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.
The founder of an early c-store chain in the UK back in the 80s used to ‘walk the store’ every morning. Since he had several it was a different one each day. He walked the store as though he had never seen it before, looking for clutter, loose wires, gaps on shelves, lights not working. Then he would go outside and cross the road and see it as the passers-by would.
He also had a ‘sandpit’ store where he could play around and try new things out. Most c-store retailers won’t have that luxury, but a gondola end or some corner could be set aside as a try-it-out area.
2. Actively engage with your customers
Study your local demographic hard. Try a feedback/suggestion box, or enlist a panel of customers you can bounce new ideas off. Get to know your MP, your councillors and crime prevention officers. Back at the store, consult your staff on any changes planned and do some regular retraining.
3. Have you tapped into the latest trends in food to go?
An instore bakery is a good place to start. Hot coffee is a hit for many retailers. Food tastings do uplift sales. Recipe cards work quite well too. If at all possible, work local produce/products into your mix and highlight their provenance via labelling.
4. Your store will be well-trafficked and in need of refurbishment on a regular basis
Some retailers say every five years is about right. When you do this switch to LED lighting – it will save you money and shine a favourable light on products you want to stand out. Pay lots of attention to your refrigeration with regular maintenance and be very strict with your fresh produce; examine it closely and throw out anything not up to scratch. It’s an important part of the store and waste management gets easier with practice.
5. Take stock of what sells
Many retailers think they know what sells and what doesn’t but sometimes, when analysing sales, they can be surprised at the results. Sometimes less is certainly more. How many types of beans do you really need to offer? Many of the symbol stores run a sort of ‘good-better-best’ hierarchy when it comes to stock: the upmarket one, the own label one and the basic one. A good range overhaul every so often always brings results.
6. Embrace technology
It isn’t going to go away. Research by wholesaler Palmer & Harvey showed that nearly one-third of independent retailers have only taken on digital technology in the past year as the trade slowly gets to grips with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on. Contactless cards is another growing trend – and right up a convenience store’s street with its speed and its lower commission charge.
7. Take a break
Some never leave their ‘ivory tower’. A break brings fresh thinking. In foreign climes you can see just how differently stores are presented. And back home, keep a weather eye on the multiples. The ‘mults’ are pretty good at what they do.