What do truck stops and convenience stores have in common? Both have been around since the first half of the twentieth century; both cater to the fast-casual, to-go market; and both have become staples of our everyday lives.
The business models are similar, too. Owners typically generate a high profit margin on products sold in their stores, while they break even on the gasoline purchase that brought the customer to their business in the first place. Moreover, truck stops and c-stores are always looking for ways to expand their services and capture a larger share of the marketplace. If you operate a truck stop or c-store, here are ten tips that will help you do just that.
1. Embrace the Coffee Craze
The craft coffee craze has been percolating for the past several years now. If you haven’t jumped on board the bandwagon, you really should. According to a July study from the food industry web site, Datassential, 56 percent of today’s coffee drinkers would visit a “craft coffee” shop and 22 percent already have. Switching to high-end, origin coffee, and replacing the glass pot with thermals are steps you can take to show your customers you aren’t just aware of the “revolutionary third wave of coffee”; you’re riding it.
2. Guarantee Freshness
Coffee is just the beginning. The fact is there’s been a gradual shift in consumer tastes over the past decade. Says Michael Sherlock, Vice President of Fresh Food and Beverages for WaWa, an East Coast-based convenience store chain: “The bar is raising for freshness, quality and appetite appeal. Customers have upgraded their expectations.” Accordingly, if you haven’t already upgraded your food/beverage stock, it would benefit your operation to do so. Updates could include serving high-end beverages such as espresso drinks and smoothies. It could mean stocking healthier snacks in your store inventory. It may even be a good idea to revisit your food photography and the color palettes of your signage to create a brighter, more flavorful environment in your stores.
3. Inventory 101: Customers Love a Well-Stocked Store
Whatever you end up stocking, don’t run out of it. If a customer shows up looking for a 12-pack of their favorite energy drink, and you only have a six-pack, they may not be back. Allen Brothers, an East Coast-based wholesale distribution company, recommends looking at your inventory daily, or every other day, to make sure you have everything your customers need. Analyze inventory fluctuations. Stay ahead of the trends. Your diligence will be reflected in an uptick to your bottom line.
4. Talk To Your Customers!
Customers have opinions, and they’re happy to share them. Why not consider creating a customer survey? The web site helpscout.net reports that customer surveys may not be 100 percent reliable – not every survey taker tells the truth, unfortunately – but they will on balance offer feedback you can use to stay apprised of expectations and improve your overall customer experience. The key is to keep the questionnaires short, include a few open-ended questions that allow the survey taker to expound on their thinking, and ask only questions that fulfill your goals. Providing an enticement, something simple that won’t create a financial burden, will increase survey response rates by 5 to 20 percent.
5. The Parking Principle
Let’s switch gears and talk about operations. Specifically, let’s talk about parking. Any operator will tell you that parking spots at truck stops and c-stores are like tables at restaurants. The goal is to turn them as frequently as possible. Touch-screen ordering systems and chute checkouts (instead of islands) are two ways to increase the flow of store traffic. Conversely, something as simple as not overloading the checkout space with too many products can help facilitate the movement. Confine the front checkout to items that would be considered “impulse buys.” Last-second purchases are great, but you don’t want to hold up the line!
6. Cleanliness Is Essential
Arguably, this should have topped the list. The premise is short and sweet. If you want people to make your store the top-of-mind go-to for quick stops and impulse purchases, it needs to be spick and span. No exceptions. One bad customer experience can do lasting damage. In today’s 500 million tweets per day era, the stakes couldn’t be higher.
7. May We Suggest a Little “Suggestive Selling”?
Are you familiar with “Suggestive Selling”? Experts say you should be. Suggestive Selling is a proven sales technique that involves asking the customer if they’d like to include an additional purchase when they check out. Persuading a customer to spend an extra 99 cents on a pack of gum won’t break their wallet, but you’ll be amazed by how much all of those additional purchases can boost your revenue. Of course Suggestive Selling isn’t just for truck stops and c-stores. According to the tech startup resource tech.co, businesses as varied as fast-food chains and movie theaters to software retailers and high-end clothiers all can benefit from “supersizing” their sales.
8. People Matter (Your People, Specifically.)
The importance of taking care of the people who mind your store can’t be overstated. Every employee you hire represents an investment. The longer they stay with you, the better the payoff. Whether it’s instituting an employee health plan or simply greeting employees by name and inquiring about their day, if you show the people who work for you that you care about them, they’ll take greater care in how they do their jobs.
9. Don’t Be a Super Hero
We’ve talked about your products, your customers, and your employees. Let’s talk about you! Your store may be your baby, but it’s important to remember that you can’t do everything yourself. It’s bad for you, and it’s not healthy for your business. The retail guru Tom Shay told attendees at a recent meeting of the National Association of Truck Stop Operators (NATSO) that “writing down tasks along with who should take care of them” can result in better time management practices for you while also giving employees greater ownership of their work.
10. Create a Routine
Every day is hectic when you operate your own business, but there are steps you can take to simplify things. Stay on top of your signage to make sure it represents your brand. “Walk the lot” to inspect the pumps, collect garbage, and make sure there aren’t any vehicles parked in the wrong area. Conduct routine “sweeps” to check if the coffee is fresh and the trash has been taken out.
At the end of the day, everybody loves convenience. Keep a clean store, stock it with products your customers love, make it easy for them to get in and out, and they’ll reward you by making you their destination for choice for all of their quick purchases.