October 2019

Feature

We Are the Champions

Yes, your store can be in the Guinness World Records Book.
Pat Pape

For years, wherever Duane Statler drove through Fanning, Missouri, on old Route 66, he passed a 42-foot-tall creation sitting next to a local feed store. It was officially the World’s Largest Rocking Chair, and he could easily imagine a massive soda cup sitting on one arm.

Fast forward to spring 2017 and a Rhodes 101 management meeting where leaders were discussing ideas for a summertime promotion. Statler, vice president of IT for the convenience chain, jokingly suggested building the world’s largest soda cup.

His colleagues laughed, but they also loved the idea. And that’s how a 30-store convenience operation based in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, made it into the Guinness World Records.

Eclipsing a World Record

Every summer, Rhodes 101 comes up with a new promotion to draw customers into the stores. “We want to give them a reason to be engaged with us,” said Lindsey Wagoner, vice president of marketing, Rhodes 101.

Once the plan to build the largest soft drink cup was confirmed, the chain worked to get customers involved. That summer, Rhodes 101 texted social media subscribers to let them know about the one designated hour that day when fountain drink prices would drop to 25 cents. The promo could drive 50 customers or more to each store during that hour. In addition, management announced that for every drink purchased, Rhodes 101 would add another ounce to the cup’s finished size. “It gave them a way to participate and for us to break the world record as a team,” Wagoner said.

Each World Record event literally generated millions of dollars in added value publicity. The ROI was tremendous.

The promotion ran from Memorial Day weekend through the end of July. “We had to have the cup finished for National Lemonade Day on August 20, 2017,” she said. The following day, August 21, was the highly publicized total solar eclipse, and the Cape Girardeau area was a prime spot for watching the event. “Eclipsing a World Record” became the promotion’s theme.

Building a 13.74-foot-tall, 3,200-pound, steel-fabricated soft-drink cup wasn’t easy. There was no playbook or design to follow. But to get in the Guinness record book, the Rhodes team knew to contact Guinness before trying to break a previous record set in Las Vegas in 2015 by a 10-foot-tall cup that held 1,700 gallons of lemonade.

“Guinness has certain specifications that you should know before you begin the project,” said Wagoner. “Our giant cup had to look exactly like one of our actual cups—to scale—and it had to be approved by the local health inspector before someone could drink from it. We had to put a hygienic liner inside the cup and have a lid on top.”

Make It Happen

Every year, Guinness World Records, based in London, gets 50,000 applications from hopeful record-seekers. Bob Schiers is president of RAS Associates, a Philadelphia public relations firm that has helped one U.S. food manufacturer snap up three Guinness titles.

Cabot Creamery is a 100-year-old Vermont dairy cooperative owned by 1,100 farm families in New York and New England. On the co-op’s behalf, Schiers’ firm planned and executed events that resulted in these titles: World’s Largest Mac and Cheese (2010), World Largest Smoothie (2013) and World’s Largest Strawberry Yogurt Smoothie (2017). The second smoothie award was attempted after McGill University in Toronto broke the creamery’s 2013 record.

“We got tremendous coverage each time—TV, print and pick up on our wire releases pre- and post-event,” said Schiers. “Was it worth it? Yes, absolutely. Each World Record event literally generated millions of dollars in added value publicity. The ROI was tremendous.”

Other Convenience Champs

Last October, a Sunoco in Jamaica, Queens, N.Y, proved that its new app is the fastest way for consumers to fill their vehicle’s tanks and pay for fuel. The store won a spot in the Guinness Book for the most vehicles refueled in one hour—a grand total of 148. The feat took place during a NASCAR-inspired event, complete with a NASCAR pit crew fuel man, pace car, spotters and lap counter board.

According to Guinness, Buc-ee’s, the Texas-based c-store chain, owns the world’s longest car wash, which is 225 feet long. When the Katy, Texas, car wash officially won the World Record on November 21, 2017, drivers received free washes all day long.

That same year, an ALON 7-Eleven store in El Paso, Texas, went down in World Record history when it gave away the world's largest gift card in a local sweepstakes. The 12-foot-square card helped promote the fact that ALON now sold gift cards.

Winners don’t always share proprietary ROI or sales figures with Guinness, but “based on survey data from organizations who have worked with us, 95% have experienced increased consumer engagement, 90% have seen an increase in media coverage and 77% have seen an increase in sales,” said Sonja Valenta, vice president of marketing, Americas, Guinness World Records.

Anyone can attempt a Guinness world record, the gold standard of outrageous achievement. One way is to try to outperform an existing record and forward extensive documentation to Guinness in hopes they’ll validate the achievement. But it can take months to get a formal decision, and the moment for publicity will have passed. Another way is to work directly with Guinness to make it happen.


The Rhodes 101 record-setting cup was more than 13 feet tall and held 4,730 gallons of lemonade.

“We usually buy a package with the right to use the Guinness logo on our press releases,” said Schiers. “Equally important, we always have the Guinness adjudicator—or judge—at the event. That way, your event is officially certified on the spot if you set or break a record. There are a lot of guidelines. At a food event, everything that is food-based must be suitable for human consumption, and all of it must be consumed. Guinness has a zero-waste food policy.”

Wagoner described the qualifications as “strict. But when you reach out to Guinness and they connect you with their people, you have someone walking through the process with you,” she said.

Working directly with Guinness does not guarantee a win. “People do fail,” said Schiers.

“The first step for a store that is interested in record breaking is for them to clarify their key objective,” said Valenta. “Is it to create a ‘wow’ PR moment, a community engagement, drive sales for a particular product category or build their brand? Our record ideas are crafted to achieve specific goals. If a store chain comes to us with a brief outlining their goals and capabilities, we can craft a record idea and a campaign best suited for them.”

Cheers!

On August 20, the cup was unveiled on a vacant lot next to a popular Rhodes 101 location. Coca-Cola representatives and Rhodes employees were on the scene at 6 a.m. with plenty of bag-in-the-box lemonade mixes. The health inspector approved the use of a local waterline, and the crew began filling the cup through a hatch in the giant lid, a task that took three hours. The cup also had a serious purpose: officially introducing the company’s new cup design and logo.

“We invited all customers to come to drink free lemonade and eat free pizza and hot dogs and celebrate the cup, and we thanked them for a great summer,” said Wagoner. About 1,000 people accepted the invite, some bringing coolers and empty milk jugs so they could stock up on to-go lemonade.

When you reach out to Guinness and they connect you with their people, you have someone walking through the process with you.

“We’re known for our people and our customers, and we’ve also been successful in selling fountain drinks, so we tried to tie all of that in together and do something that we’d never done before,” said Brent Anderson, vice president of operations, Rhodes 101. “It was our best promotion ever, and we still tell stories about it.”

While publicity and goodwill were immediate, Rhodes 101’s promotional project produced benefits that became evident later. “It pulled together so many people from different disciplines in our company on one project that it truly was a team-building project,” said Wagoner. “I was meeting with different people in maintenance, IT and operations—people I might not communicate with on a regular basis.”

The Rhodes 101 record still stands, but fame was fleeting for the giant rocking chair that inspired it all. In 2015, the chair’s record was displaced by a 56.5-foot-high behemoth built in Illinois. Now, it’s the second largest rocker in the world but promoted as the “World's Largest Rocking Chair on Route 66.”

Pat Pape

Pat Pape worked in the convenience store industry for more than 20 years before becoming a full-time writer. See more of her articles at patpape.wordpress.com.