The convenience store, or c-store, has come a long way in what it offers customers. American author and pediatrician Larry McCleary commented: “About 80 percent of the food on shelves of supermarkets today didn't exist 100 years ago.” It is a remarkable statistic that underlies the sheer variety of merchandise that c-stores have on their shelves today.
That diversity in stock has multiple implications in terms of maintenance. The modern c-store, having so much to offer customers, needs to ensure that the store is continuously fit for purpose.
That can be costly, with the average U.S. c-store having spent $1.71 per square foot on facility repairs and maintenance in 2020. That equated to a massive $101,900 spend per location, with 25 percent of stores spending as much as $2.63 per square foot on maintenance.
Doing It All & Doing It Well
Maintenance in convenience stores is diverse and often complex — even for small stores — and this can cause maintenance backups. Machinery is central to the functioning of most c-stores. Refrigeration and chiller units, in particular, need to run 24/7, humming continuously in the background, never noticed but always working properly.
All-important machinery needs to be a seriously considered aspect of a maintenance regime that is relevant to a given store in terms of both its risk profile and scope of business. Furthermore, a maintenance schedule needs to consider pressing factors such as staff shortages and turnover issues, not to mention the much-changed convenience retail landscape in the post-COVID era.
Solution: A thorough maintenance program is required as a fundamental starting point for any c-store. The program must include an exhaustive list of all the store maintenance tasks and requirements. Typical tasks should include:
- General cleaning/janitorial services;
- Store equipment, such as manual or automated cash registers;
- Machinery repairs and servicing;
- CCTV installations and physical access control;
- Electrical systems, such as control panels and light fittings;
- Heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) units;
- Fire-fighting systems; and
- Waste management.
Keeping It Clean & Hygienic
C-stores are notoriously high maintenance on the cleanliness front, with everything from spillages to high foot traffic to contend with.
There is now a greater emphasis on not only cleaning, which has always been a common practice in c-stores, but also sanitizing and disinfecting. The goal is to remove visible dirt and grime from surfaces (cleaning), minimize germs and bacteria (sanitizing), and then kill them entirely (disinfecting). Such thorough cleaning protocols require astute planning, which may be daunting for some c-stores.
Solution: Cleaning schedules need to be more stringent than ever, particularly in the aftermath of COVID-19 and with greater public awareness regarding hygiene protocols. It has been said that the pandemic created a "generation of germaphobes." A c-store’s maintenance program needs to acknowledge this new reality.
One way of achieving this is to do a thorough occupational health and hygiene risk assessment of all existing inventory, machinery and allied assets. There also needs to be a complete rethink about what needs to be cleaned, sanitized and disinfected on an ongoing basis. Bathrooms and dairy cases may seem obvious places that need constant cleaning, but there are other places and equipment in c-stores that get overlooked too often. These may include shopping carts, the checkout area, and even cleaning equipment such as mops.
Digital Has More Than Arrived
Beyond security surveillance, c-stores tend to lag in their adoption of digital technology. It’s not that c-stores are averse to digital technology. However, the adoption of technology for aspects of store management outside of surveillance has lagged, including those for maintenance.
Solution: C-stores would do well to adopt technologies that are apt for their specific maintenance issues and risk profile. Digitized maintenance processes ensure that routine maintenance is undertaken on an ongoing, appropriate basis. Automation ensures tasks are done for the right assets, by the right employees, at the right intervals. Accountability becomes easier to attribute and assess.
Productivity is also improved — often dramatically so — with digital maintenance programs or computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) software. Few things waste more time and squander employee productivity more than having to suddenly react to a machine breakdown or other maintenance mishap.
Empower Your Maintenance Regime
Convenience stores have a tendency to be reactive in their maintenance regimes. For example, only responding to maintenance issues once they arise.
Reactive maintenance, in which maintenance only occurs once there is a breakdown or malfunction, does have its merits. For one thing, it is the cheapest form of maintenance in the short term. For another, some maintenance incidents can hardly be proactively avoided. How does one plan for an accidental spillage of dozens of bottles of soda?
However, reactive maintenance can be problematic at those times when maintenance breakdowns cause unplanned and expensive issues. This is especially true of machinery or equipment failure, which can result in thousands of dollars of waste.
Solution: A proactive maintenance regime is about empowering employees regarding maintenance principles, and their important role in it. Properly trained employees can ensure that maintenance factors are checked on an hourly, daily, weekly or monthly basis, as needed.
Employees can be trained to be attentive to a variety of maintenance issues arising. For example, with refrigerated display units, this may include checking that display case drains aren’t blocked or that door seals and gaskets aren’t damaged or missing.
In conclusion, the c-store sector is undoubtedly evolving rapidly. Merchandising has become more diverse, consumers more demanding, and margins remain tight. Thankfully, there are as many solutions as challenges. As always in business, it’s all about knowing the risks and planning accordingly.
Bryan Christiansen is the founder and CEO of Limble CMMS. Limble is a mobile CMMS software that’s designed to take the stress and chaos out of maintenance by helping managers organize, automate and streamline their maintenance operations.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.