Raise your hand if you had the word “pandemic” in your 2020 strategic plan.
In a matter of a week, the world rapidly changed last spring. The pandemic is reaching further than any key worldwide event in the last several decades. How we interact with one another, how business is conducted, where we live and how we manage through all of this is, quite candidly, up for grabs. The changes to our lifestyles are deep and wide. No one is spared.
The convenience store industry is no different. Retail has taken huge hits due to the lockdowns, but fortunately for the c-store industry, we were declared essential and able to minimize the economic damage in the short term. The long term, though, poses some greater challenges, including the following:
Managing a Safe Environment: Safety has become the No. 1 attribute. If the employee and customer feel in harm’s way, nothing else will matter. Think about poorly lit canopies or a foodservice operation that has a foodborne illness. There are rarely second chances for safety. Developing detailed procedures to ensure safe practices and following up daily, weekly and monthly with training has to become initiative No. 1 in today’s environment.
Expanded Transactions: Again, with safety in mind, c-stores need to expand their transactions to include a combination of alternative checkout options. Touchless via an app, curbside pickup and delivery all need to become viable options to address the wide-ranging perspectives of our customers. Many customers will feel fine coming into the store, while others won’t go near you with a 10-foot pole. Options are a must.
Marketing Communications: With the constantly changing landscape, over-communicating to your customer base on how they can use your store is critical. Don’t assume the customer knows you are open, have changed hours or are limiting certain types of transactions.
You may want to consider a grand reopening when the time is right in order to reintroduce your store to the community.
Lastly, it never hurts to give back to the health care community in your trade area, so consider creating personal protection equipment (PPE) or feeding your local health care workers.
Future Store Design: Strategically, stores need to move even faster into foodservice as more restaurants close. There is clearly a race for ‘share of stomach,’ and the starting gun has already sounded. C-store retailers must consider the safety procedures around foodservice handling, socially distanced queuing, pickup/delivery options and non-traditional concepts.
Could the store of the future be a mini warehouse? How this all plays out will be a moving target, but c-stores need to overhaul their strategic capital expenditure going forward.
I wish I could say that we know what lies before us, but the pandemic is a moving target. And it is a far more reaching moving target than any of us imagined. Much like the significant changes we all experienced after 9-11 with regard to security safeguards, COVID-19 will have long-lasting impacts for the c-store industry and every other industry out there. The new normal will continue to evolve.
is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc., a strategic planning, operations and marketing services firm. Matthews has recently written “Game-Changing Strategies for Retailers,” available on Amazon. His two step-by-step manuals, “Local Store Marketing for Retailers” and “How to Stage a Killer Grand Opening,” are available at graycatenterprises.com.