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A recent industry survey titled What Consumers Want revealed, among other things, the following information to this question: “How likely are the following to impact your decision of which convenience store to visit?”
The results were:
- Convenient location — 88 percent
- Store cleanliness — 83 percent
- Fast service — 81 percent
- Store is well organized — 76 percent
- Safety — 74 percent
- Quality of foods/beverages — 76 percent
- Loyalty/rewards program — 51 percent
- Decor and atmosphere — 51 percent
It should be noted that “low prices” scored 82 percent, but that’s a given since customers always want low prices. I listed the last three — quality of foods/beverages, loyalty/rewards program, and decor and atmosphere — to make a point.
If you’re a small operator who hasn’t established a foodservice program or doesn’t offer a loyalty program, and don’t have the money to turn your store into a 5,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility, there’s no excuse for not focusing on and emphasizing the top five categories listed above.
The No. 1 challenge facing small operators today is how to compete with the big boys; the large regional chains that have the size and scale to dominate their markets. The larger chains have the capital to build large, beautiful stores, offer an array of services and set the street price on fuel.
However, regardless of how big and beautiful a store may look, customers value the “basics” the most — as clearly reflected in the survey results outlined above. What good is a new store if the appearance and retailing is a mess and the cashier demonstrates an attitude of indifference?
A clean, well-organized, fully stocked store with good lighting for safety measures should not be seen as a competitive advantage. These items represent the ante to get into the game; the price of entry.
Customer service, however, is the ultimate equalizer that can quickly level the playing field against the big boys. Not basic customer service like a hello, thanks and goodbye, but rather exceptional customer service, the type of service that customers remember when it’s time to buy again; service that is genuinely friendly, helpful, personable, efficient and fast.
The most critical component of “executing the basics” is consistency, and consistency requires tools and leadership. Employees require processes and tools like checklists to help them stay on top of the basics: appearance, retailing, safety and service. Restrooms require ongoing attention, as does landscaping with weeds and debris.
An “Executing the Basics” shift checklist can help focus your employees on what’s important, while clearly defining responsibilities and expectations.
Leadership drives everything. Results are greater when leaders lead by example.
If clean restrooms, dispensers, landscaping and customer service are important, they become even more important in the eyes of your employees when they see the boss rolling up his or her sleeves and executing these basics. Seeing is believing! Employees walk away thinking, “Wow, this must be important. My boss is actively involved.”
I’m not suggesting business owners and store managers spend all their time on these activities. They have other responsibilities they must attend to and, after all, this is why employees are hired in the first place. But preaching what is important will only get you so far; action will get you farther. The boss executing the basics from time to time is symbolic and sends a powerful message to employees. This is time well spent.
The goal should be to consistently out-execute your competition. Be excellent at the basics. Whenever a football team loses, the coach at the post-game press conference inevitably states: “We need to get back to basics,” which is blocking and tackling. Nothing fancy, just the basics, because executing the basics (consistently) wins games.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the view of Convenience Store News and Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner.