Independent Grocers Offer Strategies for Competing with C-Stores


While independent panelists from Niemann Foods, Buche Foods, and Docs Food Stores consider every channel to be competition, a session at The 2016 NGA Show focused on "Competing with Convenience Stores."

Convenience stores are continually upping their food retailing game, with more grab-and-go and fresh prepared items. Independent grocers need to stay competitive to remain the go-to for shoppers, whether those shoppers are on a weekly fill-up trip, or a quick stop on their way to work or school.

Courtney Brown, VP and COO of nine-store chain Docs Food Stores, Bixby, Okla., has moved many convenience items to the front of the store, including beverages and quick meals, and has added an express register to help customers make a quick purchase. But the retailer also takes advantage of low-priced meal deals from its hot bar and utilizes outdoor seasonal displays, such as a farm-stand truck, to communicate that the store has more to offer than traditional convenience stores. He stresses that having enough help is critical, because customers don’t want to wait in line ever, but when they’re on a quick trip it could be a deal breaker.

RF Buche, president of Buche Foods, a South Dakota chain of grocery and convenience stores – some of which offer fuel – says that rethinking your basic grocery retail strategies is key to success. Appealing to convenience shoppers means putting yourself in their shoes, not just in terms of what assortment might appeal, but also the experience. Clean bathrooms are not to be underestimated, he says. The company brags that it cleans restrooms seven times a day. The company used to host manager bathroom-decorating contests.

Rich Niemann III, director Of convenience operations, Niemann Foods, Quincy, Ill., has about 100 stores under its umbrella, including grocery, convenience, hardware and pet stores. The company underwent an evaluation about five years ago to determine the best place to invest and reinvent. The result is Harvest Market, two convenience stores with a focus on fresh prepared foods. Harvest Market features sandwiches, soups and other fresh items prepared daily, hot and cold fountain beverages, and self-serve Sweet Berry frozen yogurt and toppings.

Like Buche Foods, Harvest Market makes use of its fuel operations to drive customers into the store. “Consider that 60-70 percent of fuel customers might not go inside,” he says. The company makes use of extensive advertising at the pumps to promote meal deals and other items that are typically not available at convenience stores. “Fresh really sets the tone,” he says, and helps the company bounce its convenience shoppers to grocery shoppers. 


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