In the c-gas world, it pays to be different. So when Scott Fraser took over the family business at Milne Court Petro-Canada in New Minas, NS in 2001, he decided to shake things up.
“I always looked at this business as a really interesting experience in customer service,” says Fraser. “What I set out to do was to establish policies that would build loyalty and frequency, and to see if the two would mesh.”
So how did he do it?
He started with customer service
Fraser started with the creation of the “ambassador of first impressions” post, bestowed upon one Milne Court employee who works entirely outside, pumping gas, cleaning windshields, checking tires, and most importantly, interacting with customers.
He introduced great food
Gram’s Café, named after Ruth “Grammy” Milne, is now one of the cornerstones of Fraser’s success. “Because we’re producing our own [foodservice products], we’re able to take lower margins and provide people with a lunch that’s transportable for under $5. You can’t always get manufacturers to build a product just for you, but we’re able to modify and custom-make our sandwiches.”
He invested in coffee
“We also feature fair trade coffee, which differentiates us from stores that have basic coffee,” Fraser explains. “We get our coffee from a local roaster called Just Us!, and we’ve even developed our own blend with them, called ‘Gram’s Blend.’”
The Grand-Pré roaster provides Fraser with fair trade, organic coffee and tea every week, ensuring his customers get not only a local, sustainable product, but also an extremely fresh one.
“On Thursday, you’re getting whole beans that were roasted on Tuesday, bagged and delivered on Wednesday, freshly ground on Thursday, and brewed with reverse osmosis water. It’s impossible to get anything fresher.”
He stuck to his values
Fraser has developed his own Cap it for Cancer fundraising campaign. When a customer buys four bright pink air-valve caps for $2, the Milne Court ambassador places them on the customer’s tires, and the entire proceeds are donated to breast cancer research initiatives. Fraser ordered 30,000 pink valve caps from China and has enlisted the work of Flowercart members to mail the caps out to orders anywhere in North America.
“It’s a one-of-a-kind fundraiser. I think we’re the only ones in the world doing it, and it’s completely an original idea,” says Fraser. “It’s been our main thrust for the past six months, and it’s been nothing short of amazing. Our goal is $15,000, and we’re at $8,000, so we’re going to be pushing it for the summer.”
Take it from a passionate retailer like Fraser – it’s essential to take pride in your operation, and to give your customers a reason to take pride in it, too.
“My advice to other retailers would be to identify a sustainable differentiation strategy. The key is ‘sustainable’. And remember, if your business doesn’t reflect your core values, you won’t be consistent with your policies. This business reflects who I am as a person.”
Here are Scott’s top five tips to success:
1. Do something different. Set your store apart with unique products or services customers can’t get from the competition.
2. Follow your gut. Develop an innovative, customized foodservice program targeted directly toward your clientele.
3. Go local. Support the community with fundraising campaigns and products sourced from neighbouring businesses.
4. Keep it consistent. Ensure all aspects of your business clearly communicate your message and best represent your core values.
5. Pick the right helpers. Hire the employees who share your beliefs and high customer satisfaction standards.