This business, the retail convenience industry, is unlike really any other trade in our country. With the proliferation of corporate chains and big-box conglomerates, the little guys (independent convenience stores, mom and pops, bodegas) are still achieving a great deal of success daily thanks to their business ingenuity and know-how. Sure, we all experience trials and anxiety, but the real advantage of this business is that you have a great deal of control in the success or failure of your endeavor.
With that being said, the marketing team at Allen Brothers Wholesale Distribution polled a wide array of industry associates (salesman, vendors, manufacturers, customers) to compile a short list of tips to take into the New Year in hopes of helping you drive your business forward in 2012. Without further ado, here are 5 tips that we hope will be of value to you this year.
1.) Treat Customers with Respect: It seems so simple, and indeed it is simple, but a smile and a “Thank You” can go such a long way for a customer. Think about it: with pricing and product selection relatively consistent from store to store, what makes the difference? Customer Service. Work at remembering faces and names, and make that person feel special. There’s nothing wrong with letting a patron know how much you appreciate and need their support, especially with the current economic conditions in our country. Invest in human resources and hire quality people to run your operation; they are a reflection of you. Ask questions, show an interest, and you will be rewarded.
2.) Customer Retention: Learn It, Live It, Love It. Are you doing enough (and by enough, I mean all that you can do) to bring that customer back through the door time and time again? Loyalty programs, low prices, cleanliness, and product selection are ALL key to long-term success! And as we know, recurring customer purchases is how we succeed in the industry. According to industry statistics, a minimum of 63% of annual purchases are made by repeat customers. Go out of YOUR WAY to create an atmosphere that keeps customers coming back.
3.) Marketing: Sure, invest in the bright lights, but realize that tastefulness is key. Remember, many of the independent convenience stores are located in neighborhoods and communities where your store can have a real impact on the local economy in more ways than one. Don’t turn your store front into a jumbled clutter of signage. Instead of littering your store windows, display only the most important information. Or, perhaps you can invest in a sign tower on your property (if you own it) to announce specials and pricing.
4.) Point of Sale: This ties in almost directly with the tips on marketing, but point of sale (POS) deserves its own listing because of its fundamental importance to product success (especially new items). As with any of your marketing efforts, tastefulness is crucial. If you have gas pumps at your store, utilize them as powerful agents in your marketing campaign. What better venue could you ask for to showcase your offerings to an attentive audience already on site? Put yourself in the customer’s shoes; think about what you have in your store that will drive a customer from the pump to your register. In my opinion, the best items to flaunt to your customers are foodservice items. If the weather is cold, show coffee and hot sandwiches. If it’s warm outside, why not capitalize by presenting slushy or ice cream? If you want to drive incremental sales, you have plenty of opportunities to make that happen!
5.) Separate from the Corporate Model: This is the single most important note to take away from this article. Independent convenience store owners can’t operate their business the same way that a national or global chain can. This creates obstacles, there’s no denying that, but it also creates opportunities. As an independent store operator you have the ability to control most (if not all) of your store’s everyday operations. From presentation to product selection, it’s all you! You don’t have to deal with the bureaucracy and red-tape, so put your mark on the store and take steps to create a unique buying environment. If you have the time to visit other stores, do it. Make notes after your visit and consider improvements you could make to your operation. While doing so, be sure to remember the things that you do well and work to emphasize your strengths and improve upon your weakness.