Drive-Throughs Drive Sales in Unusual Places

Discussion
May 22, 2012
George Anderson

In the past, if you thought of drive-throughs, your mind’s eye probably envisioned a fast-food operator and perhaps a bank. Now, other drive-through images might arise including those located at drugstores, convenience stores, fast casual restaurants, etc.

Panera Bread is among chains making greater use of drive-through locations. According to FastCasual.com, the chain had 119 locations with drive-throughs at the end of last year with plans to build another 50 in 2012.

Panera founder Ron Shaich told USA Today that roughly half of the sales generated at the chain’s drive-throughs are incremental, noting that it’s not always easy getting into a Panera location. He cited adults with multiple children in the car as an example.

"Drive-throughs aren’t bad. What’s bad is doing them poorly in a mechanized way with processed food," Mr. Shaich told USA Today. "I’m all for giving people access to Panera’s good food β€” not limiting it."

The site of drive-throughs at convenience stores are still a rarity, but operators such as Cumberland Farms, Pak-A-Sak and others have stores that give consumers the option of staying in their cars to shop.

Discussion Questions: In which retail channel, outside of fast food, do you see the greatest opportunity for drive-throughs? Do drive-throughs for areas such as pharmacy and/or prepared foods make sense for some grocery stores?

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21 Comments on "Drive-Throughs Drive Sales in Unusual Places"


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Dr. Stephen Needel
Guest
7 years 4 months ago

Is it time to bring back drive-through liquour stores, like they used to have in Dallas (right outside the airport — no open container laws)? Oh, for the good old days! πŸ™‚

Fabien Tiburce
Guest
Fabien Tiburce
7 years 4 months ago

I am all for drive-thrus. However, in many cities (such as Toronto, Canada), large numbers of boomers are now coming back to live downtown where drive-thrus just don’t belong. This, coupled with the “buy local” movement will probably mean fewer car trips and less drive-thru business. Again, there are surely many opportunities to drive incremental sales with drive-thrus in suburban and rural locations, but I wouldn’t exactly call drive-thrus the future of retail.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
7 years 4 months ago

I saw a drive-through dry cleaner the other day. Manned at the busy time, it allowed busy commuters to drop off and be on their way. The key to success is knowing what you can and can’t do from the drive-through. As any drive-through quick serve operator knows, the longer the line of cars, the less likely customers stop.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
Guest
7 years 4 months ago

As noted in the related articles, Swiss Farms, a Philadelphia area convenience store has operated drive through only stores since its inception in 1968. I think we will continue to see such experimentation on the retail side of the food business.

However, I envision a time in the not too distant future when supermarkets will modify some of their store designs to accommodate the online shoppers who want to pick up their orders from the store. While getting their order put into their car they will buy perishables like flowers or fresh croissants, all without leaving their vehicles. In some ways supermarkets will resemble drive through or drive in beer distributors, where the products are placed directly in the vehicle and the consumer drives off. This perfect storm of convenience and freshness could usher in a whole new approach to traditional food retailing.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
7 years 4 months ago

Where’s your location and who are your best customers? Does encouraging more drive-thru business offset any of your in-store sales?

If offering very speedy service to a mass of customers (ala McDonald’s) is your key goal, then drive-thrus serve that purpose. If you want to sell more items, you probably want to get customers into your store.

The social and lifestyle trends today are a return to the urban center where space is tight and drive-thrus are less needed. Like everything else, there are tradeoffs. So be sure to keep your objectives straight.

Ben Ball
Guest
7 years 4 months ago

My vote goes to a version of “convenience grocery” that is aimed at the “fill-in trip”. Not your typical convenience store reliance on beer/tobacco — but more like the old “drive-thru dairy stores” where you could get primarily milk. Add eggs, bread and the other typical “fill-in” items for a family, maybe 50 items tops.

Phil Rubin
Guest
7 years 4 months ago

Given time starvation and the fact that there are so many empty retail spaces and pads, it’s likely that there will indeed be more drive-through options outside of QSR. They already exist in the drug store space, dry cleaners and in modified (take-out) spaces for casual dining (CPK, Macaroni Grill, etc.).

Given the challenges and opportunities around click/brick retail, drive through pickup for online orders, similar to what Best Buy used to do, would also be interesting for Walmart or Target.

Tom Redd
Guest
7 years 4 months ago

Let’s jump forward a bit. If I buy product on the web and have it shipped to a store then I do not want to go into the store. I want to pull up to the “web Order Drive Thru”, tell them my name, and have the product tossed in the car.
Good price, efficient shopping, and in AZ I do not have to leave my car in 104 degree heat. Thus, I am happy and will shop with that retailer again!

Mel Kleiman
Guest
7 years 4 months ago

Almost any retail store that is single product oriented has the possibility of capitalizing on a drive-thru as long as the location makes it possible.

1. Candy stores
2. Dry-cleaners
3. Auto parts
4. Printer

Robert DiPietro
Guest
7 years 4 months ago

Two key areas:

1) Dry cleaning – quick drop off and pick up. Zoots does it locally in the Boston area.
2) Grocery – 10 items or less (milk, bread, eggs), order online and pickup at drive thru. Probably charge a service fee for picking/packing the items.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
7 years 4 months ago

This brings added meaning to “location, location, location.” To best serve the drive-thru customer, an end unit is necessary. There aren’t that many to be had without causing a bidding war if this does become the required norm. And to think a few months ago we were discussing the woes of the retail space available. Now, if this does become a reality, we will be looking at significant real estate price hikes. Just like old neckties, what goes around comes around again.

Kai Clarke
Guest
7 years 4 months ago

Pharmacies, books, and just about any retailer which has an online presence can take full advantage of a drive-through where consumers simply order their products online and then can pick them up at the drive-through. These might change into “drive-aways” instead of drive-throughs as more retailers take advantage of the ability to satisfy a consumer who finds it easier and more convenient to stay in their car.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
7 years 4 months ago

The problem with drive-throughs in food sales is the efforts to meet the expectations of the drive-through customers often takes away from the in-store experience. I can’t count the times I have had to wait at the counter because employees were focused on taking and filling drive-through orders.

Now if you are looking to expand drive-through sales, look to businesses selling packaged goods. Liquor stores should all have drive through sales where legal, but drive-through should be done only if regular counter traffic is properly handled. If you can’t do both, then just do drive- through!

James Tenser
Guest
7 years 4 months ago

Locally we have several drive-ups at dry cleaning establishments. Very handy for fast morning drop-offs and pickups by home-bound commuters. For a little over a year now, Procter & Gamble has incorporated drive-ups in its Tide branded dry cleaners in Kansas City, Phoenix, etc. (What you haven’t heard about these? Check out https://www.tidedrycleaners.com/WebPages/Home.aspx.)

CVS Pharmacies in these parts also have drive-throughs. I see no reason, other than physical space or location issues why supermarkets could not emulate this. Of course, a drive-up customer is not walking past merchandise in the store, so there is a value judgement to be made. On the other hand, convenience can help affirm loyalty.

I like the idea of quick-serve drive-ups at new-generation convenience stores. Where sandwich prep or morning coffee hour are already in play, the drive-up may allow for greater total through-put at the critical day parts — especially if you can order ahead from a smartphone app.

Matthew Keylock
Guest
Matthew Keylock
7 years 4 months ago

Drive-throughs represent another opportunity to make your products/service more accessible to consumers. Rather than losing items, I would concur with Mr. Shaich that much of this will be incremental and also increase loyalty as well as share. Clearly this won’t be the same for all locations!

Another place that smart use of good customer data can really help plan and measure to achieve a sustainable result.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
7 years 4 months ago

Depending on state laws, drive through liquor stores appear to work very well in the south. As northern states modify liquor laws, you may see this southern trend make its way north. I could see florists and dry cleaners creating drive-through options. Grocery could utilize a “drive up, pick up” if they offer a pre-ordered grocery solution like mywebgrocer.com.

Martin Mehalchin
Guest
7 years 4 months ago

The challenge facing retailers looking to capitalize on the DT channel is meeting customer needs (speed/accuracy) without degrading any part of the experience, inside or outside the store. In-store customers can tell when more attention is placed on the drive thru part of the store (particularly during busy times). DT is an accepted part of the engine for fast food restaurants, but customer expectations at other retailers may be different, and looking to use the DT must understand various need-states. Operating an effective drive thru has to include a holistic operating model that effectively handles the entire store without compromising the customer experience in either channel.

Lee Peterson
Guest
7 years 4 months ago

Clearly it’s grocery. Dream: punch in your order online, drive over there, get it loaded up, come home. 30 minutes all in.

Until the average grocery store starts to look and feel more like Whole Foods or Wegmans or act more like Hy-Vee or Publix, the above would the the optimal grocery experience for most consumers.

Donna Brockway
Guest
Donna Brockway
7 years 4 months ago

Frankly, I can see unending places where drive-thru can be successful. Even department stores that offer online shopping and free pickup can have a drive-thru lane, where consumers swipe their cards, it recognizes their card and purchase, and their purchase is put in the trunk. Prepared foods would be the best new dimension for it, so folks returning home from work could order online before they leave the office, then drive by and pick up their order. Endless possibilities!

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
7 years 4 months ago

The enduring goal of giving shoppers more choice and control of their experience at retail is most always progressed by additional channels for commerce, including drive-throughs. My suggestions: Rx, ANY store that sells food of ANY kind, C-stores (they sell food, btw!), postal services, ANY Big Box (have a staff of 3 at the window, limit to 5 “off-the-shelf” items to purchase, and no custom ordering), and how about THIS: A “Night Mall”?! How many times have you needed something in a mall after it closed?!

David Livingston
Guest
7 years 4 months ago

Remember in the past, those articles about drive-thru grocery stores? I read that Fresh Lane in Texas closed. So that concept doesn’t work. I was wondering if there are any drive-thru grocery stores still in business?

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