Weighing Odds and Ends

Within the daily operation of a c-store, small things carry as much weight as the big things.

By Jim Callahan

April 1 marks my 50th year in the industry—at the time I never gave much thought to the April Fools’ Day legend and would have ignored it anyway. Early on, I had the great fortune of being trained and tutored by a remarkable duo in the industry.

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The first half was Robert “Bob” Seng, originator of the “Busy Bee” c-store chain, the third inductee into the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Member Hall of Fame, and a Hall of Fame member of NYACS (New York Association of Convenience Stores).

The second person who had a significant influence on me was Edward “Ned” Dewey, the longtime owner of the Reinhardt Oil Group in West Oneonta, N.Y. Ned was also a Harvard alumni and a Wharton School of Business graduate.

Through their experience and advice, I learned some tricks of the trade, which I’ve had the good fortune to pass along to other people during my career. Below, I’ve included some odds and ends that you might ponder:

• When planning a new store location, carve out at least 18 parking spots that are directly in front of the store—more if your footprint allows. Your customers are always in a hurry. Don’t make them walk one step farther than absolutely necessary.

• Study your location and the surrounding competition and determine what’s in demand. Explore other retail locations (not just c-stores) and discover a niche that you can fill. Certainly, fresh food and snacks will help draw a crowd, but dig deeper to offer product opportunities that neighboring competitors don’t.

• At times, I’ve heard from a retail entrepreneur, “I own this piece of land and I want to build a convenience store.” I can’t tell you how often I’ve given the following advice to first-time speculators: Hire a professional to conduct a thorough analysis of the real estate, looking at such things as traffic patterns, the whole retail landscape, utilities and other general considerations.

• Make this the year you introduce or improve a bonus program for your employees and make it a win, win proposition. If the program is done right, it can dramatically reduce both cash and inventory shrink—if those are areas that you are monitoring as part of
employee evaluations.

A bonus program will help improve store appearance, increase inside sales due to greater customer satisfaction and likely improve long-term employee retention rates.

Think also of the lasting lift in employee pride and morale bonuses provide. You can tailor the bonus to the topics above or chose others you deem to be critical. Structure rewards against performance measures such as man hours, attendance and tardiness. Make it challenging but keep it fair and attainable. Also, never lower expectations so workers think of it as an entitlement.

• Explain and emphasize to employees that you are instituting the bonus program on a trial basis and that it will not work or continue without their full cooperation. A well thought out and fair bonus program will pay for itself several times over.

• Review your regional, district and store managers at least once a year and maintain timely written performance reviews. Goal-oriented managers will be disappointed if you fail to track their progress. In addition, be on time with all reviews and pay bonuses and earned pay increases as soon as they are due.

It should go without saying that every day an earned dollar is withheld, it can greatly diminish the performance that earned the reward in the first place. Also, charge store managers with reviewing store employees annually.

• Walk the extra mile when it comes to recruiting new employees. Probe deeply and ask follow-up questions of their former employers during the interview process, and conduct careful background checks. It’s better to have an unfilled position than it is to hire out of desperation.

Lastly, good employees are quite likely to recommend friends and acquaintances who will evolve into good, future employees.

The tips above are just one person’s advice. But to someone who never bought into playing the fool, they may be words by which you can prosper.