Looking Good in the Neighborhood

A clean, consistent, upscale image and outstanding service isn’t enough to distinguish your brand anymore—it’s the bare minimum to stay competitive.

By Jim Callahan.

It’s February and I’m not quite sure about the official name for this dismal season, but this much is certain: I prefer the dog days of summer. This winter has seen more than its share of dark and dreary days, especially across the Northeast.

Chances are convenience store and fuel sales are not where you need them to be. Combined with this troubling economy, the weather has not done us any favors. Let’s all remember that this too shall pass and we will soon be in sunshine and clover. Everyone fears the storm, but few dare to forecast the rainbow.

As we turn our attention toward warmer days, hope for increased sales springs eternal. In most areas of the country, fishing and camping season are just around the corner—and by the time you read this there will be fewer than 10 weeks until Memorial Day kicks off the summer selling season. Here are some thoughts to consider when developing your seasonal sales strategy:

• Attracting customers begins outside. Store owners must impress customers enough to make them want to stop and shop with you. There are too many upscale, attractive convenience stores with stellar reputations for you to compete against. Don’t do it with a string of underwhelming stores.

Attractive landscaping is no longer an unaffordable luxury—it is an essential operating expense.  Think of it as your store’s first wink and smile to the customer.

• Clear up the clutter. Uncluttered doors and windows are an absolute attraction to many convenience store customers I don’t mean no signs at all—I mean strictly limit the number of signs and rotate them far more frequently than you’ve been doing. The thumb rule “less is more” applies in virtually all cases.

Go above and beyond your customers’ expectations by offering amenities like clean washer fluid, working squeegees and paper towels.

• Go the extra mile with amenities for your customers. As silly as this might sound to some, I am convinced that you cannot be a long-time survivor in this industry without something as simple as offering your fuel customers windshield washing fluid. I don’t mean you should be outside washing windshields, but I do believe customers truly appreciate clean washer fluid and a working squeegee every time they buy fuel.

It’s not enough to have a bucket, water and towels—you must consistently have clean, soapy water, spotlessly maintained trash bins and long-handled squeegees that really work. When the rubber loses its softness, the squeegee needs to be replaced. Plus, look at the large number of SUV’s on the road today and realize that they are not all driven by basketball players. The average person simply cannot use a standard squeegee to clean the windshield on their SUV. If that’s all you have, the message you’re sending to those customers is, “I don’t care about you.”

Regading towels, train employees to pay attention. Do you realize how frustrating it is to try and pull paper towels out of a stuffed towel receptacle? Retail means attention to detail.

The top quartile chains—the names you hear over and over, QuikTrip, Wawa, Sheetz and the like—consistently do a great job year-round. They realize that customers really do appreciate a consistently strong image and excellent service. While we owe them and many others a debt of gratitude for their impressive work in raising the bar for all of us, we must remember that if we fail to raise our own expectations there will be no room left of us to exist.

Jim Callahan has more than 40 years experience as a convenience store and petroleum marketer. His Convenience Store Solutions blog appears regularly on CSDecisions.com. He can be reached at (678) 485-4773 or via e-mail at jfcallahan502@msn.com.

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