The global pandemic and shutdown are similar to what disruptive innovation expert and global futurist Daniel Burrus has been saying about digital disruption for decades: “It will disrupt every industry.”
But the pandemic is also revealing that organizations are highly adaptable. Already we’re seeing convenience stores offering contactless pick-up options to customers through order ahead/curbside pickup, and even those without mobile apps in place found workarounds, encouraging customers to call the store to place an order and call again when they arrive, so employees can place the order in their trunk.
“If we get past the fear of ‘what next’ and become anticipatory, using the power of disruptive change to create a better tomorrow for all, it can,” said Burrus, who is the author of seven books, including “The Anticipatory Organization, Turn Disruption and Change into Opportunity and Advantage.”
Whenever people are hurting, businesses have an opportunity to help.
“At first, it’s human nature for us to turn inward, meaning as a convenience store owner or CEO immediately we look at our business, the bottom line. Then we start looking at our employees. Then we start looking at how am I going to pay the bills,” Burrus said.
The key, he said is to instead look outside of yourself to your current and near-future customers that you could end up capturing, if you step up to the plate and expand your brand.
“In other words, we’re a convenience store. What if we were a necessity? What if we become indispensable now? The pandemic will end, and when it is over — how will we be seen? As just a convenience store again or will they see us in a new light because we were there when others were not? There’s an opportunity to elevate our brand at this point in time,” Burrus said.
What Do We Do?
Burrus pointed to c-stores who were already being “anticipatory versus reactionary,” by rolling out mobile apps and ways of communicating with their customer base. But for those without a mobile app, it’s a good time to reach out to independent developers, who are seeing their own business drop, and may be able to turn an app quickly and at a bargain.
It’s also a good time to let customers know about the high-demand products you sell, such as Extra Strength Tylenol, which Burrus recommended retailers begin stocking.
Savvy c-stores are reviewing their section devoted to cold and flu medications. “That might be a small section right now. Maybe that’s one to expand. In other words, you can change what you’re offering temporarily as we get through this pandemic, which will last for months. We’re not going to be all the way through this super fast. With that in mind, let’s relook at the store mix and what we’re offering,” Burrus recommended.
Do you offer toilet paper, hand sanitizer or soap? Consider calling out displays of necessity items.
Until now, most businesses and people have been focusing on success, measured by income and growth.
“Rather than focusing on being a successful convenience store and a successful CEO or owner, what if we started focusing on being a significant convenience store, a significant owner? Why am I separating the word success from significance? Success is all about you. Significance is what you do for others,” Burrus said. “If we become a significant convenience store versus a successful convenience store, you’re going to be extremely successful.”
How do we become significant convenience stores? One way is to look at who you can help today in new ways. Burrus pointed to nursing homes where elderly residents are at great risk and who need supplies. Convenience stores could reach out and offer to deliver basic products/supplies, either though phone call ordering or offer them a special app.
“Now you’ve got a whole new customer range that isn’t going to be coming for gas, but after the pandemic passes, they may still want things delivered,” Burrus said. “I’m just trying to show you there are hidden markets for you. Look at who else might be the hidden market for you.”
While businesses often worry about being able to keep employees, Burrus pointed out c-stores may need to hire staff to help bring products to customers’ cars or to help deliver products. Instead of viewing employees as just a cost, relook at, redefine and reinvent what your convenience store is and what those employees may be able to help you do.
People will be filling their gas tanks less often as lockdowns continue. C-stores need to remind customers that they stock items in-store that shoppers need, Burrus noted. As customers flocked to the supermarkets and big box stores ahead of self-quarantine measures, many of those big stores are now facing stocking shortages on basic products. How can convenience stores step in to fill the gap?
Former Uber and Lyft drivers, who don’t have people to drive around, could be hired to drive products to customers homes.
“If your state hasn’t locked down, it will,” Burrus warned. “There’s a workforce that can do delivery that would be really inexpensive, and you can tie in a delivery fee. People would be happy to get products delivered even if there’s a fee to it.”
Convenience stores have the supplies people need right now. “We’ve got bottled water. We’ve got all kinds of basic supplies that people want,” Burrus said. “Maybe they don’t want a cooked hotdog right now, but they need a package of hotdogs. Maybe they’d like to have cigarettes, for those that smoke cigarettes, delivered. … People need basic supplies, and they’re worried about leaving and going out.”
Opportunities in the Trends
It’s important to remember that the pandemic will end.
“When we get to the other side of this, I would like our brands to be elevated and for us to have gone beyond being just a convenience store,” Burrus said. Wouldn’t it be great if we were, instead of a convenience store, we were a necessity store?”
As Burrus often points out, businesses are either the disruptor – by anticipating what is coming and acting — or the disrupted. In the past this disruption came from technological change and the exponential growth of technology. “Now it’s coming from the exponential growth of the virus,” he said.
Hard trends and soft trends exist, Burrus explained. Soft trends are things that might happen, while hard trends are future facts.“You never want to have a trend without tying an opportunity to, in this case your convenience store,” he said.
A hard trend you can see from a technology standpoint, Burrus explained, is that mobile apps will increase, and artificial intelligence and chatbots will become more prevalent. The soft trends are those things that can be changed if you don’t like them.
“For example, the virus is doubling every three days. … The exponential growth of the virus is a soft trend, meaning it’s likely to continue, unless we do something about it,” he said.
To stop the spread, there are likely to be more lockdowns.
“If you look at how China locked it down, guess what they didn’t lock down — home delivery,” Burrus said. “That’s how people got food. That’s how people got supplies. That’s how a convenience store can thrive. There’s a giant opportunity (in delivery).”
“If we’re really thinking about how can we actually grow during this time by helping people in their time of need, and when this is over growing our brand and becoming known for something, you actually may need to hire people. It changes the game,” Burrus said.
Right now everybody is experiencing mass uncertainty. Burrus recommended focusing on what you are certain about.
“We’re certain that we’ll get through this. There will be another side to this. We are certain about the fact that people are in need. They’ll continue to need supplies and basic supplies,” he said.
He suggested that instead of adding to the uncertainty, leaders make a list of what they are certain about. “Again, peoples’ needs are not going away, they’ve just increased, and what are their needs? Basic supplies. What do we have? We’re a convenience store of basic supplies,” Burrus said. “What if we become not a convenience store but a necessity store? Well, what a shift.”