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By Angie Coleman
Best practices always start with trying to be the best. I have helped design and re-design convenience stores for some of the best-known names in the industry, including the successful execution of ExxonMobil's On the Run stores. Here are the top 10 things I've learned over the years that should be common sense, but aren't quite:
1. Test new things constantly. Convenience stores are small enough for customers to notice new products. Some won't work, but some may be a sensation.
2. Solicit feedback. Develop an informal, store-level feedback system. Store managers need to understand what customers are responding to and why in order to maximize their marketing and merchandising efforts.
3. Keep your operation clean and mean. Don't let deferred maintenance get in front of you. Are the rest rooms in your store as clean as your home? If not, you are telling women you don't want their business. Lean and mean is the way it is now, but clean and mean is the way it should be.
4. You can't sell what you don't have. Remember, sparse inventory is not the customers' fault because they are buying too much.
5. Treat customers and staff with respect. In today's marketplace, the definition of loyalty is the absence of a better offer. This is true for price, product mix and increasingly, for experience. C-stores can engender the same loyalty available to larger retailers by creating a total experience that highlights service and respect.
6. Driving traffic from the pump into the store is key. Make sure all your signage is prominent and attention-getting. Consider changing it throughout the day. You want to entice customers with the coffee and doughnut special in the morning and then a sandwich and chips in the afternoon.
7. Invest in store design. Create an experience that will make your store the preferred stop. Everything from wide aisles to appealing smells makes a difference in the mind of the consumer.
8. Control clutter at the checkout. Too much product in a small space can create sensory overload and possibly discourage the impulse purchase. Instead create compelling displays of those impulse items.
9. Stay on top of industry trends. Read trade magazines and stay ahead of the curve. It's best to be first, but worse to be third.
10. It's called a convenience store for a reason. People want to get in and out with ease, so integrate new technology and navigation tools that can speed up the process both inside and outside the store.
Angie Coleman is vice president of account management for Miller Zell Inc., a retail design firm based in Atlanta. With more than 10 years of experience developing retail concepts, Coleman has been responsible for leading design and execution teams on projects for ExxonMobil Global, Walmart and Shell. She can be reached at (404) 691-7400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.