Comparing Convenience Store Marketing Efforts: Roller Grill Menus

This past May, I graduated from the University of New Hampshire and began my first post grad position as a Business Development Representative for Abierto Networks. For the past two months, I have learned a lot about convenience store marketing. Store layouts, product advertising and use of digital signage are all items that I now notice when I walk into a C-store. As part of my millennial make up, my eyes tend to go towards large images that are bright and immersive when walking into a store. My first big project at Abierto is promoting a specific digital menu that offers integration with a store’s pricebook in order to make changes easier for the Convenience Retailer. This product is especially effective using the tobacco and roller grill application because of the minimal hardware required, flexibility to change prices in an instant, and the fact that almost every convenience store carries these two items.

To help me understand how our menu board product can increase sales for the C-Store, I decided to look more into roller grill items and see how they were marketed at different stores around me. As someone who had never had a roller grill hot dog before, I was able to provide an inexperienced opinion on how people would decide to buy something from the roller grill or not. I, along with two of my coworkers, visited three convenience stores in order to compare how each of them differ with promoting their roller grill items: Cumberland Farms, Circle K, and 7-Eleven.

The Cumberland Farms we visited was a recently constructed location and had a modern feel to it. When we parked out front, there was a sign that advertised a deal for hot dog combo meal ($4!). As we stepped inside, everything in the store was clean. The aisles were large, and the roller grill was right around the corner from the registers, but there were no bright, catchy visuals to help customers navigate the options nor even roller grill menus directly corresponding with the space. Instead the store installed digital signage away from our eyeline and was more of a menu list of items with the screens cutting away to large images of other items in the store like iced coffee. All in all, the digital signage was effective, just not for roller grill items.

Next, we visited a nearby Circle K that also serves as a truck stop, the parking lot was bustling. I didn’t see any ads in the parking lot for the roller grill or even when we walked inside the store, which was about as large as the Cumbies, and also had a modern feel to it. There was a separate Amato’s in the store which had some menu signage, but it took us a bit to find the roller grill since it was placed in one of the aisles away from other hot food items. Looking around the store before I left, I didn’t see any specific marketing efforts or special signage given to roller grill items besides one sign on the front of the roller grill. The store did have interactive messaging at the POS, but I was already in line to pay, so I wasn’t focused on the messaging there.

Lastly we visited a busy and popular 7-Eleven, it was not as large as the other stores we visited, but had heavy traffic due to its location along a busy road. All in all, the store looked more run down than the other two, there were small signs along the wall which labeled certain items like coffee and tobacco, but overall there was not much direction for customers. There weren’t as many options for hot food, but it was all located in one place next to the cash register - very easy to find. We figured out that we had to wait in line at the register in order for someone to serve us our hot food options. The labeling on the roller grill menus was small and hard to match up with the correct item. Once we ordered, we then had to go in the back of the store if we wanted any condiments. All in all, this store was not organized as well as the other two and took longer than expected.

While some stores we visited seemed better than others, one big takeaway I got was that there was not a lot of marketing emphasis on roller grill items. A Q1 Consulting study from last year that I reviewed for this story looked to track how food service sales were driven and determine different opportunities in foodservice. The study found that roller grills drove 22% of sales in convenience stores, which ended up being the third highest driver behind prepared sandwiches and the in-store bakery. Roller grill items are cheap and simple for convenience stores to sell, as well as being easy to maintain. They can be utilized to earn easy money from on-the-go customers, so why isn’t more emphasis being put onto them?

With beautifully designed roller grill menus that offer built in pricing and product update functionalities, we can get retailers an increase in sales of 5-15%. With average daily sales of $75, adding a roller grill can increase sales by around $300 per month. The Abierto roller grill menu retails for $1,500 so the investment should pay for itself in about 5 months.