Connecting With Your Customers

Maximizing time spent right in your own stores is an investment that always pays off.

By Jim Callahan.

One of the common traits among top quartile chains is that we all invest a lot of hours in our businesses. For all of us, there is a finite number of hours that we can work and still be able to focus and remain productive.

It has long been a  habit of mine to prioritize those hours and spend them where they are most needed. As a result,  I am able to get the very best return on my investment in the business.

But in this business there are always tasks—extremely important tasks at that—that are time consuming and we’d rather not do. It’s then that we are tempted to make excuses and move on to something else. While that may be a natural reaction, it is a recipe for disaster. Excuses are merely reasons to justify failure.

Stay Close to Home
For example, in the course of my consulting work I have found that far too many convenience store operators and managers plan what I would refer to as a weekly field trip away from their stores to one or more big box wholesale stores to buy tobacco, candy, deli items and canned goods for the week. In the process, however, they are losing the services of their very best employee in their entire operation—themselves.  

Let me make clear that I am in no way saying not to use big box stores. Instead, I am advocating a different approach. Consider that many of these stores now have a delivery service just like the traditional industry wholesalers do.
What I am advocating is that operators be honest with themselves about why they are making these trips and whether it is really the best decision for your business.

Talking about this very issue over the years I’ve only had one operator own up to why she went on these trips each week. She informed me that it allowed her to get dressed up, get out of the store and socialize with her cronies, as well as get some good deals. Since her rural store was located some 40-plus miles from the nearest big box location, she was away from her No. 1 asset for more than four hours at a time.  

We explored the probable cost and although it far exceeded the benefit of staying with the store she none-the-less continued the weekly visits. That’s her right as the owner, but I don’t see how she could justify it as the right thing to do for her business.

I would debate—as I did with her back then—that it is absolutely foolhardy to lose a half day each week, or approximately 10% of the productivity of your top employee, for what amounts to a weekly road trip.   

Staying in your store allows you to greet customers, who often enjoy interacting with the owner or manager. What about theft? Think there’s more or less of it when you’re on the floor or watching the DVR from the office?  Do you really think that more cleaning takes place when you’re gone than when you’re in the store? And tell me which employee does a better job of checking in a DSD vendor delivery than you?  

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the point. This is about managing your assets and also about survival in a hostile retail environment. We all need to maximize profits, and I would strongly argue that staying in the stores is by far the best use of your time. Look no further than the industry leaders to understand how important this is. How much time do key personnel from the likes of Sheetz, Wawa or QuikTrip spend away from their stores? You don’t get to be the best by accident.

Jim Callahan has more than 40 years of experience as a convenience store and petroleum marketer. His Convenience Store Solutions blog appears regularly on He can be reached at (678) 485-4773 or via e-mail at


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