Four years ago, Babir Sultan uploaded a video to YouTube that featured two friends stealing Mountain Dew and other snacks from FavTrip, the Kansas City, Missouri-based c-store chain Sultan owns and operates.
The three-minute video featuring clips of security footage shows how these individuals stole from FavTrip by pouring a can of Mountain Dew into a 32-ounce drink cup and swiping a snack as they left the store. The video includes humorous voiceover commentary from Sultan.
“Little does she know, she could have gotten the Mountain Dew from the [soda] fountain,” he says in the video.
At the time the video was uploaded, FavTrip’s YouTube channel, which had about 300 subscribers, mainly included sketch comedy videos aimed at promoting the store and its items.
Fast forward to 2023, and FavTrip’s YouTube channel has nearly 78,000 subscribers. The “Dew Shoplifter” video now has about 4.2 million views.
“We make it transparent that we'll put you online if you steal from us,” Babir said in an interview.
FavTrip operates two c-stores in the Kansas City area, with a third set to open soon. In addition to standard convenience staples, the retailer sells branded apparel on its website — ranging from t-shirts and hoodies to phone cases and tote bags — and offers all of its products for delivery via Vroom Delivery. It even has a drive-thru at both locations, as Sultan is constantly looking to “optimize” his stores, he said.
But amid its fun neighborhood presence, FavTrip’s social media game has taken the company to national heights. In 2022 alone, FavTrip’s YouTube videos had 3.7 million views, 5.8 million minutes of watch time and garnered 121,600 likes. The channel as a whole collected 25,000 new subscribers, and when combining YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, FavTrip has nearly 126,000 subscribers.
FavTrip’s social media strategy highlights the persistent problem of shoplifting at c-stores, which remains a regular occurrence for many reasons, including stores’ minimal staffing levels and their high in-and-out rate. Experts say that retailers can help decrease the amount of shoplifting and general crime in and around their stores with better cameras and lighting, on-site security and even developing relationships with local law enforcement — but operators say they’re still struggling to combat the problem.
FavTrip isn’t the only c-store retailer turning to YouTube shaming to deter shoplifters. A channel called Gas Station Encounters has been doing this at its unnamed family-owned location since 2015. FavTrip and the retailer have even collaborated.
FavTrip doesn’t plan on slowing down its social media momentum anytime soon. The company wants to get its YouTube channel to 100,000 subscribers by the end of 2023, Sultan said. He’s even taking courses at Rockhurst University, a private college in Kansas City, to help with all things data optimization for FavTrip, from crunching numbers in the store to improving its social media game.
“I’ve been spending more time on getting educated on data,” he said. “Leveraging online and offline data on making decisions, not just for SKUs, but online content people want.”
The art of deterring shoplifters
Before Sultan opened the first FavTrip store in 2011, he spent most of his career in information technology and computer networking. It was there he learned basic video editing skills, which he often “utilized for social media,” he said.
Once FavTrip was up and running, Sultan noticed the occasional shoplifter, and did what he noticed other brands were doing to deter them.
“A lot of the time, people post pictures of shoplifters, so we did that for a little while,” he said. “It started as, ‘Hopefully [the shoplifter] sees the post and doesn’t come back.’”
Everything changed when Sultan shared a video instead of a picture, which he posted on Facebook. The video got so much engagement that he decided to expand the concept, eventually creating videos with background music, quirky editing to point out what people have stolen, and his own comedic commentary.
Not only were the videos a hit among FavTrip customers, but they also brought awareness to other local businesses who were experiencing theft.
“We started getting calls from our competition, who said things like, ‘People shoplifting at your stores did the same thing at my store,’” Sultan said. “So we told them to follow the [YouTube] channel.”
Shaming shoplifters and uploading their exploits for thousands of viewers to see has helped deter theft at FavTrip stores.
“It has helped our business,” Sultan said. “[Shoplifters] even come back and say ‘Take my video down and I'll pay for what I stole.’”
Taking social media to the next level
FavTrip has posted several hundred YouTube videos since launching its channel in 2015, including over 220 since the start of 2021. For a while, Sultan had been a one-man production team, often spending up to 20 hours a week working on the videos and voiceovers, most of which was done on the weekends, he said.
“I had to mark my calendar to make time for [the videos], which were usually on Sunday mornings,” he said.
Now, FavTrip has an in-house video editor and is looking for “more people for the YouTube channel,” Sultan said. The goal is to have people dedicated solely to content creation at the company.
“Getting a creator-focused employee is tough,” Sultan said. “We saw [the video editor] had his own TikTok, and thought his videos were funny, so we asked him if he wanted to take over our TikTok and YouTube.”
Now that FavTrip has an editor and is filling out its social media staff, it wants to take its videos to the next level, meaning more content “based on what customers want and need,” Sultan said.
FavTrip’s videos may expand beyond shoplifting reveals, but the goal of being funny and engaging for viewers will remain the same.
“We’re trying to mix it up, not always about shoplifting, but like behind the scenes stuff or fun challenges,” he said. “Like a ‘Chug a Pepsi in a minute challenge.’”