By Jim Callahan
More than a year ago, I received a frantic call from a client informing me that QuikTrip had just been granted a building permit for a new store to be built in the Carolinas, less than a stone’s throw from a new store my client had built just two years prior.
As you know, QuikTrip is right there as one of the best c-store retailers ever in this industry and serves as a beacon for the rest of us to aspire to. Simply put, they have built a better “mouse (customer) trap.”
Some 15 years ago when Amoco was the most attractive brand around and dominated the south side of Atlanta, I had an occasion to present to a room full of dealers and I asked one simple question: “When QuikTrip or Pilot builds across the street from you, will you be ready?”
Well, it took a year for QuikTrip to build and open that store, and while my client used that time to improve our offerings and make sure that our veteran staff was primed and ready to serve in an ever-improving manner, we still got somewhat bowled over and lost between 15-20% of both our inside and fuel business volumes.
Let me tell you that there is no shame in losing considerable volume to perhaps the top c-store marketer in the entire industry, but there is considerable pain. But let me also tell you that the pain does not have to be lasting or permanent.
Slightly more than a year later we have regained our losses and I am proud to say the company has a well-functioning and growing business.
Smart Business Decisions
Surviving competition from great operators doesn’t just happen by accident. You must make it happen and that takes time, great planning and execution. Here are some elements to consider as you grow your business should another top-quartile move into your neighborhood.
• First, realize that any new business will initially attract hordes of curiosity seekers and bargain hunters, but understand that this will not necessarily last.
• Use the several month construction period to upgrade your offerings and fine tune pricing on critically sensitive product lines, such as alcohol and tobacco. The sales increase often makes up for the margin loss.
• Chances are that while your facility is not as large or shiny as theirs, your location is likely better and closer to an interstate or home and that alone is a huge advantage you possess. Making use of attractive exterior signage for hot deals will bring customers in.
• Understand that you likely have a major oil brand with a large and still somewhat loyal credit card base. Take advantage of that in all of your thinking and heavily promote new credit card applications. These last two scenarios allow for greater margins.
• While intelligent belt tightening is indeed called for, never cut back on service or reduce advertising. Instead, continue image building and create aggressive advertising campaigns to become known as a destination for popular items of your choosing.
• Use your unique brand image as a draw because it is a vanishing, but still very attractive customer-pleasing offering that no large chain can hope to duplicate.
• Having a super-friendly and spotlessly clean store and restroom are absolute musts.
• A serious upgrade to the deli, fountain, coffee and frozen beverages is another must. If it’s not fresh and clean, no one will even look at it.
There are many more ways of limiting the impact of tough competition, but these are among the more important. Take them seriously and feel free to contact me for more thoughts and ideas that pertain to your specific business. Keep that positive attitude and be the difference maker in your own operation.
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 [email protected].