Do This; Don’t Do That

Category management can be a marathon. So run a mile in these retailers’ shoes. What has worked for them? And what hasn’t?
do this; don't do that

Don't Drop the Ball

Rotten Robbie scores points for 'game management' during the Super Bowl

The Broncos weren't the only ones who walked away from Super Bowl 50 as winners. PuppyMonkeyBaby? Winner. Nacho and guacamole lovers? Winners. Antacid makers? Winners.

But it was Robinson Oil Corp.’s Rotten Robbie c-store chain of 34 stores that walked away with our game ball for maximizing opportunity around the big event. Its store closest to Levi Stadium—2.7 miles away—was tasked with serving its local clientele and also the parade of out-of-towners who were in town to catch the big game.

The store, located on Lafayette Avenue, is one of Robinson’s largest at 3,400 square feet. It scored big with sales that registered above average. And it wasn’t alone. Overall, Rotten Robbie’s sales highlights included juice/water/tea, with a 13% increase in January 2016 over the previous year. Salty snacks increased 6%.

Kris Kingsbury, marketing and merchandise manager for Robinson’s Rotten Robbie chain, says she wouldn’t have done  anything differently. Here’s what the company did before the game:

Price points: “We already o­ffer everyday low prices on many items, so the key was to put an accent on convenience, and we did that well,” Kingsbury says. “We implemented an ICEE promo with a football theme that was accessible from mobile apps, and it went well. The majority of the events the week before the game were located in San Francisco. We saw probably more activity a couple weeks prior to the game because of construction leading up to [it], such as erecting tents and other things. So the influx of construction workers gave us a nice sales boost. We did really well meeting their buying needs, including our foodservice.”

Proper staffing: The Lafayette Avenue store had an additional two employees per shift for Super Bowl weekend. In smaller stores farther away from the stadium, they had one additional employee per shift. “We expected more customers early Sunday morning, to be honest,” says Kingsbury. “The parking opened (at Levi) at 9 a.m., so operations made sure we were sta­ffed early. But the problem was tailgating was prohibited. If that had been allowed, we would have enjoyed nicer sales around lighter fluid, charcoal and more beer and snacks. Oddly enough, we sold a lot of bagged ice, which is typically bought for tailgating.”

Out of stocks: “We made sure we were rightsized with prepackaged snacks, which was a top seller during the event period,” she says. “The foodservice activity was about the same saleswise, except when construction workers came into the store  during those couple weeks leading up to the game. We were ready for them, and we could tell when they left.”

Merchandising regrets: There was none, says Kingsbury, who was pleased about the way the stores took on a festive air to catch the wave of excitement around the event. A large screen wrap on store windows with a 3-D impression of the Golden Gate Bridge and Pepsi products had excellent curb appeal. Large banners outside the store touted 12-pack and case beer specials.

The freeway factor: One Rotten Robbie store located o­n Highway 85 in the San Jose/Cupertino area experienced a significant lift in beer sales. The advantage? Its location directly off­ the highway meant motorists needed to make a quick exit to stock up on items, with beer the hottest seller.

Kingsbury says the chain is now prepared for the next big event in the Bay Area: the NBA finals, which will be hosted in Oakland, home of the world champion Golden State Warriors. And Rotten Robbie has a unit in Hayward, not far from Oracle Arena.

Do's and Don'ts

Do: It’s true: It doesn’t get much bigger than the Super Bowl. But whether your stores are in San Francisco or San Diego, La Crosse or Leadville, this should go without saying: Pay attention to the calendar. Your local quarterback may not be Peyton Manning, but a big local football game or minor-league baseball playoff could mean a big payoff in your store. Careful merchandising of grab-and-go snack items and promotion of drink specials and foodservice bundles could catch the eye of that fan on the way to the pep rally down at the high school.

Don't: Kingsbury learned about the perils of trying to sell little trinkets and memorabilia during the L.A. Olympics in 1984. She was glad to not have wavered from that policy for the Super Bowl: “We had no regrets about not carrying these items. The day after the game, Levi Stadium had a ‘50% off’ sale on all Super Bowl items like key chains, shirts, hats and more.” It would have been wasted space had Rotten Robbie devoted a section to these items, she says.

Continued: Seize the Season