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    Your Recession Toolkit

    Best in class retailers share their blueprints for beating the downturn.

    By Don Longo, Convenience Store News

    In August 2009, Speedway SuperAmerica reported same-store merchandise sales increased 14 percent from the previous year; Susser's Stripes stores saw merchandise sales rise 6.4 percent from the second quarter of 2008; and Valero Retail Holdings reported fuel volumes per-store rose from 5,104 to 5,119 gallons, while merchandise sales leaped from $282 million to $307 million in the second quarter 2009, compared to the previous year.

    So what's their secret? In the midst of the worst recession in memory, how are these companies not only surviving, but also thriving despite the downturn?

    Convenience Store News set out to discover how companies like these remain prosperous during a sputtering economy, and uncovered a number of best practices among them, including a relentless focus on delivering value, spending their capital dollars wisely, optimizing -- but not slashing -- their labor costs and building brand loyalty.

    "There are so many successful retailers doing a lot of great things, and I think first and foremost, it's about keeping it simple and never losing sight of taking care of your customers and your employees," said Tony Kenney, president of Speedway SuperAmerica, a company that continues to see sales rise each quarter.

    Even in challenging economic times, there are still opportunities for retailers savvy enough to recognize and execute well against those opportunities, Kenney noted. "People are still driving. They still like to eat out, and they still like to spend money. The issue is they have had to stretch their dollars," he said.

    Companies interviewed for the following series of articles include:

    -- Casey's General Stores Inc.
    -- Kwik Trip Inc.
    -- Mother Hubbard's Cupboard
    -- Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes
    -- Quick Chek Food Stores
    -- Ricker Oil Co.
    -- Speedway SuperAmerica LLC
    -- Susser Holdings Corp.
    -- Valero Retail Holdings Inc.
    -- Wawa Inc.

    These chains began planning for the recession more than a year ago, and explained the steps they have taken -- whether cutting costs, investing in the right categories, offering promotional deals or unveiling new products -- are important no matter what economic conditions they face. In fact, many believe the changes made during these challenging times will become new best practices in years to come.

    "I think we still have a ways to go before the recession is over, but when we come out of this, there's no reason why we can't keep these things in place," said Mike Murphy, senior vice president of Quick Chek Food Stores.

    And there is one running theme among all the chains interviewed that stands out as a high priority, and that's keeping the customers happy and coming back -- something that should be stressed at all times, said Steve DeSutter, president and CEO of Stripes stores.

    "Remember to greet them with a smile, offer fast and friendly service, and show them you care because that is what customers want any time, but definitely when times are tough," DeSutter said. "It's about blocking and tackling every day, and keeping the shelves stocked. Not a lot of that is going to change in a recession."

    Read more on the four strategies:

    -- Value Always in Style
    -- Winners Know How to Spend Their Money
    -- More Than a Labor of Love
    -- It's All About the Brand

    By Don Longo, Convenience Store News
    • About Don Longo Don Longo is editorial director of EnsembleIQ's Convenience Store News, Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner and Hispanic Retail 360 media brands. He has covered retailing for more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. Previously, he spearheaded the editorial efforts at a variety of business publications focused on mass, drug, grocery and specialty store retailing. Convenience Store News won American Business Media’s Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Issue of the Year in 2008 and 2012. Longo has won numerous other editorial awards over his career and is frequently quoted in the national and local news media on the subjects of retailing and consumer trends.
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