CStore Decisions recently caught up with John Matthews, founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc., to learn more about what convenience store retailers can do today to position themselves for the best possible outlook when the pandemic is over.
The biggest takeaway, Matthews said, is that retailers need to “embrace the new world.” In the aftermath of the pandemic, the world we operate in is likely to look different.
“Safety is going to be one of the tenets of new normality,” Matthew said. For the foreseeable future increased sanitation, spacing measures in stores, among other guidelines are likely to continue.
“The bottom line: if employees don’t feel safe, if customers don’t feel safe, nothing else is going to matter at that point. You need to take care of that. Safety is going to be one of those things,” Matthews said.
As the news and guidelines change daily and as states and locations introduce different rules, it’s vital to communicate your new hours and safety measures to customers.
“My guess is that a lot of customers are confused, whether you’re even open or not,” Matthews said. “And have you curtailed some of your business? Have you changed hours? Does the customer even know that you’re open? In North Carolina —I’m based in Raleigh— our rules changed on Friday, May 8, because part of the state is opening up. Well, that changes all the rules for everyone,” Matthews said.
Look for the Opportunities
Financial and growth opportunities exist for retailers now too. Retailers can use this time to go through their P&L line by line and look for opportunities, Matthews suggested. They can also take advantage of lower rates and refinancing options.
Convenience stores that offer foodservice or have been considering making the leap into foodservice have a big opportunity as many restaurants are struggling, and large numbers of them are expected to close due to the pandemic. This means c-store operators with foodservice have a chance to grab share of stomach. “But it’s going to have to be done in a delivery, drive-through or a pickup kind of fashion,” he said.
And, it’s important to communicate this to customers, so they know your food program is still running and available via delivery or curbside pickup.
It’s also a great time to focus on networking in new ways, such as through LinkedIn. Reach out to neighborhood influencers and other businesses that you may be able to partner with.
“The crazy thing is, six months ago, if you were to reach out to some of these folks and say, ‘Hey, can we have a cup of coffee to talk about this?’ The people probably would have turned you down because they don’t have time. Today, you can do it virtually. You can carve out 15 minutes…” Matthews said.
While many businesses are in triage mode right now, it’s important to keep your eye on the fact that the world is going to look different after the pandemic.
“You better start thinking about your strategic planning today, as opposed to when the world changes… I would have a strategic plan that had multiple paths that you could say, ‘All right, if this happens, we’re going to go in this direction,’” Matthews said.
Listen to the full podcast for more advice on positioning your company for tomorrow.