By Al Hebert
It€™s that "something different" that can entice a customer to make the trip from the gas pump to inside the store. That differentiation is also what makes a convenience store a shopping destination. Finding that something different, however, is often easier said than done.
But one retailer in Sequim, Washington, has found a way to capture a bit of magic that sets it apart from the competition. The Longhouse Market & Deli, on Jamestown S€™Klallam Tribe€™s 7 Cedars Casino property is the place to go.
The walk-in, cedar-lined, cigar humidor and beer tastings are unique offerings that make this store really interesting. "We have one of the best cigar selections on the Olympic Peninsula. People come across on the ferry from Victoria, British Columbia, looking for cigars," said manager Randy Lemon. "It€™s a fun market for us and a nice niche. Customers tell me what they are looking for and I bring it in," he said.
Many convenience stores sell beer, but at Longhouse Market & Deli the focus is on craft. An array of more than 140 craft beers attracts the curious and the connoisseurs. Retail prices range anywhere from $3 to $20 for a single bottle "We wanted to be a destination for these customers," said Lemon, adding that the store dedicates 16 feet of space to craft beers.
Customers can also sample and learn more about specific craft beers at special tasting events during the spring and summer with brewer representatives on hand to talk about their product and answer questions. "We host these in the deli and offer specials on sandwiches. This draws new and old customers into the store. They have a chance to try the food and see if they like the beer," said Lemon.
Beer tastings aside, the 11,000 square-foot store often surprises customers who thought they were just pulling in for gas. The entryway is flanked by three massive cedar totem poles carved by tribal artist Dale Faulstic and his team. Inside the store, copper accents, satin black shelving and stone countertops complement natural wood dÃ©cor for a sleek, sophisticated and clean atmosphere.
"It€™s fun to watch customers walk in and see the looks on the faces. It€™s a big, beautiful store and it€™s very clean," said Lemon. "Cleanliness and a friendly atmosphere are priorities. Our employees pay attention to detail and most customers haven€™t had an experience like this before."
Longhouse also places heavy emphasis on superior ingredients. The store partners with familiar brands such as Tully€™s for its coffee and Boar€™s Head for its deli products. "The quality makes our deli just a bit different. We build the sandwiches here to our customers€™ specifications and when people find something they like, they will travel for it," Lemon said.
The full-service deli offers customers a variety of menu items such as barbecued chicken, carver sandwiches with sides and four soups each day. "Our panini sandwich is the biggest seller. We offer 13 different choices and we named them after places familiar to locals," explained Lemon.
And although flavor is important, so is serving healthy fare. Longhouse doesn€™t cook with grease or fry its foods €" even the corn dogs are made in a convection oven.
The market area is well stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, delivering what customers might need on a simple shopping trip. "Truckers are even looking for something healthy today," said Lemon, adding that produce has been a learning process. "Over the years we€™ve discovered which items appeal to customers."
Getting customers from the pumps to the store can be a challenge, so to tap into best practices and ideas for c-store industry, Lemon turned to the NACS Show. "We have been to several NACS Shows. We attended Shows a year before opening our store [in 2008] to see the latest technology, marketing and merchandising ideas," said Lemon. And that investment has paid off.
Each of Longhouse€™s 12 gas pumps features a 10-inch screen that allows Lemon to control the digital content customers see while filling up. "Right now, it€™s fairly general €" I want them to know about our humidor, coffee refills, store specials as well as the casino and golf course," he said.
The digital messaging continues on 14, 40-inch television screens throughout the store. "We promote beer, deli and store items and again, the golf course and casino," said Lemon, adding that soon a digital food menu will appear on the screens.
Social media is also a part of the store€™s marketing plan. The Longhouse Market & Deli€™s Facebook page gives customers updates about specials and craft beer offerings. "We are trying to cover all the bases by working on club programs and punch cards that will deepen customer loyalty and reward people for their business," said Lemon.
"Customers are listened to here. We simply respond to them and they€™ve responded to us with their business."
Al Hebert, the Gas Station Gourmet, explores America€™s hidden culinary treasure-gas station cuisine. Hebert shares these stories and a recipe or two at GasStationGourmet.com.