Like other small business owners, many convenience store owners feel frustrated with the system. Inflation, the pandemic and now rising gas prices are impacting c-stores. Regulations, legislation, budgets, employee concerns — all the minutiae of business ownership can feel like impassable barriers against a successful convenience store. It’s important to stay on top of the changing system and ensure you’re putting in measures to accommodate.
Now more than ever, it’s important to transform your c-store from just a fuel-and-snack stop to a place that can fit anyone’s needs. Choose several, or just one, of the following steps to make significant progress in transforming your c-store’s value and continue to drive customers to you.
The COVID-19 pandemic shifted technology from being a perk to a priority. Combine that with millennials as the primary demographic of convenience stores, and new demands have to be met. Since customers now have so much technology at their fingertips, they expect their retailers to follow suit. Develop and train your employees to increase your business value by implementing specific strategies. app for your store, change your hole-punch or key card rewards system to digital, embrace social media as your best marketing option and offer online delivery. Customers place considerable weight on the technology behind their favorite businesses, so step ahead of the curve. With electric vehicles on the rise, implementing charging stations can appeal to those customers. Bitcoin ATMs can entice millennial and Gen Z customers and set your c-store apart.
The size of c-stores is part of their charm — and part of their challenge — but diversifying your c-store allows you to shift your budget to offer customers more variety. Add seasonal options, like peppermint hot cocoa in the winter, pumpkin-flavored beverages in the fall and fresh lemonade in the summer; display lottery opportunities at your points-of-sale; go big by adding a car wash to your site; appeal to millennials and Gen Z by offering healthier options, such as fresh fruit, granola or salads; provide more cleaning products at the fueling station; or partner with a restaurant like Subway to provide food options inside your store. The opportunities to diversify your c-store are endless, and your customers will appreciate it.
While you decide exactly how you want to diversify, be selective. More options are not always helpful. According to The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, studies show that customers who are faced with too many options feel overwhelmed and are less likely to make any purchases at all. As you diversify, instead of offering 10 bags of pretzels, offer three bags: one regular pretzels, one stick pretzels and one combos. Streamlining products will give you more shelf space, and customers won’t be overwhelmed.
Updating signage and décor can give customers a new perspective of your business. Instead of a quick spring clean, invest in a fresh layer of paint. Rearrange products to give your store a new feeling. As you do, remember that research shows emotions make powerful impressions on shoppers. Greed (“Limited-time offer!” or “While supplies last!”) is a strong incentive for customers, as is nostalgia — studies demonstrate that nostalgic people place less value on their money and are more willing to purchase items. Use holiday and family imagery, even retro music and vintage décor, as nostalgic mood enhancers. Eliminate Unknowns The instability of unknown factors makes a business unreliable. To develop a solid convenience store, find and use recurring revenue approaches. Recurring revenue, or dependable income that is nearly guaranteed to continue in the future, is crucial to a business’ value. This may be through a new car wash, an unbeatable rewards program or food options inside your c-store. This is also the time to finalize pending vendor contracts that could create uncertainty in the future for your family or investors. A steady business attracts steady customers — both of which increase value.
How many of your company processes need updating? Do your employees have ideas for solutions? They’re the ones working with customers every day, after all. What was efficient 10 years ago, and what your company needed 10 years ago, is probably very different from what is efficient and needed today. Think of ways to improve or better manage the processes within your convenience store. When you discuss problems with your employees, give them time to offer feedback.
Since employees around the country have said “enough” with their current jobs, retention should be a priority. People want to feel valued at their jobs and have opportunities for growth. Employees are one of the most important but underestimated — and, too frequently, undervalued — parts of a business. Conduct reviews and watch employees to ensure that they are also improving your business. Evaluate your managers to decide whether they can be trusted with leadership positions, and tell employees that more opportunities will be available for them in the future, too. Seeing a company grow is a major deciding factor in whether employees stay at their jobs. Enforce policies to keep a fair, pleasant work culture. Encourage everyone to be polite and friendly. Customers will notice! (See the sidebar on page 30 for more employee advice.)
Which customers make up the foundation of your c-store? A good standard for any business is that no more than 8 percent to 10 percent of your total sales go to a single customer base. If your c-store is located near a college campus, and students comprise 25 percent to 40 percent of your sales, this could be a red flag showing unsteady business value. What if the college goes bankrupt, or what if student enrollment declines? Both scenarios could majorly impact your business. When savvy investors see any hint of risk in a business, they also see lesser value.
Finally, after deciding which of these steps is best for your convenience store, revise your business plan to match your new ideas. If you diversified for new products and services, your plan needs to show where that forward momentum will take your business and its value. Many, if not all, of these steps require a new strategy for how to get there. Include your goals, account for any potential shortcomings or pitfalls and, most importantly, move into the future and beyond business barriers with confidence.
Amanda Pennington writes for Innovative Publishing