Raising the IQ on Business Intelligence

TUCSON, Ariz. – Business intelligence (BI) is an incredibly powerful tool that can help convenience store retailers make many of their most important decisions. So said panelists of the “Business Intelligence: Finding the Value in a Haystack of Needles” educational session held at the newly named 2014 Conexxus Annual Conference (formerly the PCATS Conference).

The session, held yesterday, featured presentations from Jenny Bullard, chief information officer at Flash Foods Inc.; Donna Perkins, pricebook manager at E-Z Stop Food Marts; and Ed Freels, director of information services at Honey Farms Inc.

According to Bullard, BI can best be used to decide on customer acquisition, marketing and promotional campaigns, risk evaluation activities and information security. Conversely, BI should not be used for activities such as payroll and general ledger practices.

In her role, Bullard mines through plenty of data at Flash Foods, a division of The Jones Co., including year-to-date and month-to-date product category analysis, loyalty program sales analysis and a report on voids, returns and price overrides.

The CIO at Waycross, Ga.-based Flash Foods – operator of 172 c-stores -- noted that she is most impressed with the "Sales by Tender Type" report she views, showing what payment method is used for each sale. “Credit cards still account for 55 percent of sales at Flash Foods,” she said.

For E-Z Stop Food Marts, a chain of 23 c-stores in eastern Tennessee, BI has helped improve profitability. Perkins cited an example whereby data helped her make the right decision when switching from a single packaged beverage provider in the cold vault to a split contract last year.

Culling data helped Perkins decide which beverage to place in the “second spot” in the cold vault, to great success. Sales of an energy drink placed in this position increased 40 percent, she said, as sales of the beverage moved out of the second position declined by only 8 percent.

Perkins offered one piece of advice to her peers: Trust the data. “You need to listen to the numbers, it’s telling you the truth,” she said. “Sometimes, the data tells you something unexpected. Sometimes, the data tells you something inconvenient. But you have to use the information it provides you with.”

Honey Farms' Freels agreed, but emphasized that data integrity is crucial. “We make big decisions based on data, including personnel decisions,” he said. “You have to know the anomalies in the data. For example, I received data that said a store sold nothing for 10 days. There was a reason: we had snowstorms at that store and it was closed.”

The director of information services for Honey Farms' 36 c-stores in Massachusetts and New Hampshire added that he is using BI in an effort to shift away from the 80/20 principle, which dictates that 80 percent of a c-store’s sales come from 20 percent of the products on the shelves.

“Knowing you sold a lot of something isn’t as important as knowing what you didn’t sell,” Freels said. Based on data and reports, “we try to work with vendors to make sure nothing goes unsold.”

Honey Farms intends to “stay the course” regarding its BI strategy, which has led to the formation of successful marketing campaigns in the past, according to Freels.

The 2014 Conexxus Annual Conference concludes today. Next year’s show will take place April 27-30 at the Loews Annapolis Hotel in Annapolis, Md.

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