3 Tips for Choosing a Tech Partner

As a technology company, we know it can be difficult for people—especially those who aren’t technologically savvy—to choose a tech partner. In an industry like convenience retail, technology has been a little slower moving, so it was easier to avoid. But now, it’s time to embrace new, innovative technologies that can improve your business if you haven’t already.

So, if your knowledge of computers and other devices stops at “Did you restart it?,” here’s what you need to know to vet potential technology companies for your business.

They should work on your terms.

Good technology partners should be willing to work with you on your terms using data modeling, system requirements and more. A vendor should be your vendor, so they should be willing to do things to make your job easier. Seek out vendors that are willing to be flexible with the ways that you’re already doing things. It may be as simple as providing the data in a format your systems can ingest or designing their workflows to work with your set of data tools.

They should understand the nuances.

Technology partners need to fully understand your business to build technology that works with and for your business. They should especially understand the nuances that make your business unique. What key performance indicators mean the most to you? How do you triage potential problems? Which types of problems are the ones you want to intervene with immediately, and which ones will you just let simmer? Understanding these nuances will ensure your vendors bring the right solutions to your attention at the right time.

They should be your advocate.

In almost all cases, your technology partner will know more than you in certain areas. They should be willing to go to bat for you—even if they have nothing to gain or to lose. For example, when working with the latest fuel dispenser technologies, Shep Digital has a ton of experience getting the latest in dispenser technology to sing. A knowledgeable partner will be able to tell you what you need to know before you even realize it’s something that you need to ask about.

Many people think of technology companies as app developers, but these days there are many other ways to use to technology to improve your business. At Shep, we don’t develop apps. Instead, we can integrate your marketing and merchandising strategy across all of your digital platforms from in-store signage to display screens at the dispenser, and yes, including your loyalty program app.

Brian Nelson explains rebranding of Knoxville company as Shep Digital Solutions

Shep Digital Solutions was recently featured in this article in Teknovation.biz.

When NewsBreak Media Networks was founded in 2009, “the business was cast as a local advertising platform that took advantage of convenience store customers’ dwell time,” Chief Executive Officer Bob Bradley explained in this early 2015 teknovation.biz article.

A lot has changed in the nearly 13 years since NewsBreak was launched, and those changes caused the Knoxville-based company to rebrand last October as Shep Digital Solutions. The new name better represents the company’s full range of customizable digital merchandising services for convenience stores and other retail businesses.

“There were two factors at play,” Shep President Brian Nelson told us recently. “Our products and services were expanding as we integrated into more point of sale systems to support our clients. That significantly increased the number of customer-facing screens our systems were managing. Secondly, when people thought of us, they mostly thought about the linear programming on a gas pump, and that was a problem.”

With software becoming so much of a driver for the company’s growth, Nelson said that he and Bradley decided to rebrand by using the working title of the proprietary software that the company had been using internally for years. That name was Shep, and concurrent with the new name, the company also launched a new website that highlights its core services like marketing automation and content procurement and production.

“Software is the driver for the business today,” Nelson (pictured right) said. “We’ve gotten out of the hardware business.”

The entire consumer experience is driven by Shep’s proprietary data analytics platform, which uses information like historical sales and loyalty program data, weather, time of day, neighborhood demographics, and more to increase conversion rates. The experience is designed to draw the customer who is pumping gas into the ever-evolving modern convenience store. And once customers are inside, they encounter digital menus, order kiosks, self-check-out systems, and more that can all be driven by the Shep platform.

The company still curates content locally and features local news, weather, and lifestyle content, making it more engaging and relevant to customers, but this is now one of many products in the company’s portfolio, instead of the primary focus.

“Retailers (the convenience store operators) are trying to get customers to see them as a destination for food, proprietary products, and other services beyond fuel,” Nelson explains. “We have become experts at this approach. We are a comprehensive digital shopper marketing company that fully understands the customer journey and can manage all digital touch points in a store.”

More specifically, Shep’s customizable platform enhances the consumer experience while maximizing profitability per customer. Among the ever-growing set of evolutions in technology at convenience stores and across all retail are options such as interactive touch screens, product ordering at the pump, the proliferation of self-check-out, and curated customer loyalty programs that further enhance the retail experience.

The company’s new name and portfolio of products also embodies a philosophy that Bradley and Nelson adopted years ago: the Wayne Gretzky philosophy of focusing on where the puck is going, not where it is.

“There continues to be a sea change in the marketplace today,” Nelson says, adding, “For example, there’s a ton of consolidation in the convenience store business.” Knoxvillians have seen that firsthand as the Haslam family late last year sold 40 convenience stores, mostly located in the Knoxville area and separate from the Pilot/Flying J Travel Centers, to Casey’s General Stores in an all-cash deal for $220 million.

“Casey’s is an example of a convenience store becoming a destination, and more than a stop along the way,” Nelson says. “It is a pizza restaurant as much as it is a convenience store, and it’s one of the largest pizza chains in the country. Our client United Dairy Farmers is also a great example of a convenience store destination, as one of the most beloved ice cream shops throughout Ohio. In fact, they are so good you can find their ‘Homemade Ice Cream’ brand at the Fresh Market right here in Knoxville.”

In terms of growth, Nelson says it has been “fairly steady trajectory until mid-2020 when it really started to accelerate. It doubled in 2021 compared to the previous year and will likely triple in 2022.

3 Tips for Creating Cohesion Among Multiple Platforms

C-stores are managing an ever-growing set of marketing platforms as technology expands, and there are more opportunities to reach customers in new ways. With the utilization of many shopper marketing vehicles, cohesion becomes critical. Everything from the fonts and colors that you use to the images and messages in your materials, your brand presence needs to be cohesive.

Mismatched design creates cognitive dissonance. For example, if you use warm colors in videos and neutrals throughout your store design, it makes it difficult for customers to ingest information because they are distracted by the fact that it isn’t flowing or matching. This lack of cohesion prevents customers from mentally connecting the messages. Make sure brand attributes, colors and more are unified to get the most out of your digital merchandising. Your merchandising messages should feel like they belong together, regardless of where customers are experiencing them.

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3 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Loyalty Program

Shopper marketing encompasses the entire customer journey from the moment the customer drives onto your property and sees signage in the forecourt all the way through the customer checking out at the register. While most retailers intend for a loyalty app to drive customers to the property, a loyalty app is the perfect component to a shopper marketing strategy, adding value for the retailer and completing the journey for the customer while they are at your store.

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The Importance of Infotainment for Customer Engagement

Customer engagement decreases every time someone interacts with a platform that doesn’t engage or pique interest in some way. People have a natural tendency to tune out advertising or sounds and images they’ve seen or heard repeatedly. It’s why parents don’t pull their hair out when they hear a crying baby after the first month. In other words, if your content is repetitive or boring, no one is going to pay attention to it, and therefore, your message won’t get the views it needs to be valuable.

Convenience store retailers need to leverage infotainment or they might as well put up a blank screen. Infotainment means different things to different people, but here is what the experts at Shep have learned.

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3 Keys to Shopper Marketing All C-Stores Need to Know

You’re probably familiar with more traditional advertising tactics for getting customers to your store, but there are also dozens of opportunities for unique marketing strategies once a customer has stepped on to your property. This is called shopper marketing.

Shopper marketing is used to incent a purchase or change purchasing behavior. Or, in more user-friendly phrasing, it is how you get customers to buy what you want them to buy—sometimes even when they did not plan on it. Collectively, every piece of advertising material on your property equals shopper marketing. That includes digital signage, screens in fuel pumps, pump toppers, wobblers, shelf talkers, beauty shots in the store, promotional pricing on shelves, end caps and more.

So, how do you make the most out of the materials you probably already have? We’re glad you asked.

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NewsBreak Rebrands as Shep Digital Solutions

NewsBreak Media Networks, a digital shopper marketing platform for the fuel and convenience retail industry that converts fuel-only customers to multi-product purchasers, is now Shep Digital Solutions.

The new name and branding better represents the company’s full range of customizable digital merchandising services for convenience stores and other retail businesses. While NewsBreak started primarily as a forecourt media company, Shep offers comprehensive digital shopper marketing solutions.

“In the last couple of years, we have expanded our services to address where the industry is going, and the new brand identity reflects that,” said Bob Bradley, CEO of Shep Digital Solutions. “We’ve been a leader in digital merchandising and shopper marketing, but now we can provide even more value to new and existing clients with a broad range of customizable options.”

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