Staying Alive: Planning to Thrive!
Staying Alive is both the title of an old disco tune, as well as a description of the challenge that today’s c-store operators face. C-store growth in numbers as well as quality continues unabated. I certainly don’t have all the answers about staying relevant, but I have some very interesting facts that indicate it is being done on a consistent basis in one of the very toughest markets.
NACS tells us that the c-store count in the U.S. has reached more than 146,000, 90,000 of which are one store operators. Almost 10%, 14,179 of them, are located in Texas! Yes, Texas is a big state, but that’s also a state where big-box operators hold as large a market share as anywhere in the Country, estimated to be as much as 20-25% in the Dallas area, indeed the same state where fuel margins are often thin or worse. To me, a very strong indication that c-store success can be accomplished most anywhere.
Perhaps a David Letterman Top 10 “Survive & Thrive” list is in order:
1. Clean stores: Today’s market demands that you raise the cleanliness standard to new levels. Every single area MUST ACE THE MOM TEST every day! Obviously, you must excel with your rest room areas and the outside appearance of your store still must hold the promise of what lies within.
2. Friendly service: Why would any customer paying close to $3 for a gallon of fuel, continue to patronize a less than super friendly store? The sure answer is they won’t. Greet your Customers as they walk through the door. Treat them as if your future depends on them because it does! For goodness sakes thank them as if you mean it and ask each and every customer to come back.
3. Well-planned and well-positioned merchandising: Provide customers what they want when they need it. Think seasonality, eye-catching signage and wallet-opening displays with just enough specials to bring them back.
4. Emphasis on marketing: The days of waiting for customers to come to you are over. You’ve got to develop ways of bringing, not getting them into your store. For example, message boards should be changed frequently, add a budget for advertising, cross promote with complimentary strategically located businesses, use sampling and coupons in and outside the store, establish effective and creative use of suggestive selling techniques such as choosing an item of the day or week. Plus, recognize and reward each employees’ success. Fan the flame!
5. Execute properly: Design a plan, then make it happen. See it through with no excuses–excuses are merely a way of justifying failure. Review the plan with your team often and learn from your mistakes. Remember, it does you no good to accomplish one through four on this list, without proper execution.
6. Controlled: This really is No. 1. You don’t want to increase sales until your inventory, cash, employee/vendor and expense controls are in place and working well. “Creep, Crawl, Walk, Trot, Run” are all essential steps! It’s more fun for most of us to play offense than to spend too much time on defense, but the New York Giants proved once again, that DEFENSE WINS.
7. Vibrant: It’s not enough to be squeaky clean and friendly. Some stores give off a great feeling and you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you just feel the excitement when you arrive. Strive to be people pleasers.Vibrancy is more difficult to define and not quite as tangible as most items on the list, it separates the wheat from the chaff.
8. Stay relevant: You have got to work on keeping up and staying ahead of the times. Upgrade deli, coffee, fountain and frozen offerings, consider new uniforms, fresh donuts or pastry or an expanded line of novelty, knives, die cast, collector cards, Zippo’s etc. By all means, be noteworthy.
9. Get involved: Customers like to associate with winners. Be involved as an active part of the community. Pick a charity and stay behind it. Sponsor a Little League team or at least offer free fountain or slush beverages for youth teams. For goodness sakes, be your own press agent. It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it! The media is always looking for news.
10. Be competitive: Market fuel as competitively as possible and understand that not doing so will cost you sales on high grossing in-store items. In case you haven’t noticed, the major brands that we hid behind for so long are no longer able to provide that precious buffer. Only 10% of our customers think brand is the key factor in choosing where to buy fuel! A recent NACS survey said, “To save one-cent per gallon, 32% of consumers would make a left turn across a busy intersection. Another 29% would drive 10 minutes to save 3 cents a gallon.” Need I say more?
It’s disco time. No one is too old to learn those dance steps, “stay offa’ my blue suede shoes” It’s as easy as the “Texas two step,” 1 – 2 – 3. Shhh. Listen to the music ♬ planning to thrive! ♬
Jim Callahan, Partner
Convenience Store Solutions