A little known historic fact about Pennsylvania is that the very first drive-in gas station was opened in this state, in the city of Pittsburgh, over a hundred years ago in 1913, so it seems fitting that Sheetz, one of America’s fastest growing family-owned gas and convenience retailers has chosen the same city for its technology and innovation hub more than a hundred years later. With Pittsburgh’s growing reputation for tech innovation, the announcement was accompanied by a vision to “create a business that puts the Sheetz as we know it today, out of business” – an impressive intention that re-affirms the past, present and future role of this company in the competitive world of convenience retail.
Sheetz is already widely respected for pioneering innovative concepts such as touch-screen terminals which they launched in 1996, voice-activated ordering capabilities on Amazon’s Alexa, as well as the award-winning menu concept known as M•T•O® (made-to-order) sandwiches and salads which sounds so obvious now, but in fact single-handedly re-positioned the entire category, not just for Sheetz itself themselves, but for the whole convenience industry too.
In this article, particularly in light of the challenges of Covid-19, we wanted to uncover what lessons could be learnt from Sheetz, with this convenience retailer recently ranked one of the top three operators in the $654.3 billion U.S. convenience market.
All Sheetz stations and stores are open 24 hours a day 365 days a year.
Describing itself as a “major mid-Atlantic restaurant and convenience chain” and a “fun, customer-centric” business, Sheetz is nonetheless a serious operation, with over 600 stores throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and North Carolina and over 18,500 employees.
In light of Covid-19, its approach includes an impressive range of shopping options that support social distancing to reassure nervous consumers, from app-orders, curbside pickup and drive-thru options, through to delivery and “shcan and go” – a new feature launched earlier this month at all 600 Sheetz locations to minimize interaction in the checkout process. The new feature can be used for convenience items such as drinks and snacks but is not yet available for gas or other items on restricted sale. Nonetheless, it’s impressive to see the speed with which this new feature was launched and is further evidence of the passion and commitment to innovation this family business continues to show.
Other health-related changes announced include suspending self-serve coffee, tea, frozen drinks, milkshakes and self-serve bakery items however Sheetz is relying on an “enhanced” cleaning for high touch surface areas such as gas pumps and order points.
Loyalty & Rewardz
In keeping with the founder’s surname after whom the company is named, the brand uses the letter ‘z’ wherever possible throughout the business. This includes jobz, coffeez and the “MySheetz Card®” program relaunched in 2017 to expand the programme and the “rewardz” on offer. It works as follows:
- Customers earn “rewardz” across both fuel and convenience purchases with the usual exceptions of alcohol and restricted goods.
- Purchases in store earn five “pointz” per dollar.
- All cardholders who register online also benefit from a consistent benefit at any tier – 3 cents off gas.
- Rewardz are available from 250 pointz ($50 spend) and include options such as coffee, donuts and cookies.
- There are three tiers or membership – cleverly named “Fan, Friend or Freak”.
- The program consists of a plastic membership card as well as the need to register online on the program app.
- Benefits promised include birthday offers, customised rewardz as well as “surprise freebies” for higher tier customers.
- Members are invited to “choose” their preferred rewardz online.
- “Friend” and “Freak” tier members are also promised exclusive “shwag” and access to exclusive events.
- Pointz expire after one year.
- As well as station locations, offers, nutritional information and pointz and rewardz balances, the Sheetz app also allows customers to buy, manage and share gift cards with friends – a truly customer-friendly digital experience.
- Alongside the critical operational focus, Sheetz has also confirmed it will not let any loyalty points or rewardz expire during the pandemic. All loyalty points and reward expiration dates have been extended until July 1st.
Caring for Staff During Covid-19
While front-line workers are at least being awarded some level of recognition by many retailers, and most office workers, students and consumers are simply staying at home, it’s often front line retail staff who are expected to continue showing up to work almost as if they were not at risk. Already certified as the only convenience store in the 2019 top 100 “Great Places to Work”, the company further recently announced increased pay of $3 per hour until the end of June “to showcase its gratitude to its employees” in the way that matters the most.
Digital Driving Dominance
In closing, we were delighted to see that “discounts, rewards and digital” featured as two of the key pillars considered critical by the data scientists at dunnhumby to compile the “Top Consumer Choice C-Store List”. Now, more than ever, c-store retailers need to leverage technology and customer-focused features that re-assure, recognise and reward every customer, and Sheetz is truly an inspiring example in our industry.
Liquid Barcodes is a leading global loyalty and digital marketing technology company specialised in the convenience store and foodservice industries. Our proprietary cloud-based technology platform allow retailers to create and manage their digital marketing campaigns with a proprietary process we call the “customer connection cycle’ to engage, promote and reward customers activities in real-time across digital and media channels.
How we do it:
We have developed the most advanced loyalty and digital marketing technology platform specifically for convenience store and foodservice retailers globally.
Retailers use our self-service dashboard to create and manage loyalty driven marketing campaigns that increase purchases with their existing customers, as well as effectively target and acquire new customers through partners or paid media channels.
One core component of live loyalty is gamification. We have gamified branding, loyalty and promotions. We believe this approach is essential in order to get customers’ attention and ultimately truly engage them with repeatable actions thereby winning their loyalty.
Check out some of our exciting/proven results here:
Chief Content Officer, Liquid Barcodes and Independent Loyalty Consultant
With over twenty-five years marketing experience, I specialise in loyalty marketing consulting, managing consumer loyalty propositions, strategy and operations. In addition to working with Liquid Barcodes, my clients have included Telefonica O2, Three Mobile, Electric Ireland, Allied Irish Bank and The Entertainer Group, as well as Avios – the global points currency for some of the world’s top airlines. I am also a former judge for the Loyalty Magazine Awards.