Ask an Expert
Operating a Retail Store
Expert: Randy Scotland
I have owned a convenience store for 5 miserable years now, and I work like crazy (100hrs/week). I paid big bucks for that place, so I have big monthly payments. My wife works somewhere else, so she pays all of the household payments because I don't make any salary. I'm constantly looking to buy something that will give me a little revenue, but I don't know what, except for chips, chocolate bars, newspaper etc. So my question is, do you think that the convenience store business is a risky business these days? Do you have any suggestions for me?
Randy Scotland answered:
"My congratulations to you for sticking it out for five years. Operating a retail store has never been easy, but the rewards of being your own boss can match the considerable sacrifices that ownership entails. That said, I do have a few suggestions that may make your life easier.
Not knowing all the particulars of your operation or financial situation, first let me recommend that, if at all feasible, you look to hiring some relief staff, if only on a part-time basis. After five years of 100-hour weeks, you are no doubt nearing the point of exhaustion and need, for your own well being, to start easing up on your frantic pace.
Second, I would suggest you look at your competition to see what the convenience stores in your area are providing their customers that you might want to emulate. The trend today is for storeowners to offer a repertoire of value-added (and higher margin) services. Certainly, this is the direction many of the chain operations are moving towards. Consequently, we're seeing more in-store amenities such as coffee and sandwich bars, ATMs (to make it easier for your customers who may be short on cash), lottery sales, dry-cleaning services, bakery counters, flower sales and displays of last-minute gifts (such as boxed chocolates, candles and even locally-made crafts).
To determine which of these services might be right for your store, I suggest you simply ask some of your long-time customers. Engage them in conversation and survey their needs. Not only will this aid you in planning any new amenities, but it will also help cement the relationship you have with your valued patrons.
Third, you may want to start a new program to thank your customers and keep them coming back. Let's suppose you have a beverage counter. You could offer a frequent-buyer plan to reward customers who make 10 purchases by giving them the eleventh order for free. Many retailers find such plans help strengthen customer loyalty.
Fourth, should you need assistance in running your store, I recommend you speak to an understanding bank manager. The banks claim they are attending more to the needs of small business operators and many now offer business advice in addition to loans.
Fifth, talk to neighbouring stores to see if you can pool your resources to sponsor a marketing initiative to drive more customer traffic to your shopping area. This philosophy of co-operation is at the heart of the BIA (Business Improvement Area) movement. Together, local merchants work to beautify their neighbourhoods by planting trees and flowers, adding park benches, hosting street festivals and launching joint advertising campaigns.
Finally, you should consider joining an industry association – Retail
Council of Canada is perhaps the best-known example – which, for a
nominal annual fee, will provide you with cost-saving services (such as
low merchant rates on credit cards) and practical advice through
newsletters, workshops and the like."
About the author
Randy Scotland is the Vice President of Communications & Public Relations