As Convenience Evolves, Think Local

As competition comes at the c-store industry from all sides, c-stores can better compete by focusing on their core customers and solving their pain points with new innovations inspired by other industries.

On Tuesday, Oct. 9, at the NACS Show, in an educational session titled, “The Evolving Competition Within Convenience,” speakers outlined the challenges ahead and how c-stores can think outside the box as they grow into the future.

Moderator Kim James, senior director – global center of excellence, merchandise & marketing for Circle K, was joined by speakers Ryan Riggs, SVP operations, Global Partners and Steve Miller “Kelly’s Dad and Marketing Gunslinger,” The Adventure.

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Convenience, explained Miller, is what customers want, how they want it and when they want it. When it comes to the big players like Amazon and Google, they’re not thinking about “convenience,” they’re thinking about options. Today, customers are defining convenience—not you.

Today more than ever, c-store retailers need to be better marketers and give customers a reason to come into the store. As c-store operators look at the wave of disruption headed our way, they want to know what to do to best position themselves for the future. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, c-stores—even national chains—would do better to think locally. With so much disruption headed our way, and so many new technological innovations, it’s impossible to do everything and what’s right for one c-store won’t be best for another.

“Look at your local demographic area for your stores and do what you can do for that consumer,” Riggs said. That means really knowing your customer and asking them questions. “Customers aren’t good at telling retailers what they want, but they are good at telling you what they don’t like.” Those areas where customers aren’t happy are areas waiting for new innovation.

Those new innovative ideas aren’t going to come from inside the industry or even similar channels like drug or quick-service restaurants. In today’s world of channel blurring, c-stores are better off looking far outside their own backyards to completely different industries and then considering ways the things other industries are doing can work at your c-stores.

Miller gave the example of taking Caterpillar, the construction equipment company, to the American Girl Store. “Study organizations that are completely alien to you.”

“Because convenience now is options. Not everybody is going to be your customer. You’re hunting moose. The moose is the customer coming into your store. You need moose bait, what will bring them into the store,” Miller said.

Hiring the right employees is an important step for connecting with customers on the local level. Being the hiring company of choice can put you at a competitive advantage.

Out of the Box
None of this is easy. “It’s really, really hard to climb out of that box and build another box, so what I suggest—and even try it today—I want to teach you to steal genius from other organizations that are not like you,” Miller said. “You are in a casino, these people are brilliant at getting you to give them their money. What are they doing to get your money; to interact with you? What can you steal and take back?”

Riggs noted that in addition to looking at local competition, hiring the best possible people, and asking people what they don’t like about the shopping experience, create a preference (loyalty) program to give them a reason to choose you over the competition.

Embracing technology is going to be key to innovating to solve some of the pain points your local customers tell you about.

“Learn how you can use technology to better the customer experience,” Riggs said. Self checkout can help with labor and customize the experience for each consumer. Mobile ordering can allow customers to eliminate wait times. Finding new ways to drive consumers from the gas pump into the store will be crucial. But every solution won’t be right for every convenience store.

Every move you make should keep in mind that core consumer and what their needs are.