It may sound easy, but being prepared for any challenge that may come your way is crucial to business success. More than 20 years ago, I opened a presentation to a group of independent convenience store operators with this simple three-word question: “Are you ready?”
My intention was to make them aware that competition and emerging business threats were threatening their survival and putting their livelihood at risk. Unfortunately, in retrospect, many did not listen close enough or heed my advice.
The question before us now is: “Will you listen and react to the changing market around you?” The warning is simple — good times in the c-store industry don’t last forever.
You see, good times bring complacency, and with them a feeling of euphoria that makes one feel like the good times will never end. Take a minute to look around you, and you will notice that the housing industry and the building industry that accompanies it are pretty hot right now and have been for some time.
New retail businesses are sprouting up all over, and I don’t have to remind you that the highways and byways are overrun with tractor trailers delivering new cars, building supplies and other retail merchandise to market. While the c-store industry helped create this demand and will benefit greatly from increased sales and a host of new customers, we can’t afford to pat ourselves on the back.
The complacency virus tends to infect us when we discover success and perhaps drink a little too much from that intoxicating punch bowl, believing the good feelings will last forever. In truth, we would be much better off if we were to focus on the other end of the equation and act as if bad times lie just ahead. In other words, remember to use some common sense.
The hardest part of staying prepared is putting together a comprehensive plan. This first and foremost means putting money away for that day when business falls off a bit. It also means having a strategy for when QuikTrip, RaceTrac, Sheetz or another outstanding competitor buys the lot that directly competes with your best store. I can tell you without exaggeration that within six months of my meeting with independent c-store owners, QuikTrip went on a building binge. Just a few years later, RaceTrac did the same. Marketers that failed to plan paid a steep price.
New competition means new buildings, fresh deli programs, new restrooms, new fuel dispensers, enhanced landscaping, etc. Customers might forgive you if you don’t have a brand new, state-of-the-art store design or new fuel dispensers, if your store is friendly, has fresh paint and offers good service. They will also forgive you if your deli doesn’t quite match up, if food quality is good and your facility is very clean.
The same holds for restrooms — on which we must place a renewed emphasis. You can bet customers judge whether or not they will buy food at a c-store based on overall cleanliness, and restrooms are one of the first places they look.
You may have also noticed top quartile c-store chains no longer find it necessary to beat, or in some cases even meet, local competitors’ fuel prices. Leading chains also understand the need to do a superior job with things like windshield management, tire air and vacuums. Fact is, these services drive customer traffic.
As convenience store operators, you are hard-working and dedicated marketers. Find the wisdom in the words, and always make sure you’re ready for the challenges that lie ahead.
Jim Callahan has more than 40 years of experience as a convenience store and petroleum marketer. His Convenience Store Solutions blog appears regularly on cstoredecisions.com. He can be reached at (678) 485-4773 or via e-mail at [email protected]