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Upgrading your offer to keep pace with the changing market.

More and more convenience retailers have begun to realize that the market is changing more quickly than they thought and that their consumer offer is rapidly becoming out-of-date.

This reality is brought forcefully home when they look at the new Convenience and Gas / Convenience stores appearing all around them and being built by chains like Mac’s, Esso, Petro-Canada, Shell, Pioneer, and others.
This rapid change, particularly in the Gas / Convenience channel, is being driven by a number of market forces, specifically:

  • The continual downward pressure on fuel margins is forcing retailers to look for non-fuel sources of income, and the development of an improved convenience business is the most obvious choice.
  • The major Gas / Convenience chains are continuing to invest heavily in new, re-built and expanded convenience stores.
  • The breadth of brand name convenience products continues to expand in response to changing consumer tastes.
  • Lastly and most importantly consumer expectations are changing and their “acceptable bar” is being raised in terms of assortments, value, convenience, service, cleanliness, and atmosphere.

You only have to look around almost any major market across the country to find:

  • More new sites offering “Pay at Pump” for increased convenience.
  • More modern and faster gas pumps.
  • Bright, modern, clean, safe and larger convenience stores that are well stocked and merchandised.
  • Broader assortments of confectionery, snacks, beverages, and other convenience products, presented in a way that’s easy to find, shop and buy.
  • Major brand stores that are more consistent from site to site so that consumers know what to expect.
  • Better trained staff in crisp professional uniforms.
  • The availability of brand name and attractive “fast food” programs.

By now it should be painfully obvious to you that if your site has not been up-graded and remerchandised in the last 10 years, you are falling behind the market and your customer’s expectations and it is probably costing you in terms of lost customers and lost business.

So what should you do and how do you get started. Here are some simple steps:

  • Take the time to get out and see what your competitors are doing, not just the ones in your immediate neighborhood but wherever they are located. Look for the retailers that are setting the bar and the new standards for merchandising and service! Don’t just make a casual visit; put on your customer hat and look at what they are doing, both good and bad. What are the things they are doing well that you might be able to implement, what new products or merchandising ideas could you copy, and what are the things that you want to avoid?
  • Take the time to talk to your customers and ask them what they like, what they don’t like and what new products or services that they would like to see you make available.
  • Get your staff involved to get their ideas about what they have seen in your competitor’s stores that they like and what changes they believe you should make. (You might be surprised at the number of good ideas they can come up with!)
  • Get into your operating numbers and understand how much business you are doing in each major category and whether the categories are growing or declining. (If you don’t have a cash register or POS system that will give you weekly sales by category, get one!) Once you have a handle on the sales by category take a hard look at the space you are devoting to each category to see if there is as reasonable relationship between the space they occupy and the sales they generate.
  • At the same time take a hard look at the assortments you are carrying, what’s selling and what’s not. Get ruthless about getting rid of the categories and products that aren’t pulling their weight and don’t deserve to be part of your assortments.

In the process of completing this detailed assessment of your competitors and your own offer, you should have also made a list of the priority changes that you believe are absolutely critical to your long-term success. At the same time you should also have a list of “would be nice” changes.

The next logical step in the process is to hire the services of someone who is an expert in the channel and who can not only discuss your priorities and help you refine them, but also one who can help you through the process of deciding the most cost-efficient and effective way to implement the changes.

Remember, this up-grading project can cost a little or a lot, depending on the condition and size of your current facility and like any investment it must provide you with a reasonable return.  As a result, the more effort that is put into the planning stage the better your chances of getting that return, growing your business and satisfying your current and future customers.

Hugh Large & Associates Inc.
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