This expert guide has been written by convenience store expert Jac Roper. You can find Jac at Convenience Store Magazine, helping convenience store owners with her Dear Jac column.
You could argue that there has never been a better time to be in convenience retailing. 2014 was tough for many but this year there is a lot of optimism backed by statistics that show that the number of outlets is growing: a reverse of a trend that had persisted for the last couple of decades.
Also good news is the fact that retailers are investing more in their businesses. New figures from the Association of Convenience Stores showed that convenience retailers invested £177m in their businesses between February and May 2015. So it is a strong sector, worth £37bn and made up of 50,000 stores providing employment for 400,000 in the UK.
The entry of the ‘supers’ back onto the high streets a few years ago, in the form of c-stores, looked like the ultimate threat but in reality it served to up the game in terms of better presentation (and it made manufacturers think about smaller packet formats suitable for the smaller store). So it wasn’t all bad at all.
Overall the sector has attracted plenty of entrepreneurs. Despite the inroads of the multiples, three out of four convenience stores are owned by independents. Every year some of them win awards.
The industry is not without its challenges. All businesses face red tape but the legislative demands placed on the sale of tobacco and alcohol have, to say the least, focused many minds on those c-store staples. Rates are another burden although there is promise of overhaul and that could only improve things. Security is also a worry. The advice is to invest in proper surveillance equipment.
If you are just joining the growing ranks of c-stores, you will have plenty of choice of ‘partners’ if you want some back up. The symbol sector will welcome any promising retailer and there are packages to suit most. For the fiercely independent, the cash and carries are dedicated to your success and for others franchising is proving surprisingly popular.
Although the key to a successful store often lies with its location, the challenge of competition is omnipresent. Even if there isn’t a nearby multiple, a discounter or a fellow c-store owner, it has to be remembered that competition is everywhere including the online presence from multifarious others. It is down to the retailer to create that come-hither look of a sparkling store – a pleasant environment with an emphasis on service to attract the little-and-often shopper. It is about price but not just about price. The beauty of being independent is that flexibility is your ally. No waiting for head office approval before making changes.
The old cliché ‘being at the heart of the community’ really does apply to convenience stores.
If your c-store is in a village you could be a lifeline offering deliveries; in a town, you could be the hub offering a busy marketing mix including the big ‘footfall’ services. On the high street you can pick a specialist subject: food to go, deli, upmarket wines, discount, a panoply of news and magazines. The choice is yours.
If you’re thinking of buying a convenience store, head over to our convenience stores for sale page to find our latest opportunities.