Calgary Co-op is a big deal in Alberta. The retail group has more than 440,000 member-owners, and operates 77 sites in Calgary and the surrounding area that includes 28 gas bar locations.
Woody Stelnicki is Managing Director, Petroleum. We asked him about how they are raising the bar in c-gas retailing.
YCM: What are the key attributes that have made Calgary Co-op a market leader in c-gas?
Woody Stelnicki: “As a co-operative, our members are our owners. Each year, Calgary Co-op shares our profits with members through the annual member refund. In 2015, our members received 6¢ per litre back through this refund. Belonging to a co-operative, instead of simply being a consumer, engages our members and promotes loyalty, as does receiving a cheque at the end of each year.
Delivering an exceptional customer experience is also a key attribute of Calgary Co-op gas bars. We provide full service at self-serve prices and offer valued services including touchless car washes, free air and even wireless handheld payment terminals for members with limited mobility.
We are a co-operative. We return our profits to our members and our members know they are dealing with a local company, our profits stay local and our support of the community and charities also stays local.”
YCM: What are the leading challenges to growth in sales/profitability?
WS: “There has been a notable decline in the economic climate in Calgary that has impacted businesses across the board. Our focus on providing members with value helps maintain our current consumer base, and we are continuing to expand in the face of this economy. As a smaller competitor, we have the ability to be agile; however, we must also be strategic in how we plan. When the economy gains ground, we will be ready, but we can’t wait for the economy to recover before implementing these plans.”
YCM: What is your key focus from an in-store perspective?
WS: “We try to instill a culture of salesmanship. We are looking for our team members to be knowledgeable about the programs, initiatives and sales we offer, and share this information with our members. The goal is to enhance the experience for the consumer while providing an opportunity to promote key offerings.”
YCM: How are you implementing this within your C-stores and is it being well received?
WS: “Calgary Co-op understands that each of our locations serves a unique and diverse community. There are different challenges and opportunities with each location. While there are overarching goals we want our team to achieve, our location managers have the ability to be agile and react to the needs of their individual communities.
We recognize that people are busy and ‘on the go’. At the pumps and inside the store, we want to make sure our customers haven’t forgotten to purchase a car wash or to take the time to look at the specials and understand that they could pair a second item for only a fraction of the price of the first product. We want to make sure they heard the amount they saved through our Revved Up Rewards program each time they purchase fuel.
In addition to our everyday offers and specials we try to focus on one or two items per month for our team members to offer our guests. We recently developed a Sales Push Committee consisting of managers from multiple locations to lead this initiative, choose the product we focus on, provide merchandising, display and selling techniques to all the locations, set goals, have sales contests as well as track and communicate the results. This is a development opportunity for our in-store team, and lets our store managers take the leadership role in a company-wide initiative. We are working hard to create an environment where our gas bars are managed from all angles, not just from the top down. The goal is an engaged and energized team that has the knowledge, ability and drive to deliver an exceptional customer experience.”
Developing a sales culture
Stelnicki reports that Calgary Co-op’s Sales Push Committee was struck in an effort to create a culture of selling where employees are encouraged to be proactive with customers by anticipating their needs. The committee consists of three Calgary Co-op Gas Bar Managers, Jennifer McFarlane, Natalie Morse, and Luis Trigueros. These managers have first-hand knowledge of the customer base at multiple locations and extensive front line experience. “The recommendations they put forth are recognized as coming from peers, a fact that adds credence to the initiative,” says Stelnicki, noting that participation on the committee also provides a valuable training experience with the managers focusing on a company-wide strategy and responsibility for the execution and measurement of each sales push.
“The committee was formed in January 2016 and the first sales push launched in February 2016. A new sales push item determined on seasonality, customer demand and value is introduced every four weeks. The item is discussed in Gas Bar Manager meetings every few months and during “stand up” meetings with all employees at each gas bar location.
“The intentional focus is not on items offered at sale prices. The goal is to promote products without it sounding ‘forced’,” he says. “For example, past products featured include offering lighters to everyone who purchases cigars or cigarettes, interior wipes for those purchasing car washes and lip balm during a cold and dry season.”
The sales push is measured by committee members through weekly sales updates for each location. One of the first featured products for the sales push experienced a 208% sales increase over the same sales period the previous year.
“After six months, the sales push initiative continues to grow stronger. It is helping our team build confidence while positioning them as knowledgeable in the eyes of the customer. Through weekly sales updates, a friendly competition has also begun with locations competing to see who will achieve the best overall results.”