By the time you read this, there will be less than four weeks before Memorial Day, which also kicks off the summer season. Those who own and operate convenience stores hope it’s the beginning of a long, warm and prosperous summer driving season.
But, are you ready?
More specifically, are your stores properly prepared to compete for those important discretionary customer dollars?
It goes without saying that store image and cleanliness should be an everyday occurrence, not a spring ritual. Nor should it just be a routine when ‘its inspection time’ or ‘the president is in town this week visiting from the home office.’
The first thing customers see is the exterior of the building, which begs the question: Are your forecourt and pump areas appealing or do they turn people off before they even step foot inside your store? Regardless of how reasonable your fuel prices might be, you will never achieve your full sales potential without a great forecourt, which includes basics such as clean, soapy water, squeegees that work and dispensers stocked with paper towels.
Inside, ensuring that you’re prepared to serve customers should raise a host of questions, including:
• When was the last time your fountain beverage machine was “britzed”? I can’t tell you the number of fountain drinks I’ve gotten at stores where the flavor I savor didn’t quite taste right. Often dispenser nozzles and fountain flow lines are the main culprits because they require constant cleaning. If you aren’t familiar with the procedure, ask the fountain representative or salesman because it’s truly the little things that spell “SUCCESS.”
• Can you recall the last time your coffee makers were “de-limed”? You can use the finest coffee the market has to offer but a build-up of lime in the machine allows the great taste of your coffee offering to be compromised.
• All of your drink machines—hot and cold—should be taken down and attended to as a matter of routine maintenance. An important part of my store inspection routine is to open the front cover of cappuccino dispensers to eliminate the product build up in the plastic tubes. Even partially-clogged tubes change the dynamic of the product enough that in the end, a watered-down drink is served to the customers instead of the delicious beverage they were expecting. (One tip: adjust the inner tube slightly to allow the steam to escape).
• I trust all c-stores have the desire to provide a fresh, tasty and profitable deli/grill program that might include, but isn’t limited to chicken, pizza or burgers. Even if it’s basic hot dogs accompanied with chili and nacho cheese, or even fresh popcorn perhaps, presentation is everything.
Ensure there’s a good selection of product, condiments, wipes and napkins. Have the foresight to have more than enough food items ready to eat when customers want them and the wisdom to dispose of older food items that are past their peak. And remember, customer service begins and ends with friendly, uniformed employees.
• Lastly, always maintain clean bathrooms around the clock.
Over the years, I’ve found that you just can’t get ahead by skimping or cutting corners. Serving coffee or deli items that are no longer “prime” are solid examples of that truism.
So often I hear that it’s easier for the nation’s most successful convenience store chains because of the sheer number of locations they operate and the great volumes of merchandise they provide. I reply the same way every time—“I’m pretty sure they all started out the same way that we all did: with one store.”
It all starts with the store. Seize the day my friends and start the preparation process to capture those customer dollars this summer.
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].