High gas prices do not translate into huge profits for gas station owners. In fact, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores the sale of gas accounts for only 26 percent of a convenience store’s pretax profits. This means the other 74 percent of their profits must come from the little extras that they sell inside the store—an area many drivers ignore in this age of pay-at-the-pump.
So how do convenience stores lure drivers inside to buy that extra slushy and candy bar? Marketing, of course.
A recently opened station at 13970 Manchester Road has been designed specifically for the high expectations of the West County driver. Store management describes the store as clean, airy and having the same décor as a classy coffee shop. Flat-panel TVs display ESPN and the Weather Channel. And like many convenience stores these days, the store has increased its supply of snacks far beyond beef jerky and candy bars. Even the ice tea is dumped every four hours to assure its high quality.
However, it's the recently offered wine and beer tastings at the gas station that offer a truly unique twist.
John Geisz, Energy Marketing’s director of retail, is trying something he says he's not seen before in St. Louis. He’s obtained a special license for this Manchester convenience store that will allow them to not only sell beer and wine, but to offer samples to customers. The store is stocked with more than 120 varieties of wine, plus domestic and craft beer.
The store had a soft opening in November, but Geisz said they waited until the end of May to hold its grand opening. During the celebration Geisz arranged for DJs to play for customers, T-shirt giveaways and product samplings.
For about one week, hostesses from a wine and beer vendors held the tastings just inside the door of the store. They offered sips of featured beverages, like a craft beer or a wine not typically found at the local gas staion.
“Some of this craft beer no one’s ever heard of,” Geisz said. He hopes that if customers can try a sample of say, Boulevard’s pricey Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale, they’ll find they like it and buy it. Tank 7 retails for $10.99 a four pack.
A hostess also offered Colores del Sol, a South American red at $10.99 a bottle, and Australian Rosemount Shiraz for $9.99. A plate of Hautly cheese even complemented the samples. All the products are sold in the store. About half of the store’s retail space is dedicated to wine, beer and cheese.
Store manager Mike Taylor said that a lot of effort went into researching the prices, and that what they sell is marked at or below prices customers will find in grocery stores. He believes the unusually large selection of high quality wine and beer has the potential to boost store sales.
During the store’s grand opening week, an employee circulated around the customers at the pumps to let them know about the specials in the store—and the free sampling of wine, beer and smoothies. An ad also flashed on the gas pump promoting the sampling.
Geisz said the idea is to get a customer inside the store a few times to see the items they offer. After the grand opening specials are done, they’ll still offer a daily “happy hour” pricing where a particular beer is offered on sale. He hopes that customers will remember them and stop by for more than just gas.
The wine tasting isn’t just a grand opening gimmick. Geisz said the license is for the entire year, so he plans on doing more tastings, perhaps a few times a month. “Even if we don’t have a rep, we can pop open a six-pack and do the samples ourselves,” he said.
On the Horizon:
- Wasabi Sushi Bar Six will open June 24 in Town and Country Crossing. To celebrate, Wasabi is having a contest to create the “Town & County Roll.” The winner will receive a $100 Wasabi gift card and invitations to the restaurant launch party. The contest runs from May 24 to June 10. Check out Wasabi’s Facebook page for more details on how to enter.
- The National Association of Women Business Owners will hold a champagne luncheon and garden party 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. June 15 at the Westborough Country Club in Kirkwood. Cost is $35 for members and $45 for nonmembers.
- Town and Country-Frontenac Chamber of Commerce will have a luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. June 8, at John Mineo's Italian Restaurant. Cost is $20 for members and $25 for nonmembers. The guest speaker will be Steve Grelle, the business development officer in the business finance division of the St. Louis County Economic Council.