The Pantry broadens customer awareness via military support

The Pantry and AOR Largemouth Communications executed a multi-faceted campaign from Memorial Day to Labor Day aimed at deepening relationships with consumers, employees, and vendors while raising money for military-related nonprofits.

Client: The Pantry (Cary, NC)
PR agency: Largemouth Communications (Raleigh-Durham, NC)
Campaign: Salute Our Troops
Duration: May-September 2011
Budget: About $100,000 for PR (about $1 million marketing budget)

The Pantry, which owns and operates more than 1,600 Kangaroo Express convenience stores in 13 states, and AOR Largemouth Communications executed a multi-faceted campaign from Memorial Day to Labor Day aimed at deepening relationships with consumers, employees, and vendors while raising money for military-related nonprofits.

"Military connections are common denominators," says Dave Henninger, VP of marketing for The Pantry. "More than half our stores are within 20 miles of a military base. The rest are near National Guard units. Thirty percent of employees have a family member serving and another 10% are veterans. Many vendors are involved with the military."

Strategy
The team partnered with the USO, Wounded Warrior Project, and National Guard family assistance programs in five states, with a goal of raising $1 million for the organizations.

More than 20 vendors, including PepsiCo, were enlisted as sponsors.

Events in various Southeast markets, including in-store promotions, social media outreach, media relations, and PSAs, drove awareness and donations.

Tactics
A "USO Jeep Tour" featuring a 1952 Willys CJ-3, launched at a Memorial Day parade in Myrtle Beach, SC. Local military heroes rode along and shared stories at stops that included stores, events, and military installations in 75-plus communities through Labor Day.

Consumers were encouraged to donate in stores and upload video and photo salutes to military members on KESalute.com and Facebook.

Vendors gave away samples, while politicians attended some store stops to thank staffers for supporting US troops.

Updates were posted on Facebook and Twitter.

Local and regional media and deal and mommy bloggers were targeted. Some media outlets rode along with the Jeep. Store managers, company executives, and Kangaroo Express' military advisor Sgt. Tommy Rieman conducted interviews.

A "Roo Cup" promotion drove store traffic and sales by offering customers free fountain and frozen drinks all summer after buying a $6.99 cup. Henninger reports that 250,000 cups sold out in three weeks and sparked extensive online chatter and media coverage.

Largemouth CEO Brandon Bryce adds that cups sold for as much as $45 on eBay, and customers posted messages, videos, and photos of cups on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

The team ran with it, joining social media conversations and devising a "Flag Day Roo Run" scavenger hunt for 13 Roo cups (commemorating the US flag's 13 stripes) hidden around Charleston, SC, on June 14 in conjunction with a Jeep stop. Clues were shared in stores, by local media, and on Facebook and Twitter.

A September 15 check presentation included four Army Rangers parachuting into the Koka Booth Amphitheatre venue in Cary, NC.

Results
The campaign raised $2.5 million. Compared to summer 2010, Henninger says store traffic increased by about 3 million visits (to about 100 million total) and fountain-drink sales rose 30%.

Video and photo salutes surpassed 3,000 and 1,700, respectively, while nearly 400 stories (518.3 million impressions) ran in outlets such as CNN and The Wall Street Journal.

About 750 people attended the check presentation event.

Future
The team is promoting the stores' fresh food offerings across expanded categories and in broader markets.

PRWeek's View
The Pantry, which grew through acquisition, began in 2010 to rebrand stores as Kangaroo Express and update them with a focus on fresh foods and beverages. The PR team has driven great momentum through well-executed campaigns. It also clearly understands how to align with and drive stakeholder passions. Relationships were certainly deepened, while benefits for the nonprofits and the company were outstanding. Payoff should continue, but this team will likely devise a new campaign long before momentum wanes.

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