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.
Aside from burning ambition, let’s start with the most serious admin point: have a business plan. When buying a convenience store set yourself goals and targets and review them regularly. Write an executive summary (overview), a short description of the business opportunity, your marketing and sales strategy, your personnel and your financial forecasts. It will help you focus and if you want to refurb your store or expand in any way it will help to get the bank on your side. Smart retailers know they must regularly invest in improving their businesses.
It is also wise to join some of the associations that serve the small business sector. The local Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Convenience Stores, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, the National Federation of SubPostmasters and the Federation of Small Businesses all offer advice and forums where experiences can be shared. They also offer strength in numbers and some can get you better deals on bank rates, equipment, insurance packages and even offer legal helplines. Similarly joining local crime watch schemes can create a safer network for all concerned.
And read the trade press: there will be lots of pointers and inspiring success stories.
Almost all successful retailers take a big role in the community. And if they own several stores then they will organise their manager in each location to do so. Some raise money for good causes; provide the local football strip; get involved in primary schools such as sponsoring colouring competitions; invite older school children to see how a store works (they are future customers after all) and supply food and drink to the outdoor events that crop up regularly.
Whether it is the old-fashioned leaflet drops, local paper ads, (and sometimes free editorial gained via simple press releases to inform the paper of your latest improvements/fundraising) or whether it is promotional updates on Facebook and Twitter, the successful retailer keeps everyone informed of what (s)he is up to.
You serve the public and you employ staff: you are in the people business. So know your customers – actively seek feedback – and since staff are your best asset, play to their strengths. Is someone good on the internet? Get them to update your FB account and Twitter feeds. Another one good at upselling? Get them on the till as much as possible. Any designer-minded staff will want help to create in-store theatre. Many staff like to get involved in calendar events too – dressing up for Hallowe’en and Christmas.
And once a year, or after winning an award, the successful retailer will want to take staff out for a treat.
The successful retailer will be good at wearing hats, otherwise known as multi-tasking. You need to be a tax collector, bookkeeper, salesman, promoter, good negotiator, service provider, fair employer and a part-time policeman (monitoring underage sales).
But then, the more successful you get, the more you can hire outside help for some of it.