To achieve a more meaningful level of customer engagement, ProStop focuses on a style of product promotion that also simultaneously develops its brand.DRAPER, UT—Remember the last time you got excited about walking into a convenience store? If the answer is “No,” then consider yourself invited to any of the three new ProStop Convenience Stores in Utah, where AV and branding have converged to re-energize this retail sector.
It started when Max Hunsaker, who along with his family owns and operates ProStop Convenience Stores, rebelled against the cookie-cutter design of the typical gas station with adjacent outlets selling snacks and sodas. “A lazy format has developed within the industry,” he observed. “People have come to expect a low level of service and customer experience. We wanted to focus on the customer experience first and foremost— injecting technology into that experience was key to that goal.”
To achieve a more meaningful level of customer engagement, Hunsaker focused on a style of product promotion that would also simultaneously develop the ProStop brand. Realizing that a fresh approach to digital signage/video and audio messaging would be key, Hunsaker hired the Draper, UT -based AV contractor General Communications to partner with FFKR Architects on the forwardthinking project.
“A lot of times digital signage platforms simply show weather and sports scores over and over, with some specials in between,” noted Hunsaker. “But we’re branding ProStop with imagery that we make specifically to show how ProStop fits into the lives of customers. You can’t do that with traditional media when customers are in your store, interacting with your brand.
“I wanted the store environment to be dynamic,” Hunsaker continued. “You can create a lot of excitement in the retail environment by redoing the landscape on the walls, adjusting the paint and the colors. But you have a short shelf life before those tactics become stale. An AV solution gave us the flexibility to constantly change our image and brand to customers.”
Brandon Gramse, engineer, and Ingolf de Jong, president, for General Communications, worked closely with Hunsaker to create a video system for the expansive ProStop stores which presents customers with three four-panel video walls (each 2x2 with 46-inch seamless displays) that stretch 22 feet behind the sales counter. Strategic placing of the video wall not only ensures full-view visibility throughout the 3,000-square-foot sales floor, but also from the outside fueling islands and clear to the street.
Well-executed custom programming of the video wall enabled the seamless integration of many different forms of media, ranging from multiple live video feeds to playlists of advertisements, and video clips.Well-executed custom programming of the video wall—accomplished via an AMX control system and SpinetiX digital signage solution—enabled the seamless integration of many different forms of media, ranging from multiple live video feeds to playlists of advertisements, and video clips. Typically, programming heavily emphasizes sports content centered on the Utah Jazz NBA franchise, Salt Lake Bees minor league baseball team, and Miller Motorsports Park. The three video wall sections can work individually, or as a single unit displaying a single 22-foot-wide presentation
“One of the biggest video challenges,” Gramse said, “was finding a signage solution that could communicate properly with the control system. It needed to ensure that when a message is ready, the system can switch over from DirecTV to the ProStop commercial, play the message out, then switch seamlessly back to the game. This had to work whether the system was working as one video screen, or split up with a game in the middle and promotions on one or both sides.”
“Solving that wasn’t easy, but our AMX programmers have been with us for a long time,” de Jong added. “A lot of our projects often cross boundaries that are not typical. Fortunately, our programmers’ experience gives us the ability to walk into new situations, and then adapt with new solutions.”
Things get even more inventive on the audio side. Visitors reaching into a ProStop soda cooler or beer vault for the first time get a surprise when they hear a crystal-clear, targeted audio message triggered by a sensor when they open the door. Played out via Biamp and QSC components, the audio message may promote items in or near that door, a product tie-in (Pepsi/Frito Lay promotion for example) or other products relevant to a shopper at that location.
“Tying messages to the beer vaults and cooler doors was a novel idea that General Communications had,” said Hunsaker. “Not only has this proven to be a successful way to reach customers, but it’s also created a new revenue stream: We’ve seen that vendors who want to participate will either pay to have their ads play from the doors, or negotiate a better price for their products.”
The General Communications team had the foresight to avoid a cacophony of audio messages playing out, in the event that different customers open multiple doors simultaneously. “We can assign specific pieces of content to individual doors—so there are zones within the doors,” explained de Jong. “There’s also a delay that we set, to insure that the customer experience does not become chaotic due to hearing many messages at once.”
As can be expected, the aforementioned AMX control processor plays a perpetual role in making sure that the video and its accompanying audio, along with the door-triggered audio messages, all play nicely together on a system-wide basis throughout each store. Manual switching between sources via a touch panel needed to be possible, along with automatic switching at various times throughout the day.
For example, General Communications’ programmers ensured that when a commercial is played, all displays will automatically switch to the commercial while audio from the commercial is routed to the room’s speakers. Meanwhile, the audio level is increased slightly to draw attention to the commercial. As soon as the commercial ends, the system automatically reverts back to the previous inputs.
The cumulative effect of all this AV sophistication is a gamechanging approach to convenience store retail, where experiences both subtle and surprising add up to give ProStop a tangible sales advantage. “As a retailer, I think what all this effort represents is that we take our product seriously,” Hunsaker stated. “And as the marketplace has become more competitive, that point of view is going to become more important. People say, ‘You sell fountain drinks, snacks, gasoline—these are everyday items, so therefore they’re trivial and not important.’ But by bringing these technology solutions together to promote our brand, we’re saying, ‘These products are important, because you’re here purchasing them, and we’ll pull out all the stops to provide them to you.’ In a crowded marketplace, that message will resonate with customers.”
For General Communications, the ProStop project is a welcome reminder that AV can have a genuine impact on a client’s bottom line. “It’s thrilling to see the benefit first-hand,” de Jong concluded. “I’ve witnessed the way AV capabilities can help make businesses more productive and profitable. Whenever you see it working the way it should—providing a true return on investment as it is with ProStop—it’s exciting to watch.”
David Weiss (www.dwords.com) writes extensively about AV, audio, and broadcast technology.