By Jim Callahan
When it comes to category offerings such as deli and coffee, the old adage “penny wise and pound foolish” should not be associated with a convenience store’s effort.
Consumers have had their taste buds tantalized by Starbucks, RaceTrac, Wawa, Sheetz and countless other operations that have honed, sown and shown that a commitment to quality should always trump concern over product waste. If you’re one of the believers in the latter—a purveyor of stale, single pots of coffee and rubber hot dogs—know that the convenience world is passing you by as you continue to track every penny.
Deli ranks near the top for robust profit makers in a conveniene store. C-store retailers need to accept that, like it or not, the changing tastes of today’s consumers dictates that committing to fresh and made-to-order foods is the wave of the present.
More than that, it’s a matter of survival.
SAM I AM
There is good news though, even if you didn’t get to go to the NACS Show in October. Those same fresh deli experts and supply companies are still out there preaching and teaching, and you can contact them through their advertisements or through your grocery suppliers. Yes, even Sam’s Club and Costco can direct you to this essential promised land.
But before making the leap into fresh foodservice, you must understand that without an absolute and irrevocable mindset that views food as a long-term, important investment in your future, you will not be successful. While there are few guarantees in foodservice, this is one guarantee you can take to the bank.
Such a program requires an investment that must be treated like a young infant—precious and fragile, requiring much patience and dedication to reach its full potential.
Indeed, consider the farmer. Farmers don’t just plant the seeds and pick the crops after 30 days. They must plan and prepare in advance of the planting, plow and fertilize the soil, plant the seeds, properly irrigate and add more fertilizer until the weeds are eliminated. They must also water the plants and pray for sunshine, warm weather and gentle rains and continue the process until the plants are ready to be harvested and brought to market.
And even at that juncture, we’ve not delved into the complexity and difficulty of how all these steps are managed and achieved.
A great company that I was privileged to work with for 15 years opened a truck stop after several years of studies, planning and land acquisitions. My job was to get the finished project set for retail and marketed.
Many thought I was crazy when we threw out thousands of roller grill items and pots of coffee during the first few months. But I knew—as did our fine business partners in Krispy Kreme and Atlanta Bread Co.—that to serve any of those items past their peak was an effort in futility. I had the full backing of management to stay the course. Surely, we had doubts about cost and the length of time it would take, but we realized that there really was no other way forward.
In the end, it paid off. Category sales surged and beat expectations.
The location was a winner to begin with, the facility was state of the art, the brands were strong and committed to our cause, and our staff was the best I’ve encountered, thus paving the way for our success. Even an old hacker like me couldn’t screw it up.
Today, that c-store sells thousands of roller grill items and other fresh items each month and the waste is negligible. It’s a fine-tuned machine.
I urge you to restudy and rededicate your approach to deli—it’s a winner and it’s here to stay, but remember it takes time and patience, and it can’t succeed in a store that’s not committed to quality and meeting customer expectations.
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].