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Trick Question Which Brand Is The Most Important One You Sell?

Paul Schlossberg
Is your first thought a soft drink brand? Or a snack brand? Or a candy brand?  

You probably considered some of the market-leading brands among your best-selling products. Those are really powerful brands with strong emotional connections to their loyal shoppers.

If you named any one of those brands, you are wrong! Obviously, it's a trick question. While the products you sell matter, the most important one is your own brand. It's what your company stands for and what it represents to your clients (the locations you serve) and the people who are the day-to-day shoppers at these sites.  

Brands stand for something. Someone has to be in charge of the brand. In my own experience in marketing and sales management, we were taught that our most important responsibility was to act as the "prime mover" of our brands. All the internal and external issues relating to the brand were to be managed and driven by our team.  

Among the iconic brands on my resume are names we all know very well. Here are a few: Heinz ketchup; Borden cheese; Lay's potato chips; and Dr Pepper. In every case, the marketing team led the way on branding, packaging, promotions, pricing, new products and line extensions, merchandising and selling materials, market segment objectives and more.  

Guess what? It's exactly the same for you, your business and your brand. You are the brand owner. The role and responsibility of brand (or marketing) manager is yours.

Among the first elements of marketing management is the brand itself. What does the brand stand for in the minds of the "audiences" you are trying to reach? How do you establish that brand and maintain its positioning and credibility? It begins at the point-of-sale – where products are purchased.

Our industry has "retail stores" at millions of locations. Our stores are comparatively small in size (square footage) versus supermarkets, chain drug stores and convenience stores. We offer a limited product selection in every category versus these other retail outlets. It's the same for our food menu against our key competitors: fast-food restaurants and convenience stores.

We do not have to be "better than" the competition. It's all but impossible to match them on the number of SKUs or the depth and variety of our menu. We have to beat them on our own terms. There will be some beginning "how to" ideas at the close of this posting.

One of my long-time favorite quotes is from country music legend Loretta Lynn. "You either have to be first, best or different." While she was referring to the music business, those words are highly applicable in any business. Here is how to think about it for our industry:

First: It's not easy for us to be first with specific products. Typically, most new consumer products are introduced in traditional retail channels. We see the impact of the dollars invested in advertising, promotions and displays (plus online support) in supermarkets, mass merchandisers and convenience stores. In our channels, we know that the new items have an amazing impact delivering an almost unbelievable sales surge. Here is a highly relevant example -- and some of you might recall it.

Doritos Cool Ranch flavored tortilla chips were introduced in 1986. In what was a first, the retail and vending introductions were concurrent. Market research conducted a few months later showed that 37% of the initial trial occurred in the vending and foodservice channels.     

Best: This is a really difficult challenge. If everyone is stocking the same leading brands, then everyone is offering the "best" products. Convenience stores realized that this problem required a creative approach. Their solution was simple and straightforward. They differentiated by emphasizing their food products. What they did was to build their own brands on two fronts. One was packaged sandwiches, entrees and sides under their own brand. The other initiative was freshly-made customized sandwiches, salads and more.

Among my favorites are Wawa, Sheetz, QuikTrip and Buc-ee's. Check out this article about a first visit to Buc-ee's from the NACS Daily news email. Get out of your office and eat at one of these c-store chains. Or find the "best" c-store in your area. Ask your route techs about the best local c-stores. They'll know where to go.

Different: A recent article in Convenience Store Decisions, "Fostering Proprietary Foodservice" focused on Flory's Convenience and Deli in Fishkill, NY. A client assignment had me in that area a few years ago. The store, on Route 9 and I-84, opened in December 2013. It's an impressive location. The interior design is appealing and different from most convenience stores. The staff was energetic and engaged customers very effectively.

There is signage to direct shoppers to cooler doors, saving them time in finding specific product categories. The lighting is dramatic and engaging.

The exterior is two-stories tall and is easy to see on highly-trafficked Rte. 9 in Fishkill, NY. The wide span of front windows makes the store more enticing to attract gas purchasers to go inside.

Two other examples of different are on my list of all-time favorite diners. Both are near this Flory's location. Close by is the Red Line Diner, in my opinion one of the very best diners anywhere. And about 18 miles further to the north on Route 9 is the Eveready Diner, another classic diner with a wonderful menu.  

"How to" compete more effectively starts here:

Let's look at a few different dimensions of how your brand is viewed at your locations. How do you communicate your brand message and imagery?  
1.    Do you have a logo and brand style?        Yes �    No �
2.    Do you feature your company or brand name and logo at your sites?    Yes �    No �
3.    Do you have a consistent look and eye appeal for your brand?        Yes �    No �
4.    Do your vending machines and micro-markets have a design or theme which is easy for shoppers to recognize?    Yes �    No �
5.    Do you use signs or design and color schemes to identify what is being sold and where specific categories and products are merchandised?     Yes �    No �
6.     Do you have a website?     Yes �    No �
7.    Are you active on Facebook, Twitter, etc.?    Yes �    No �
8.    Do you communicate with shoppers about special offers, new products, nutritional facts, etc.?     Yes �    No �

If you answered "no" to any of these questions, you have reached the starting point. You must be the prime mover in positioning your company to your "audiences." That includes clients (current and prospects), the shoppers you serve to gain repeat sales, and other (potential) shoppers who are looking at your site but not purchasing (yet).

In the meantime:

1. Pay attention to how other businesses deal with branding.

2. When you are in a retail store, look at signage and how the management merchandises and promotes to shoppers roaming the store.

3. Look at how  department and chain drug stores sell cosmetics. Those brands do extensive research on how people shop and how to increase purchase frequency.

4. When you go to the website of any brand, see how the site designers attempt to engage you.

5. Are you receiving emails or texts from brands or stores where you have "signed up" for continuing communications? What can you learn from how they reach out to you?

6. Be highly attentive to fast food restaurants and convenience stores. They spend vast sums on branding and establishing relationships with their customers. Sign up. Learn from what they're doing.

If you can improve how you deliver your brand and branding, you'll have a better chance of establishing long-term relationships with your clients and the shoppers you serve. That will lead to repeat sales, and you'll "sell more stuff." The result can be increased sales and profits.


Paul Schlossberg is the president of D/FW Consulting, working with clients to merchandise and market products in impulse-intense selling environments, such as vending, onsite foodservice and convenience stores. Based in the Austin, TX area, he can be reached by emailing or (972) 877-2972 or by visiting

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