For small and independent convenience store chains, today’s competition is steeper than ever. These stores often find themselves competing against large chains with greater resources to implement the latest and greatest programs, especially when it comes to foodservice. But despite the competition, small chains have a big opportunity to grow food sales, if they’re willing to make the leap into foodservice.
To become a strong player in today’s convenience store industry, it’s imperative that chains feature a strong foodservice program. That doesn’t mean the program has to be costly or difficult to operate, but it does need to feature a quality food offering with a strong execution.
Step one: do not consider additional foodservice for your store(s) unless and until you’re willing and able to maintain your restrooms in a manner that would pass the look and sniff test of the most discriminating customers. Even the best foodservice program can’t achieve its full potential, if it’s sold at a location lacking super clean restrooms. With so many options today, customers won’t look twice at a food offering sold from a dirty store or a store with questionable restroom cleanliness.
To sell foodservice effectively your stores must possess friendly, smiling and caring employees that your existing customers and new customers can relate to. This comes down to hiring well, setting expectations with staff and training well.
Again, beginning a foodservice program does not have to be costly. Start by considering the various types of programs. Set a meeting with your grocery supplier and have them explain all available foodservice programs. Consider a Stouffer’s/Marie Callender’s-type frozen program whereby you might have daily specials that might include soup, lasagna, stew, chicken and biscuits, etc. as well as dessert offerings. If going this route, put on a free lunch for your employees and managers to get them excited about the launch of the program. Find out costs of equipment, leasing/purchasing rates, food costs and potential profits, margins, waste, rebates, ad money, free goods training support, and so on.
NOTE: When making equipment decisions regarding roller grills or frying equipment, consider two medium-sized pieces rather than one large (that way when one breaks down you’re not out of that business for days or weeks.
Co-branded programs, for example Hunt Brothers Pizza, should also be considered. Today’s co-branded programs are much simpler and more effective compared to earlier programs. These programs offer a recognizable name and food program that you can plug-and-play into your store. Make sure again, that you understand all the ins and outs of each program. Will you have dedicated employees running the food program or will store associates multitask?
When selecting the type for food you will sell, make sure to evaluate your market area. If there’s a pizza restaurant down the street, you may want consider chicken. Make sure you know your customer demographic and the type of food they most want to buy.
Make sure you have an updated premium coffee and cappuccino program in place months before the foodservice program rolls out. Quality coffee is the No. 1 draw for foodservice. With any food program, freshness is key. While you might save the cost of a few roller-grill items or two or three pizzas by selling them past peak, you risk losing your customers. And, if customers have a negative experience with your food, they’re likely to share that information with friends and family. Include the cost of waste in your calculations and ensure food is fresh.
There can be no shortcuts in establishing a great foodservice program. Respect but do not fear this major upgrade to your store(s) and to your future.