Avoiding ‘The Checkerboard Effect’

Unlike grocery store shoppers, c-store consumers view the entire store as “one large department with a bunch of pockets of stuff,” said John Clutts, retail practice leader for The Partnering Group in Columbia, Md. 
This may be something operators focusing on specific sections may not get. The mistake he finds when he walks into c-stores across the country is something he labels a “checkerboard effect,” with its totally disconnected offering. “You would think convenience store operators have a better chance of giving one homogeneous solution or offering to shoppers”
Among the operators he says do a “really good” job in this regard are Kwik Stop and 7-Eleven. Wawa has also done a good job in terms of day-parting. “These guys have given thought to how their stores look and the solutions they provide, and they have certain key centers—like the beverage center or a meal center—that become anchors within their stores,” Clutts said. “I don’t see that in a lot of convenience stores. I don’t see that in a lot of those smaller operators who tend to have a disconnected and disjointed view, who say to themselves, ‘I think a roller program would look good, and it fits here, so let me plop it here.’”
Preventing that kind of decision-making requires operators to constantly ask themselves a couple of key questions: “Who is the consumer I am serving, and what is he looking for? And how do I best need to meet those needs and the mission they are trying to achieve?”
The tenets of category management are the same for large and small operators, Clutts said, although the way you attack it will be different depending on your resources. “First and foremost, is to make sure you understand what the category is that you are talking about,” he said. “It could be cigarettes and tobacco; it could be linked to a broader category that may encompass alcohol or whatever you think is the right combined set of products to deliver against.”
Whatever the approach, retailers must be clear, concise and deploy a few simple tactics, Clutts said, adding that they must also ensure it is within the realm of achievability.
Ultimately, they must be able to measure their progress. 
“Most companies I come in contact with do an okay to a pretty good job of defining what they want to do,” Clutts said, “and a horrible job of actually measuring the result.”
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