Colouring kits and marketing initiatives aimed at children can be a huge draw
Q: I see my local restaurant now has colouring kits and other attractions for children while their parents are dining. Do you see this as an important marketing tool?
A: Absolutely yes! Happy kids equal happy parents. One of the amazing discoveries we made in the early stages of Superquinn was when one of our team suggested that we should find some way to provide a 'crèche facility' for mums that were shopping with their children.
Initially this took the form of an old single-decker bus which no longer had any engine in it.
We kitted out the bus as a 'play centre' and located it at one of our branches one day a week. The response we got was very good and we found our sales on that day started to grow.
Meanwhile, a neighbouring branch 5km away started to get complaints from its customers as to why they didn't have a crèche facility - so we ended up hiring a local man with a van to pull the bus between both locations.
Before long we ended up with three buses, moving them around the city on a constant basis, and eventually progressed to a model where we put permanent playhouses with trained childcare assistants in each one.
Children who started to create a painting, or a sculpture with play dough, were provided with little small drawers so that they could finish their art creation next time they went shopping with mum or dad.
The reaction was amazing. Suddenly it was not the parents who were deciding which supermarket to do the shopping in, but rather the children demanding that the parent go back to Superquinn so that they could finish their artwork.
The reaction from parents was even stronger. Now they could shop in a stress-free environment knowing that their child was also enjoying themselves. It was a real win for us, and I would encourage any business to focus on children for some of their marketing activity. It works on so many different levels.
Q: What was the best marketing initiative that you ever used to drive sales?
A: There were hundreds of activities we ran over the decades. Many were successful, and many of the things that were successful in the past would not work today. We ran free buses to bring customers who had no transport to our shops, we used door-to-door leafleting in a very aggressive way and we did lots of price-driven promotions.
Probably the most consistent tool of all that we used was direct consumer marketing when we started our loyalty card. The loyalty card initiatives were good at motivating customers, however, it was the contact details for these customers that allowed us to have most success. We had postal addresses, email addresses and in many cases mobile phone numbers for these customers and they had all given permission to us to use them.
We segmented the database according to customer spend and this allowed us to customise the promotions we ran for these customers. The customer response was phenomenal as people were being given offers that suited their shopping pattern and level of spend.
You sometimes hear about 1:1 marketing and we got very close to that in Superquinn. Each customer felt that the promotional activity was customised to their needs and the response was disproportionally high.
I recall back in the 1980s partnering with Aer Lingus and offering our customers significant discounts off flights if they shopped with us for four out of six weeks.
The result was phenomenal. The gift appealed to the majority of customers and the qualification criteria was easy for customers to achieve with only a small change to their behaviour required.
My answer to your question is that, if you correctly use customers' contact details it is probably your most powerful marketing tool.
QI lease a shop in a small shopping centre. The car park is poorly neglected as no one sees it as a priority. Do customers care?
ACertainly they do! It is the first and last impression someone gets and it was one of the areas in Superquinn that I was passionate about. Very often, when I was visiting a store, I would start walking the site from the car park inwards as there were often smaller things that were neglected in this area.
Disney, for example, have music in weatherproof speakers throughout their car parks. I was also fascinated to learn that when in any of the Disney resorts you never see the staff emptying the rubbish bins in the public areas and car parks. That is because they have an underground walk way system and the bins are emptied from below to avoid any disruption to customer parking.
I can recall running a customer focus group in one of our shops when a number of customers pointed out that the car park markings in one section of the car park were too narrow and the customers couldn't open the doors of their cars if they parked legitimately between the lines as they were too close to the next car.
None of our team had spotted that the company which laid out the car park had made an error and we ended up having to have that area re-laid out.