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What happened with all of the hoopla about Walgreens’ push into foodservice recently? About a month or so ago there were several articles in the trades about Walgreen’s getting ready to attack the convenience channel in the foodservice arena. It seemed like the sky was falling after reports that Walgreens had hired some senior folks from Tesco. Have I missed any recent developments?
I have often said convenience stores need to keep a watchful eye on Walgreen’s, now and in the future, as the drug store chain surely has the muscle to get very aggressive very fast from a marketing and investment standpoint. But do we really think that Walgreens can evolve its operating model so quickly as to shift the hiring focus to the foodservice workers it will need to compete on a large scale? Walgreens will have to be a lot more creative and inventive in foodservice than it was in its attempt to take convenience beverage business when it launched Café W last year.
After all, c-store retailing in America is a very diverse business channel that is nimble, willing to try new things, and very competitive, to say the least. Convenience customers are creatures of habit and convenience store SHU’s (Super Heavy Users) are very loyal, but not to a chain, or even to a sign on the front door. C-store customers are very loyal to the industry’s front line people that serve them every day. That’s right, you heard me, a little brand blasphemy! Now, I do believe there is value in flying a known brand like 7-Eleven or Circle K, but those who have worked behind the counter in a neighborhood store or even a high traffic store in a major city know what I am talking about. The regular customers, the ones who stop by three or four times a day, are loyal to the person behind the counter -- the employee who makes the effort to recognize and get to know the customers.
The employees in a well-run store know the customers they serve and the customers know the employees. They get to know each other’s names and who their kids are, and as long as convenience stores continue to source and find people that will make that one store their own, it will be fine. Operators cannot lose sight of this fact and need to strive to be better stewards of all of their trained and stable employees.
We have all seen it time and time again: A high volume store makes a lot of money and has significant cash flow, and it cranks along for several years doing well. Let’s say the store manager’s name is Miss Agnes, and she has run the store for a long time.
When Agnes retires, moves away, or just quits working (or, God forbid, is hired away by a competitor) the store sales and conditions drop off automatically. Sales decline and profits evaporate so fast it can be seen it all the way from the corporate office far off in the distance!
The convenience store industry must nurture, groom and appreciate employees like Miss Agnes, and impress upon her how important it is for them to hand pick, train and develop their team members to have the same great customer centric attitude. Operators need to develop programs that provide incentives for Agnes to develop more employees like herself month in and month out. If you look real close at your own Miss Agnes’ store crew, I bet you will find she has managed to hire a lot of folks just like herself.
While you are doing the obvious with Agnes, you need to come up with programs and initiatives that will allow you to replicate and replenish these “front counter warriors” who take on an almost impossible job and excel at it, every single day.
So far, the convenience store industry has managed to do that better than most any other channel. So if Walgreen's, Tesco or anybody learns how to take care of the single most-important asset we have better than we do, then we will all need to worry. If these new entrants into our convenience space scare you as an operator, then I challenge you to go out into your stores and learn what makes Miss Agnes keep ticking, while they keeping our registers humming.
God Bless Miss Agnes and the other front counter heroes like her!
Larry Miller is president of Miller Management & Consulting Services Inc. (MMCS), a nationally known consultancy founded in 1993, with the resources to bring generations of success and experience to any project. MMCS principals specialize in all types Convenience Retail with specialty focus on Traditional Convenience Retailing, Foodservice (on-the-go) Retailing, and Strategic Business Planning for the channel.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.