Driving New Business in a Competitive Market

Location, appearance and service are among the most important factors to consider when building and operating new convenience stores, but operators are urged to also focus on the impact of social media.

Picking the right location for a new store can ensure business volume. Having the right appearance—or street appeal—may determine whether the majority of these potential customers come through your door and not your competitor’s.

In today’s hypercompetitive market, appearance is extremely important in attracting and retaining consumers. In fact, it can be said that speed of transaction and appearance are the two most critical areas for convenience stores to direct their focuses.

“Today’s consumers have many choices of where to purchase gas and where to make quick stops for convenience items,” said Wade Bartlett, vice president of FM Facility Maintenance, a Hartford, Conn.-based group that specializes in convenience store management. “Given the increasing trend of consumers making on-the-go dining purchases, it only makes sense that a clean store with functioning equipment would be preferable to consumers.”

Studies support the fact that consumers want the convenience store experience to be quick, friendly and clean. These three factors have a direct correlation to sales volumes and therefore require that all customer touch points—and site points—be operating in a manner to attract those customers to return. Any single piece of malfunctioning equipment can create a general sense of failure in the mind of consumers. It is imperative that all point-of-purchase equipment, fuel pumps, car washes, food and beverage equipment and washrooms receive an equal amount of attention.

“In addition to functioning properly, these features must also present a clean and hygienic appearance at all times,” Watson said. “Smaller, general maintenance items may not seem important, but they go a long way towards inspiring consumer confidence in you and your products and services.”

An attractive retail design is important, but employees must maintain a high level of cleanliness and service for the store to be successful.

Make a Positive Impression
Items like broken or stained ceiling tiles, burnt out bulbs, cooler doors with heavy condensation, dirty vents, broken beverage equipment, and unseemly or out-of-order restrooms can leave a lasting negative impression on consumers. Friendly, well-trained employees and competitive gas pricing won’t bring customers back if these smaller maintenance items are neglected.

If you want to build a lasting image with your customers, there are three areas where you can direct your focus to improve performance, Watson said. They are:
• Move from a reactive mindset, which allows for equipment breakdown and disrepair, to a proactive approach, with regularly scheduled maintenance and a process to quickly address minor or major issues.
• Maximize the up-time of revenue generating equipment and assets at the store level. When a customer selects your store for a fill up, car wash, or a cup of coffee be ready to serve their needs by making sure all of your equipment is working properly.
• “What is perhaps the most important focus for any convenience store operator is to maintain their image and brand across all of their sites at the highest possible level,” Watson said. “A bad customer experience at one location can leave a negative impression with that customer for all of your locations.”

Impact of Social Media
Plus, in today’s Internet age, one bad customer experience could become instant fodder for Twitter and Facebook. If a bad experience goes viral, companies must leap into damage control mode.

Just how powerful are these social media outlets? Three years ago, Twitter was barely known outside the geeky confines of San Francisco. Today, it’s a marketer’s dream: a free service with an audience of nearly 125 million people, who use it to keep tabs on friends, celebrities—and their favorite companies. For example, a New York City bakery uses Twitter to tell customers when the cookies are coming out of the oven and Dell uses it to tell people about deals on refurbished computers. Closer to home, the likes of 7-Eleven, Sheetz and Wawa use it to send coupons and specials for foodservice items like coffee and sandwiches.

Twitter is expected to generate $1.54 billion dollars by the end of 2013 with over a billion users. It currently logs more than 65 millions tweets everyday, which averages about 750 tweets per second.

Facebook currently has more than 500 million active users of which approximately 50% log on to communicate in any given day. The opportunity for them to spread news of a bad customer service experience not only exists, these users are logging on to be a part of the social scene. In fact, the average Facebook user has 130 friends. Give one new customer a good experience and 130 people will know about it in a click of a mouse. Give them a bad experience and be prepared to shift to damage control mode.

People spend over 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook. Retailers should be using this venue to communicate specials and even coupons to drive customers back to their stores.

Another effective, but somewhat overlooked social media platform is YouTube. The site draws more than two billion video views per day and with the average viewer spending 15 minutes on the site. Chains like Tedeschi’s in Massachusetts ran a contest encouraging customers to create their own Tedeschi commercial, while 7-Eleven runs commercials promoting its food and beverage offerings.

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