19 December 2011
By Barbara Grondin Francella
ALTOONA, Pa. â€“ Sheetz Inc. has been hard at work advancing new menu items and engaging in one-of-a-kind marketing and promotion strategies.
The chain’s test of Sheetz Bros. Creamery, a soft-serve-and-topping concept developed at the Sheetz restaurant last year, continues. “During the winter [of 2010/2011], the Creamery did surprising well during a time when many area ice cream outlets are closed,” Louie Sheetz, executive vice president of marketing, told CSNews Online. “It kept a steady level of business.”
In the spring, the chain added the Sheetz Bros. Creamery concept to two more convenience stores in Richmond, Va., and western Pennsylvania. “We’re taking this slowly,” Louie Sheetz said. “We studied it over the summer season, looking at what impact local marketing played, how placement and merchandising in the store worked. This would mean a major refurbishing of the stores if we roll it out. It needs a footprint of about 60 square feet.”
Additionally, the chain is considering upgrades to its fountain, hot drink and fixings areas. “We’re trying to ‘package up’ a project so that when we do the refurbishing, all of the new elements will be added at once,” Louie Sheetz said. “But we haven’t made the call on the Sheetz Bros. Creamery yet. If it goes in, it will go in every store. But with that size of an impact on the store, the rollout would be a two- or three-year project like [the] Sheetz Bros. Coffeez program was. We’d be deliberate and take our time, before we start marketing it chainwide.”
Meanwhile, a made-to-order whole-pie pizza program is now available in every store. “We’ve been promoting it since April and it’s done very well,” he said.
Complementing Sheetz’s expanding food program is the addition of drive-thru windows to certain locations. The chain opened its sixth drive-thru store in July.
In an effort to further engage customers, Sheetz reworked its card-swipe gasoline discount program, which allowed customers to earn cents off per gallon for making foodservice purchases. The company’s new My Sheetz Card, modeled on a more traditional frequency program, was in every store by July, after an eight-week point-of-sale upgrade. The card has been available in Ohio and North Carolina stores for a few years.
My Sheetz Card debuted quietly through point-of-purchase signage and customer sign-ups. Store employees now swipe a customer’s driver’s license, then swipe a dormant loyalty card through the POS and hand over the live card to the customer. Customers are encouraged to use the card with purchases of products in the frequency program, including specialty coffee, bakery items and other signature Sheetz products. The more purchased, the more free items are awarded.
Cardholders also receive discounts on snacks, beverages and other limited-time featured products, plus they automatically earn 3 cents off per gallon at the pump.