Embracing Change in the Year Ahead

With 2013 well underway, convenience store retailers should take the time to evaluate their operations and develop a plan to stay ahead of their competition.

By Jim Callahan.

It has long been a  habit of mine to prioritize my work 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.

With 2013 in full swing, retailers must be asking themselves what they could be doing to upgrade and improve their operations. Assuming the year ahead will be business as usual is a recipe for disaster. In markets all across the country we are seeing a seismic shift in competition as all retail channels try to steal customers from convenience stores.

We cannot ignore them because they are bigger and better than ever before, and they are not going away.

Fierce Competition
Just as important is the need to realize that most of your existing competition already has plans to improve. If the competition improves and you stay the same, you run a real risk of becoming obsolete, and quickly.

McDonald’s, for example, is targeting both the coffee and fountain business hard. And have you noticed that many McDonald’s locations now have started serving breakfast at midnight?  The question is:  “What will be your response?”  Doing nothing is akin to committing economic suicide.

McDonald’s is hardly alone. Consider the following:
* Starbucks is planning to open 1,500 new coffeehouses across the country. Ready or not, they are coming after your coffee business. Sit down with your coffee supplier and seek their advice about how to put up a fight.
• Walgreens has a new program called “Hitting the Road” that involves a 40-foot long bus that they will use to promote and sample the fresh snacks they’re adding, including fruit smoothies, juices and fresh-brewed hot coffee. The drug store chain has long coveted convenience stores and with more than 8,000 stores strong they are beginning to believe the c-store industry vulnerable and unwilling to change. Let’s give them the fight of their lives.
These are but a small sampling of what other businesses are doing to stay competitive. While you may not think that clothing retailers, Home Depot or electronic store chains have anything to do with your business today, you have to remember that we are all fighting for the same dollar. If that dollar is spent on clothing then it obviously cannot be spent at your store.  Don’t be afraid of competition; it can make you better.
So what can you do to put up a good fight? It all starts with a good plan. Part of a good plan includes:
• Sit down with a calendar to map out the year ahead. Start with the holidays, even small ones, and get with your vendor partners to find you unique promotions to distinguish your offering. Suppliers will often cover the lion’s share of the discounting.
• Hold employee meetings to explain how big the stakes really are. Offer training on suggestive selling new items each week. Hold a contest to see who can sell the most lighters, energy shots, candy or any other high-impulse, high-margin products.
• Make sure your stores are customer friendly. Smile and greet every customer and keep the store spotless.
• Embrace and invest in foodservice. It does not have to be a large investment or labor intensive, it just has to be great. Only do what you can handle. It is better to not have foodservice then to do it poorly.

This is the time of year that we all need to push ourselves and encourage our people to improve. In fact, your future success depends on it.

Jim Callahan has more than 40 years of 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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