From corner store to digital store - Lessons from Power Market



Meet Amir Hassan

Amir Hassan is the Director of Retail and Operations at H&S Energy, a c-store and gasoline retailer with over 160 California locations and a proprietary brand, Power Market. He’s played a hand in making his company the first in its category to use Uber Eats in California, and more recently crossed paths with Rovertown when Power Market tapped us to be the platform behind its mobile app. 

In October, Hassan sat down with our president and co-founder, Jeffry Harrison, to share pearls from the digital frontier in the NACS education session, “From Corner Store to Digital Store: A Fireside Chat.”

Gearing up to go digital

Digital stores have shiny floors. For Hassan, the first steps to a strong digital strategy are anything but digital. Instead, he talked to the NACS audience about Power Market’s happy associates, who work in a supportive environment and undergo in-depth training to encourage good service. At Power Market, shelves stay stocked to project dependability, and when supply chain issues rattled the industry, it made a warehouse to keep its own reserves. To project safety and appeal, his teams put resources toward lighting stores brightly. Restrooms are well-maintained by employees who are motivated with rewards, with cleanliness checked quarterly through secret shoppers. The diligent upkeep of Power Market’s brick-and-mortar stores has won customers over to its digital side again and again.  

Walk before you can run. The basics of any convenience store are clean restrooms, stocked shelves, and friendly customer service. Without those three components, you’re not going to draw any customers in or keep loyal customers. Before you start investing into technology, loyalty apps, and delivery, you have to make sure that you have the right set of employees, the right set of product mixture, the right store, and the right brand behind you.
<font size="+3">-Amir Hassan, H&S Energy</font>

Intention lies at the core of marketing. Behind the scenes, Hassan said you should understand your purposes for marketing, whether for brand presence or product promotion. And, Harrison added, knowing your audience is another must. With Power Market, Hassan pursues marketing strategies that have clearly defined goals. Once new to the scene in Sacramento, Power Market partnered with its local NBA team to boost brand recognition. It exclusively sold the Sacramento Kings’ first bobblehead in years, and has an ongoing promotion on its app that sends offers via push notification whenever the Kings score 100 points. Hassan said he chooses strategies with quantifiable outcomes that he then captures through Power Market’s tech. 

When we first started the partnership, we didn't have an app. It was being built. So we had no way to measure our success. Sales went up, but was it because we spent this money with the NBA team, or not? After we got the app rolling, we were able to see the effects that it’s had. We needed actionable items to measure our investment.
<font size="+3">-Amir Hassan, H&S Energy</font>

You can't really implement any digital technology, in my opinion, unless you have some sort of marketing strategy. If you can’t look at your team in the face and say exactly who you're trying to target and why you’re doing this in your stores, then you have to get this right.
<font size="+3">-Jeffry Harrison, Rovertown </font>

Hot topics in digital tech

Loyalty programs and mobile apps are the new normal. Hassan said the reasons to start a loyalty program are varied, from vendor incentives to attracting customers and encouraging repeat visits. For Power Market, loyalty was a strategy to pull in the large chunk of customers who patronized its gas pumps without entering the store. Through the loyalty program, customers netted big savings on gas and could build relationships with store staff and the Power Market brand. Plus, with loyalty programs being thick on the ground, Hassan believes even a five-store chain now needs one to avoid being at a disadvantage. Loyalty programs have become essential, and they’re powerful to boot—“But,” Hassan said, “you have to have a brand behind it.”

When it comes to mobile apps, Harrison said the choice to go white-label, custom, or with an app platform hinges on your size. For very large chains, a custom app makes sense, while a small chain with five stores and low competition would be well-served with a simpler white-label app. But for c-stores in the middle, white-label apps can be limiting, while custom apps are problematic for their steep cost and time investment. “The platform can offer a solution,” Harrison said. 

“You start diving into your [white-label] app and you're like, 'Wait, this app only offers loyalty. What if I want to add my car wash subscription? What if I want to add my delivery? What if I want to have arcade games on there and have people play it and get rewarded for interacting with my app?' They don't offer that. Finding an app provider that can mesh all those things into one makes it easier for your customer, makes it easier on you, because now you don’t have to manage five different apps. You have to manage one."
<font size="+3">-Amir Hassan, H&S Energy</font>

E-commerce accesses new revenue. Power Market became interested in e-commerce even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. After an initial morning boom, business was gradually tapering as the day aged, and it wanted to increase sales in the slow periods. E-commerce was the answer, Hassan said, by bringing in shoppers who were most active at night. Power Market started with third-party providers before deciding to operate its own system. 

“We said at H&S, 'We don't want to [profit-share].' Margins are slim as-is in the convenience store space and we want to create an in-house product. And we know how the system works, so why can't we do it ourselves?”
<font size="+3">-Amir Hassan, H&S Energy</font>

When it first started in e-commerce, Hassan said Power Market was challenged with a costly number of abandoned orders. So it worked to simplify its e-commerce operations and trained staff in the new procedures. Power Market now hopes to reduce its cancellation rate to 4% in all locations and, through its efforts, has been rewarded with better figures and a higher place in the algorithm.  

As for building a mobile pay program, Hassan said a good bet is to learn from companies that do it well, like Starbucks.

Not everyone is ready for autonomous checkout. Though autonomous checkout opens exciting possibilities, Hassan said you should consider both your business’s capabilities and your customer base carefully when making the decision to pursue it.  

“It really depends on where you are, and can you implement these, and can your customers adopt it, because the initial investment is great. It’s new technology, but it is where the market is going. You have to choose. Are you going to be the early adopter, or are you going to wait to see how it works in the market, and then adopt it when it’s proven?”
<font size="+3">-Amir Hassan, H&S Energy</font>

Used right, IoT is a versatile tool. To Hassan, IoT represents an opportunity to sharpen c-store performance by saving labor and generating data on matters like inventory and customer activity. And, he said, because digital success relies first on the quality of your physical stores, IoT can help get you ready for the leap.

“A lot of times, retailers think about, ‘How can I use technology with customers?’ Sometimes we don't think about, ‘How can I use technology to improve my operations, my store, the flow of product, the supply chain?' I think where [Power Market is] going with IoT is thinking about how can we use it to improve our operations, to improve the customer experience.”
<font size="+3">-Amir Hassan, H&S Energy</font>

Enlisting partners you believe in

A good partner is always in your corner. “One thing that we look for at H&S is reliability,” Hassan said. For him, a good partner is transparent about its limits—not one who promises unrealistic timelines, and causes headaches when it can’t deliver. He looks for partners who are technology-agnostic, ready to introduce him to the options available in tech integrations without a trace of bias. And with customer visits being so brief, he needs someone who’ll pick up the phone and fix a problem before the customer can lose faith in his business. “That’s what we see as trust,” he said.

Finding your path

Digital strategy is a big arena, but with a thorough understanding of your market, goals, and needs, you can build a presence with lasting returns. If you’d like to learn more about Rovertown’s app platform, contact us below for a free demo.