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Making friends

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Photos by Brandon Gray

To call the Alcona Esso in Innisfil, Ont. just a gas station or convenience store would be inaccurate. But you also can’t refer to it simply as a lube shop, car wash or drive-thru coffee and doughnut shop, either. Alcona Esso features all of these services, but it’s much more. It’s also the place where this small community, one hour north of Toronto, comes together to laugh with friends. And the fun doesn’t stop when the customers go home.

Owner Scott Knack and manager Brandi Payne work hard to ensure their loyal in-store customers are also their loyal online friends. “With Facebook, we’re just extending out and creating better relationships with all of these people; what’s business about? Building relationships,” says Knack.

They maintain an active Facebook page and a strong Twitter following. “If [customers] see you having fun, they’re going to have fun. And where do people buy from? People buy from their friends, and now we have over 1,000 Facebook friends. That spreads,” says Knack.

How has Alcona Esso gone from zero to 1,000-plus friends in under two years?

1. They started out small

At first, they spent time with their customers in the lube shop and let them know about the page. At the gas pumps they handed out pieces of paper that said “Find us on Facebook”. In the convenience store or at the drive-thru, they would engage in conversation about their social media pages.

“My only advice is to stick to it because it takes time. You won’t have a thousand friends overnight,” says Knack. “We thought we were going to have 500 in two weeks, and it took us six months.”

2. They provided a service

To start, they kept their posts simple and service-driven. “At the beginning we’d let people know what the gas prices were going to be, so we’d say ‘check us out in the morning and see where we’re at,’ or if we knew there was a big traffic jam heading into the city, we’d post it on our Facebook page so people would know,” says Payne. Innisfil is a commuter town, so a traffic warning and up-to-date gas prices represented valuable news for their fan base.

As they continued to provide a valuable service, their customers became more and more engaged, and Alcona Esso began to have more fun with the content and their following.

3. They engage their staff

As with any successful in-store project, your staff should be involved. “The business owners who all want to do it themselves won’t succeed. Get the staff engaged in it,” says Knack. “A lot of employers say not to use your cellphone at work, but I encourage it. Check your Facebook page, ‘like’ all of our Facebook posts, comment on them.”

It only takes an hour per day, says Payne. “You can make it time-consuming, I’m sure, but it doesn’t have to be. There are three of us working on it, we all do it together, so it’s never a big burden,” she says.

4. They give back to their friends

Friday is a popular day on the Alcona Esso Facebook page. At the end of each week, there is a prize offer. They call it Free Giveaway Friday. The prizes vary, from a turkey just in time for Thanksgiving to a new pair of washer blades and a free month of washer fluid top-ups. Their online friends just need to share, “like” and comment on the post announcing the prize.

For Alcona Esso, social media has become an integral part of the business. Their various pages have become an extension of their customer relationships, and as both Knack and Payne know, this is something they can’t put a price tag on.

“It’s helped our business immensely, and I know people always talk about a return on investment, but building relationships with these customers day in and day out is just priceless,” says Knack.

  • Connie D

    cool! i really like the Free Giveaway Friday idea – i might look into adding a similar contest like that to our pg. Currently we are struggling to build our facebook likes…wish me luck.

  • Mick H./Ottawa

    I’m not sure of how Facebook likes would add value to my store? Has anybody tried just twitter? Or do you need twitter and Facebook? I’ve just figured out email !

  • Sal B.

    I think if you do it right and dedicate time to it, it can be like free advertising. And creating a connection and sense of community with your regular customers. Creating this kind of connection can help battle lower prices of other stores by making your store a regular stop for your customers.