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    Are You Creating Your Future?

    How to move to a more strategic approach for your c-store.

    By Sue Nicholls, Category Management Knowledge Group

    The convenience channel is changing every day. New large retailers are entering this space. The consolidation of convenience store retailers is continuing. Foodservice has gone from being a “me too” to being a point of differentiation for many retailers. And delivery services and financial services are becoming more of the norm. It never stops changing!

    As a single-store owner or small chain operator, are you creating your future or are you sitting passively and letting the future create you? In this context, the “future” is defined as your competitors, customers, market and industry trends.

    I’d like to share two steps that will help you become more strategic in your c-store using a category management framework. These steps will help you to become more proactive in your business and help you achieve targets and objectives for your store(s).


    The graphic above on the left represents what happens without a strategy. There are no guidelines to define how you want to be perceived by your customer. The graphic on the right illustrates how an umbrella strategy ensures your actions fit your vision.

    When taking a category management approach, you create different plans for each category in your store based on your overall store strategies, including:

    • Your store type, which helps determine your positioning in the market;
    • Your target shopper; and
    • Your competition. 

    You need to make decisions across these three areas to develop your overall retail store strategy.  

    Now, let’s start formulating your overall store strategy. Creating this overall strategy will help guide you and your staff on how to strategically make the right decisions for your store. It starts by considering the size and type of c-store you own or manage.

    Smaller stores usually have higher reliance on fuel and less on foodservice. Larger stores have more offerings. Your store type — whether you are a neighborhood store, commuter store or interstate store — also has a significant effect on store layout, target consumer and the types of products and services you offer.

    Your store strategy needs to include considerations for each of the following:

    • Service — including convenience, store location, access to the store, parking and customer service. What does “service” stand for in your store?
    • Product assortment — relates to the categories that you sell in your store, as well as the items you sell within each of those categories.
    • Product placement (or shelving) — strategies define the way your store is laid out, including aisle layouts, category adjacencies and category layouts.
    • Pricing — including strategies for both regular and promotional prices.
    • Promotion — including marketing, advertising and loyalty programs for your store.

    Once you’ve defined these parts of your strategy, you need to define your target shopper. Note: If you are building a new store, you should start with your target customers and design the store and offer to meet their needs. You shouldn’t target “everyone” because you will have a hard time completely satisfying each of the different shopper’s needs. You should target the shopper groups that are most loyal and the heaviest buyers in your store (the ones who spend the most money).

    Once your target shopper is defined, it’s easier to identify your targeted competition — based on who has the same target shopper as you do. Ultimately, you need to satisfy your target shopper’s needs better than your competition does. 

    As part of your store strategy, you need to define your categories, and then segment the categories based on what is known about the shopper. Finally, you assign each of your categories a role based on the importance of the category to your target shopper. Not all categories are created equal and some have a much bigger importance for your store.

    There’s some work involved in developing your store strategy, but it will help you proactively create winning plans for your c-store.


    The next step is to use category management as a basis to move to a more strategic and aligned approach for your store. Category management is not as intimidating as it may seem.

    Items are managed in a product category as a strategic business unit. Each category has its own strategies, goals and tactics, including product assortment, placement, pricing and promotion that feed into your total store strategies and goals. It’s like having a mini-business plan for each of your most important categories that all align to your overall store strategies.

    Here are the four steps in the category management process:

    1. Retailer Strategy: Where you define the “rules” or “principles” for the way that your store(s) operate. This is what we covered in Step 1 above.

    2. Develop Category Plans: Where you analyze your key categories and develop a plan for them that align to your overall strategies.

    3. Implement the Plan: Where you execute the plan in your store, including communicating the plan to your staff and suppliers.

    4. Review Category Performance: Where you regularly ensure that your targets and objectives are being met.

    Following all four of these steps is required as part of a continuous process that will help you make fact-based decisions in your categories, ultimately building sales and profit for your store. 

    Ready to get started on moving to a more strategic approach for your c-store? It starts with the foundations — creating a strategy for your store that results in guidelines and principles from which you and your store staff make all decisions for winning shopper solutions.

    Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner.

    By Sue Nicholls, Category Management Knowledge Group
    • About Sue Nicholls Sue Nicholls is founder and president of Category Management Knowledge Group (CMKG), a successful 13-year business based in Calgary, Canada. She is a speaker and consultant, working with business partners to bring category management training solutions to different areas of retailing like the convenience channel. “Category Management in Your C-Store/Small Store” is CMKG’s newest training program, launched in September 2015 and co-developed with b2b Solutions LLC.

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