent example of this philosophy applied to the challenging business of convenience retailing, consider a tactic employed this spring and summer at Green Oil Co. convenience/fuel outlets in the Atlanta area. With gasoline prices soaring and consumer frustration keeping pace, Green Oil Co. embarked on a clever — and helpful — campaign. The company’s marketing director, Jim Callahan, decided that it would be a good idea to feature tips on conserving fuel on the message board at the fuel sites. And to cap off the campaign, Green Oil Co. C-stores and truck stops offered free coffee and/or fountain drinks to car poolers.
You’ve got to applaud the psychology of this promotion. The free beverage is a store traffic draw, of course. But beyond that, it’s helping to position a retailer more positively — and to potentially build loyalty — at a time when most of us have some pretty negative feelings about what it costs these days to fill up the tank.
Call it taking the not-so-hot cards you’ve been dealt and turning them into a winning hand. The fuel situation and exorbitant cost of credit have combined to squeeze profits in the convenience channel, and the retailers that manage to find ways around these challenges deserve to win points with consumers.
In the same vein, different channel
Confectioner’s 2007 Retailer of the Year, Meijer, the Midwestern chain of supercenters,  epitomizes the same sort of “up for a challenge” brand of retailing. Meijer’s turf includes plenty of slow-growth, economically sluggish markets, which makes its many merchandising success stories even more impressive than they would be if its operations were all concentrated in upscale, demographically optimal environments.
Once again, it comes back to imagination and an ability to think outside the box [the big box, in the case of Meijer]. This chain excels at creating retailing solutions, i.e. figuring out ways to give consumers what’s important to them at affordable prices and with a bit of fun added into the experience.  
Every channel has its challenges. It’s only the real pros who can find a way to allow those challenges to foster inventiveness and achievement.