Saturday, October 18, 2008

Keeping up with the Jones

Among the many magazines from our and related industries, I enjoy flipping through Convenience Store News (published by the "other" NACS).

The October 3, 2008 issue has a Cover Story series of articles on "The Winds of Change" -- each piece addressing changes impacting the convenience store industry and how c-stores can address them.

As I've often said, there's many things that we can learn by looking to sister industries. What caught my eye? A 2/3-page inset article on how c-stores can improve their competitive position as "small box grocery stores" continue to pop up. Audience aside, the pointers offered are well suited for college stores trying to stave off competition of all sorts, as well.

The suggestions (with my commentary) were:

1. Visit new stores. Get out and shop your competition--college stores and other retailers that your customers shop. What do they stock, how do the present it, and what shopping experience are they offering?

2. Be fast followers. You don't have to be the leader of the pack--the risk taker. But you DO have to be up on what's expected and quick to adjust your products and practices.

3. Do service when you do fresh. For the c-stores this was focused on produce, etc. But their point was still relevant--do pricing and labeling right becuase it comes back to your customer as a important part of their shopping experience.

4. Get cleaner, lighter, brighter, and safer to be more female-friendly. Do I have to remind you that women spend more than men in our line of business?

5. Lead in prices on key items. This one is sometimes difficult depending on the competitor. But when you can, size up the categories that overlap with your competitor and lower margins. Resist giving away margin dollars unnecessarily in other areas, though. In our industry, there are many categories where it will NOT pay to try and be the price leader--that is, we cannot compete on price. So consider this one carefully.

6. Redefine convenience to differentiate. Not just convenience, but all aspects of your business. What needs to change in order to remain relevant, competitive, and successful?

7. See how customers accept Tesco's self-service checkouts. Tesco is integrating some new innovations into the c-store arena. The college store version of this? "Watch closely how e-readers, online sales, digital course materials, and other innovations playout and continue to stay educated and ready to adjust your business as needed."

Good ideas from a sister industry that's facing some tough competition. And I'll leave you with their final thought in this nice little piece:

"...stick close to your core consumers and core capabilities."

The Retail Muse

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