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Beacon & Bridge Market

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Beacon & Bridge Market commits to updating itself while remaining a home town store.

When it comes to local, Beacon & Bridge Market aims to outdo all the competition. Beacon & Bridge was founded in 1969 by Robert Eastman and operates 25 convenience store/gas stations in central and north Michigan. The stores are located in communities with populations of 11,300 or fewer. Of those, six are on route to vacation spots and experience a 50 percent increase in business in the spring.

“We want to position ourselves as the home town store,” Merchandise Manager Eric Patterson says. “You can walk into the store and know the person working there by name.”

The reverse is also true. In early October, Patterson received an e-mail from a local family about their stop at the Beacon & Bridge in Fife Lake. The family had been in a car accident in which their 16-month-old boy had broken two arms and received other injuries.

The family was regularly traveling to Grand Rapids for their child’s medical treatment. On one trip they stopped at Beacon & Bridge get coffee and milk and use the restroom. “The clerk behind the counter took it upon himself to pay for the whole thing,” Patterson says. “He saw an opportunity to make them smile.”

Beacon & Bridge dubs itself Michigan’s Home Town Store and that motto is supported by the company name. Originally called Quick Sav, the company changed its name to Beacon & Bridge Market in honor of Michigan lighthouses and the Mackinac Bridge.

The motto of Michigan’s Home Town Store is also supported by the company’s product selection. Beacon & Bridge carries as many Michigan-made products as possible. Those include Sander’s chocolate, Bell’s beer, Better Made potato chips along with Faygo and Vernors’ sodas. The company has set up three-foot end caps of Michigan wines in its stores.

Recently, Patterson discovered a sparkling water manufactured in Traverse City named NoMI – which stands for Northern Michigan – that produces a flavor made with Michigan cherries. Beacon & Bridge now carries NoMI in 18 of its stores.

The company has had some surprising successes. It has promoted Founder’s, a craft brewing operation based in Grand Rapids. “We have a mostly rural and blue collar demographic,” Patterson says. “Who is going to pay $11 for a four-pack of beer? Lo and behold, its actually selling.”

More broadly, Patterson works to stay on top of emerging trends. “With sparkling water, 90 percent of my competitors have not jumped into the category like I have,” Patterson says. “Beanie Babies and other things small operators don’t think about.”

As part of that, Beacon & Bridge is working to install hot food-to-go offerings such as pizza and hot snacks. In the longer term, the company would like to start selling fresh food.

Updating and Upgrading
Beacon & Bridge is committed to updating the company. In terms of technology, the company is converting its back-office software to PDI. Patterson says the new software will help streamline ordering and give him the ability to drill down into categories to see what products the company needs to focus on. “Right now, we do a lot of pen and paper ordering,” Patterson says. “This will let us bring all these orders into one electronic module.”

The company is switching its point-of-sale software to Gilbarco Passports. “It will have customer-facing monitors with pop-up promotions,” Patterson says. “For example, you can get a second bottle of Coke for only $1 more.”

The new software and point-of-sales system will also offer Beacon & Bridge the ability to offer a customer loyalty program – something it plans to begin in 2020 – and report scan data to cigarette companies, which will allow the company to take advantage of discounts.
Beacon & Bridge has hired a company to redesign its website and is aggressively promoting itself on social media in an effort to reach millennial customers.

The company remodeled two stores this year and plans to remodel another store in 2020. Over the next eight years it plans to remodel the rest of its stores.

Beacon & Bridge also seeks to updates it merchandising. It is auditioning redesigns of its coffee cup, expanded wine sales to six stores with more to come and Patterson is reviewing store displays.

“I would like to display more local merchandise,” Patterson says. “I would like to get T-shirts and trinkets from around the state.”

To promote itself, Beacon & Bridge offers a free gas card reward to the winner of a Michigan trivia question posed on a locally owned radio station. The trivia question is posed on Mondays and Fridays around major travel holiday and during deer hunting season.

With the unemployment rate still at historic lows, recruiting and retaining good employees remains a challenge, Patterson says. To retain employees, Beacon & Bridge offers competitive wages, flexible hours and “an aggressive bonus structure,” Patterson says.
“Everyone gets a piece of the pie.”

The future looks good.

“The untapped potential is tremendous,” Patterson says. “Every year we will have new products and platforms. Beacon & Bridge will be close to first to market with new products. We are committed to updating ourselves. The sky is the limit.”

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