So you’re ready to open your first convenience store or chain of stores. As an independent operator competition will be steep, but with some best practices, you can position your business for success.
First, establish a board of directors. A board of directors made up of my insurance rep, realtor, auto dealer, banker and attorney — all well known and highly regarded in the community — could have helped me avoid many pitfalls, when I first opened my business in the early 80s.
Next, consider the rules and regulations that might impact your business in the area where you plan to operate, but be aware they could change. My business was in Georgia and located a mere 11 miles from Alabama. Georgia’s taxes on gasoline and diesel were several cents lower than Alabama’s, and we enjoyed an advantage that saw many Alabamians travel to our nearby store. Alas, less than a year later Alabama reduced its tax on fuel enough that they were able to sell fuels cheaper than we could, and many Georgia customers were now flocking to Alabama. Ouch.
Georgia also had in effect at the time, a rule that disallowed fuel from being sold below cost plus a small mark-up. This protected small operators from larger operators with many stores, some with stores in many states from selling at prices we could not hope to compete with. Can’t you just feel another ouch coming? You guessed it, a well-established, larger operators helped get the law changed and yes, had had several stores in our immediate area.
In other words, do your research, but also be aware that rules can and do change, and that you’ll need to be prepared to get in front of those changes. Get involved with local legislatures on day one and build a relationship in case you need to advocate for your business amid future regulatory proposals.
When you open your stores, make sure your locations are clean first and foremost, especially if you plan to sell food. That goes double for the restrooms. One negative restroom experience and customers aren’t likely to return. But a clean restroom can make your store a destination for customers on the go, and it can also help them trust your food offering.
Food is an important category for convenience stores today, and food begins with your coffee offering. Make sure your coffee is high quality and fresh — and again, make sure the coffee area is clean. If you’re selling food, it is crucial for the food offering to be as fresh as possible. This means factoring waste into your P&L, so that you can ensure your grab-and-go items are well-stocked and aren’t expired. Partnering with a foodservice co-brand is a great way for small stores to offer a quality, well-known prepared food offering that can drive traffic and boost overall sales at your store. Keep shelves well-stocked, so customers know they can find what they need.
With your store up and running, promote, promote, promote! Host a grand opening celebration and offer celebration discounts. Post about specials in the forecourt and on social media. Consider branding your cups, bags and packaging with your store logo. Connect with local schools and organizations and offer a discount or support school teams. Consider offering classes, wine tasting or other events to help drive customers into your store. Eye catching signage, a modern store design, friendly employees and some unique offerings that resonate with your community can help keep your store top of mind for customers.