For Stewart Spinks, chief executive officer of The Spinx Company, a family- and employee-owned company headquartered in Greenville, SC, using electronic signage at most of their 65 gasoline sites across North and South Carolina, works toward the company’s goal of making life easier for their customers and employees.
With electronic signs, Spinx employees are either able to change gas prices with a few clicks from within the kiosk, or they can change them from their corporate offices, no matter the weather and no matter how busy the stores are.
And the Spinx Company is not alone. More and more petroleum marketers are switching to high-tech electronic signage as a way of staying in step with the competition and the ever-changing petroleum marketplace.
Daktronics has seen LED price signs and electronic message centers quickly become the industry standard for c-stores and petroleum marketers. In fact, a large percentage—approximately 75 percent—according to their customers, of newly branded stores are going with LED signage.
As Joni Schmeichel, national accounts marketing manager at Daktronics explains, Daktronics customers are interested in a high-quality, cost-effective and reliable method of keeping gas prices up to date in a quick and safe manner.
“In addition price signage, we are seeing these customers incorporate the use of high-quality electronic message centers to enhance the outer appearance of their store, while using targeted messages to reach more customers and increase store traffic,” Schmeichel says. “They are demanding a quality, energy-efficient electronic marketing solution that is easy to install and maintain, economically priced, modern in appearance, and backed by a reputable supplier that is in tune with their needs today and will continue to be years down the road.”
As holds true with most business, an uptick in demand usually creates an uptick in supply. So while the number of companies offering electronic price and electronic message signage has increased, not all products or manufacturers are created equal. That’s why it’s important to do your homework—evaluating product options, costs, quality, and talking with end users of a company’s products.
Grabbing Customers’ Attention
With the volatility of gas prices over the last few years, Spinx wanted signs that are very easy to change and most importantly, reliable. Spinx looked at Skyline electronic gas price signs to gain the ability to be more competitive for their customers by quickly reacting to changing market conditions. “Not only is changing gas prices quick and easy, it is safe for our employees,” Spinks says.
According to Greg Stadjuhar, vice president of sales and marketing at Skyline Displays in Colorado Springs, CO, they continue to see the trends of electronic price signs being treated as a part of the overall system of the store itself.
“As corporate control of all systems, as well as pricing, continue to grow in popularity, having a sign system that integrates into either or both of these trends is extremely important,” Stadjuhar says. “We see our customers looking at the performance of the whole store from the energy being used to performance of the coolers and many other store functions, they want to analyze and maintain everything from a corporate office.”
Vic Wenner, Daktronics’ national accounts sales manager agrees. “Quality electronic signage positions a c-store or petroleum marketer as technically advanced, more inviting to consumers, modern and image conscious,” Wenner says. “The consumer’s perception is that stores who care about their image also care about their customers and the consumer’s overall experience. It promotes the image of a clean, new, updated facility — cleaner bathrooms, better food choices, fresh coffee, etc.”
Wenner stresses that price remains one of the dominant reasons why consumers choose to purchase fuel at a certain location, according to the results from the new 2012 NACS Consumer Fuels Report. “Price signs that are prominent, easy to read, accurate and viewable from a distance catch the eyes of consumers — drawing in additional revenue for owners,” Wenner says. “Today’s customers have demanded attractive, bright, high-contrast displays in a wide range of digit sizes and LED color options.”
It’s also important to have a sign that can both integrate into a central control system as well as allow the corporate managers to evaluate the performance and the status of the sign at any time.
“Of course, the more prevalent trend is the full integration of all components from a corporate pricing execution strategy,” Stadjuhar says. “As everything in our lives continues to become integrated, the ability to automate the pricing of all a customer’s fuels from a simple click of a mouse or touch of a smart phone is no longer a fad, but a necessity, to stay competitive in the ever aggressing fuel pricing market.”
In fact, more and more fuel customers will not even look at electronic signage products if they will not seamlessly integrate with their P.O.S, central pricing software, pumps and other important systems.
“No customer would ever think of buying a pump that they would have to go out to and change the price on it with a remote, so they now expect the same out of their price signs,” Stadjuhar says. “They want one push of a button at corporate office or at the back office and seamless execution of the full price change. Of course, as all these systems are integrated, our customers want to make sure they are working with a company that not only has the capability, but can address key concerns like PCI compliance, and full tested integration with all partners involved.”
When the Spinx Company considered the huge investment in converting their locales to electronic price signage, reliability and durability of the signs were paramount. In addition, the issues the Spinx Company faced were local sign ordinances that restrict or resist signage that ‘looks like Las Vegas.’
So what results has Spinx experienced since making the change to electronic signage?
“We can move very quickly as costs change,” Spinks says. “Some suppliers do multi-day changes. Central cost monitoring and speed of price changes can ‘signal the street’ of our desire to pass on increases or decreases to the market. If competitors don't react within two hours, Spinx can react expediently. Furthermore, the staff does not have to stop serving customers to physically go ‘post the prices.’”
Full Throttle Ahead
Many savvy petroleum marketers have been replacing outdated technology with electronic price signs and message centers for years. “These companies have focused their attention to improving profitability, maximizing margin capture, managing price control and monitoring employee efficiency—making them prime candidates for electronic price signage systems,” Wenner says.
What’s more, the time that employees previously spent changing static price displays can now be focused on serving the customer and building customer loyalty, a key ingredient to profitability in the retail world today. “In addition, safety concerns, including the risk of injury to employees, are eliminated and required equipment, such as extension ladders, pole changers and inventory of static price panels, is reduced,” Schmeichel says.
One of the biggest advantages of jumping on the proverbial electronic signage bandwagon is speed to the street. Price changes can now be made within seconds instead of hours and these prices are far more likely to be accurate as well.
“With diminishing fuel margins and constant competitive pressure, our customers realize that if they do not take fuel pricing, margins, and volume seriously, the competitors will,” Stadjuhar says. “And it will put them at a giant disadvantage. Lost margin or lost volume can add up to hundreds of dollars a week. Multiply that by months and years and the return on investment for electronic signs as part of their fuel strategy is remarkably fast.”
Electronic price signs also allow marketers to truly measure in matrix what fuel pricing does for their volume and margin as well the volume inside the store. “With this ability to have true real-time data our marketers can start to manage their fuel pricing,” Stadjuhar says.
Spinks agrees. “The ability to constantly monitor our store volumes and competitor pricing remotely from wherever I am allows me to instantly be very proactive with our stores in a constantly changing market,” Spinx says. “The electronic price signs also look great with our company image, are easy to read from a distance, and we can price our gas quickly and competitively for our customers.”
Industry experts agree that the days of manually changing gas prices and store promotions with suction cups and ladders are long gone. “Owners and marketers are able to instantly update fuel prices, promotions, sales and even community events from inside the store at a moment’s notice and this is what consumers have come to expect,” Schmeichel says. “Store owners are experiencing first hand that using reliable LED technology to update fuel prices and marketing initiatives saves operators time and money and generates additional revenue.
When making the decision to convert to electronic signage, Stadjuhar recommends that customers begin to ask themselves, “Do I want to market my fuel, be aggressive, and use fuel as a profit center that I can analyze and measure to perform better, or will I just follow the crowd?”
Ask yourself the following questions:
• What is your end game and how do you want to make the system work as a whole? • What is important to you and your company as far as pricing goes?
• How will you integrate the sign and the corresponding systems together?
“After you have these answers then you need to look at companies that can make each of your priorities happen,” Stadjuhar says. “Then you need to look at the sign as one of the most important marketing images you have.”
Remember that price signs are one of the first items a customer notices when deciding on which store to purchase from. So ask: Does this sign fit my image? Does this sign improve or retract from the other signage around it. How does this sign look in all light levels—bright sun, gloomy, night, and all others? How does the color and design fit my image? How long will the company making the sign be around to work with me on future projects and be there if there is a problem? How will you service the sign if there is a problem, can you integrate it and analyze the health and functionality of the sign?
Wenner suggest other important factors to consider include:
• Ease of integration into existing signage. Some products are easier to install/integrate than others, saving time and money. Ask your installer how easy the product is to install.
• How much square footage does the price sign consume? With more and more restrictive zoning regulations a marketer will want to be conscious of square footage, for example, not all 16” electronic price signs consume the same amount of square footage on a sign. If the electronic price signs you purchase use too much square footage it leaves less room for the brand to be displayed.
• Automatic dimming. Consumers will want an automatic dimming feature, adjusting the brightness to the optimal level during all lighting conditions is zoning friendly and energy efficient.
• Visibility. Not all electronic price signs show up well in direct sunlight. You do not want your display to be illegible for a couple of hours after sunrise and a couple of hours before sunset.
“This product is a long-term investment,” Wenner says. “It is undoubtedly important that customers look for a stable manufacturer that they trust to partner with for the next 7 to10 years and that they are confident they will be around to back the product and installation for years to come.”
****Advantages of Electronic Price Signage:
Electronic gas price displays look better
LED gas price displays allow employees more time with customers
LED technology saves money on energy
Electronic price signs are safer
Electronic price signs update instantly
LED gas displays protect the fuel profit margin