Promoting the Brand
With a salesman’s instinct for promotion and a good-ol’-boy’s Carolina accent, Jimmy Garrell has created a doppelganger for himself – like Colonel Harland Sanders of KFC fame – that he calls Jimmy G. Jimmy G appears on all three brands of the company’s convenience stores, and Jimmy himself appears on the video screens on the stores’ gasoline pumps to thank customers for their business and to remind them to “give a smile away every day.”
Although the smile may be free, the slogan is not – Garrell says he has had it trademarked along with the Jimmy G character. Garrell does voiceovers on the store’s radio and Internet commercials and appears as Jimmy G on the company’s website, Facebook and Instagram pages. The commercials also are heard in between the music played in the stores.
“We’re trying to reach people every possible way,” Garrell says. On Facebook and Instagram, the company promotes its “tag us with your best ‘give a smile away’ selfie.” Customers can post selfies of themselves on the stores’ pages giving their best smile at a Jimmy G store.
Ring That Bell
Another Jimmy G ritual is ringing the bell that is in all the stores. “We have the smile bell, and we ring it, and the customers ring it, and everybody smiles,” Garrell observes. “It’s amazing – every time the bell is rung, customers smile.”
Garrell and John Plasky, supervisor of stores, visit each of the company’s 11 convenience stores in North and South Carolina at least weekly. “We know our employees and our customers, and being a small chain, we have to give that warm, fuzzy feeling to people,” Garrell says. “When John and I come into the stores, employees always ring the bell. Our big thing is making sure that our employees ring the bells when we’re not there.”
When patrons enter some Jimmy G locations, they smell fresh-popped popcorn as if they just walked into an old-time movie theater. Customers can dress their popcorn with butter or different flavors, such as cheese or ranch. “You can buy a box of popcorn for 69 cents and go home and watch the TV or Netflix, where you don’t pay $5 at the movie theater,” Garrell points out.
Grab and Go
Jimmy G’s locations do not prepare much food onsite. “We emphasize productivity and try to sell as many things as we can without adding a separate fast-food facility,” Garrell explains. The stores carry grab-and-go food, much of it kept warm on rollers, such as hot dogs and corn dogs, along with fresh sandwiches, blueberry pancakes and breakfast biscuits from its wholesaler, Southco Distributing Co.
The stores sell ready-made pizzas that employees put the customer’s requested toppings on and run through a pizza oven so they are freshly baked. This type of product does not require any additional food preparation employees. “We like grab-and-go,” Garrell says. “We don’t have a lot of sit-down space. We want people to move in and out.”
All stores are replenished weekly by Southco and receive direct shipments from some vendors, such as beverage distributors.
Jimmy G stores sell branded and unbranded gasoline and diesel fuel along with non-ethanol gasoline, for which the company has experienced strong demand.
Besides video screens, Jimmy G’s gasoline pumps feature three methods of payment – debit or credit cards and cash. Cash acceptors are installed on many of the company’s dispensers.
No Cookie Cutters
Each Jimmy G convenience store – which operate under three brands, Jimmy G’s Cash and Dash, Jimmy G’s Time Saver and Arrowhead Spirits – is unique. “Each store is a different layout and size,” Plasky notes. “They have something for everybody.”
Jimmy G’s convenience stores are located between Wilmington, N.C., and Myrtle Beach, S.C. “The stores are not cookie-cutter – every store is designed or planned with the area in mind,” Garrell stresses. “The store sizes range from 1,500 square feet – because we emphasize the drive-thru – up to 5,000 square feet. The standard size convenience store is about 4,000 square feet.”
Store hours at most locations are from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., but two stores, one in Whiteville, N.C., and the other in Loris, S.C., are open 24 hours. Six of the stores have bodies of water nearby and benefit from customers getting supplies for the beach.
“We’re on a continuous remodeling basis,” Garrell says. Changes include cosmetic ones, such as upgrading and tiling restrooms. Other changes include upgrading P.O.S. equipment to meet EMV requirements. “Our goal is to be fast, friendly and clean,” Garrell adds.
All Jimmy G stores feature coffee and beverage bars. “We’re experimenting with an espresso self-serve machine using fresh-ground beans for coffee,” Garrell says. “You can be your own barista and make your own espresso, latte, cappuccino, mocha and have a variety of flavor shots, such as vanilla, hazelnut, chocolate, caramel, like Starbucks, but a lot cheaper. We’re thinking about adding it to other stores.” And in South Carolina, the stores sell not only alcohol beverages, but alcohol ice cream, as well. “You’ve got to be 21 to buy it,” Garrell cautions.
The coffee bar and beverage fountain are the two best-selling areas of the stores, many of which also sell self-serve milk shakes. “We sell plenty of 44-ounce drinks,” Garrell reports. “I sell my own Jimmy G natural spring water, like Donald Trump, but mine is better.”
Garrell diversified into the convenience store business from Yam City Oil and Gas, which he founded around 1975 as an oil jobber and propane dealer selling to commercial accounts such as farmers and industries. The company still is in the oil jobbing business but not propane. “In the 1990s, we began to diversify into convenience stores ,” Garrell says.
Ask for Another Sale
Jimmy G stores benefit from the dedication of their managers and employees, many of whom have been with the company for 15 to 26 years. To keep motivation high and increase sales, the company sponsors contests among the stores.
The company provides sales training for all new employees to indoctrinate them into Jimmy G’s special brand of customer service. “We welcome customers into the store, have them ring the smile bell and ask them for an additional sale,” Plasky says. ”Asking for an additional sale means, for example, that customers buying coffee are asked by their Jimmy G cashier whether they want a donut or sweet roll to go with it. We also thank them for their business and ask them to come back.”
Jimmy G’s stores are involved with the communities in which they operate. Recently, the company initiated a program to donate $1 from each pizza it sold to help rebuild a local school that burned down. “The program was very successful,” Plasky says.
For the future, Jimmy G Stores owns several properties in North and South Carolina to which it might expand in the future. Garrell attributes the company’s success to personal contact at each store. “I talk and listen to our customers and employees,” Garrell says. We make people feel good. People are important. I think of it as old-time management.”