How to Conduct a Property Inspection

By Brian Harris


In our previous blog post, we addressed the limitations of using mystery shoppers to conduct retail audits. It’s a point worth reiterating when discussing property inspections.

Mystery shoppers may be used for a brief appearance survey, but you can’t expect them to understand your property in depth. This is why you should call upon a qualified member of your maintenance staff or a manager who has this type of knowledge.

The obvious issues -- those readily seen by the eye -- may fall under the categories of maintenance and sanitation. However, there may also be structural deficis that may not be readily identifiable, unless the employee knows what to look for.

When conducting a property inspection, here are three main areas to focus on and key features for each:

A. Building Exterior

  • Building foundation
  • Painted surfaces and glass windows
  • Roofs and downspout drainage
  • Air conditioning units, water systems and septic tanks
  • Trash removal system
  • Condition of signage
  • Parking lot condition, landscaping

B. Building Interior

  • Entry doors and interior walls
  • Adequacy of lighting
  • Cleanliness of floors and shelves
  • Condition and temperature of maintenance room
  • Storage of flammable products and/or cleaning supplies
  • Presence of fire extinguisher in maintenance room
  • Restroom plumbing and sanitation

C. Foodservice area (if applicable)

  • Cleanliness of food-handling surfaces
  • Cleanliness and condition of culinary equipment
  • Presence of fire extinguisher
  • Food protected from contamination and containers properly labeled
  • Clean gloves and aprons
  • Refrigeration systems
  • Condition of hot food holding systems
  • Proper ventilation
  • Sink plumbing and garbage disposal

As you can see by the list above, your property inspection is an involved task. It can easily become complicated if you don’t have a clear and uniform process.

Go paperless with a process

Filling out a paper questionnaire and sending photos separately for each question can be tedious. Instead, use a mobile solution that consolidates functions.

For instance, if a question requires a more detailed explanation, the employee can easily add comments and attach a photo all from the same device. Real-time notifications will initiate a quicker response among your team members.

Offer an incentive

If you’re a small operation, you may have a limited number of staff members who have the knowledge necessary to perform a property inspection.

However, you may have other employees who are trainable and can improve upon their skills.

Make property inspections a routine part of your operations. Reward employees who are willing to help and create an uncomplicated process to instill confidence in completing the task.


Topics: Business Operations

Why Regularly Inspecting Your Franchise is Important

By Brian Harris

Photo by Sarah Nichols, via Flickr

Q: Why are regular inspections of your franchised locations important?

A: It’s how a brand maintains consistency.

Simply put, consistency is crucial to franchised operations. After all, being a recognizable brand is only part of your goal as a retailer. The other part is building respect and gaining trust -- the hallmarks of customer loyalty.

Of course, physical appearance is key to consistency. When you conduct an inspection, typical questions may include:

  • Is the store clean and organized according to your planogram?
  • Are products in stock and promotions accurately placed?
  • Are employees abiding by dress rules and maintaining a neat appearance?
  • Does the location have curb appeal?

These are all things visitors expect when they shop at your store. A return customer may be visiting one of your stores 50 miles or 500 miles from home. This customer will expect the same quality shopping experience, and you must meet his/her expectations.

However, consistency is more than meeting customer expectations. It’s also about attracting new franchisees to your business.

7-Eleven, the largest retailer in the convenience store industry, addresses this topic on its franchising blog: “We also provide our advice and expertise on how to create the 7-Eleven brand experience for our franchisees. With our guidance, franchise owners are more likely to find success as we help maximize the store’s profitability.”

Brand guidelines help businesses strengthen their individual identity and make a lasting impression, according to 7-Eleven.

5 Questions to Consider When Growing or Establishing a Franchise

  1. Are your brand guidelines clear?
  2. While inspecting a location, can you easily conduct a retail sales audit?
  3. Do you have a way to measure planogram compliance and analyze data collected from your stores?
  4. Can your managers report exceptions in real time?
  5. Most importantly, will you know when there’s a problem at one of your franchised locations before you receive a weekly sales report?

Make sure your inspections include data collection and a means of analyzing this information in real time. Encourage employee participation and create actionable plans based on results.

Maximize your process, and you’ll see the difference in your bottom line.


Topics: Business Operations, Franchise

How to Conduct a Gas Station Audit

By Vladik Rikhter

Photo via Patrick Emerson, on Flickr

There are more than 126,000 convenience stores selling fuel in the United States, according to the 2014 NACS Retail Fuels Report. These retailers sell an estimated 80 percent of all the fuel purchased in the country.

Many brands operate hundreds of locations, and some hire mystery shoppers to maintain a regular auditing process. What these companies may not realize, however, is that their audits are getting blasted on the Internet.

Take, for instance, this mystery shopper’s comments on an online forum:

“At home, uploading my gazillion pics and realizing they're not the right size, downloading a program to resize them, and then going through them a million times to get the pics for each question seriously stunk!”

“For instance, on the question, ‘All dispensers, including pin pad, clean, not faded, no missing or torn decals’ every single dispenser had all of these issues. ... Do I take a picture for each condition, ’clean, not faded,’ etc.? Or just one picture for that question?”

Yikes! That is one frustrated and confused mystery shopper. She’s not alone. Here’s a response commiserating with her struggles:

“It took me over four hours including time on site, report and pictures. … It was so windy and I was trying to flip through 30+ pages of the guide (that I had to print at home, cost me more than $10 just on that).”

There was a 30-page guide just to complete the audit? If it sounds crazy, that’s because it is. There has to be an easier way!

5 basic things to look for when conducting a gas station audit:

  1. Curb appeal.
  2. Prices at the pump.
  3. Maintenance of the pumps and station area.
  4. Cleanliness of the store (if there is one) and restrooms.
  5. Product inventory.

If you are commissioning someone to conduct an audit for your company, make sure you provide the right tools to easily complete the task.

A mobile solution can automatically transfer photos or videos captured with the user’s smartphone or tablet. Plus, respondents won’t have to flip through pages when the survey is right there on the screen.

Also, make sure that survey questions elicit clear responses. You may also ask the shopper to rate their findings on a numeric scale. Remember: When questions are clear, the data collected is more accurate. And when data is accurate, it’s easier to identify problems and respond.  

The Importance of Involving Your Staff

While mystery shoppers are convenient, they still don't fully grasp your business -- a problem that the most detailed set of instructions won’t solve. Your actual staff members are more likely to see other issues that may not be part of a shopper experience audit.

Additionally, you may want to have separate employee-conducted audits for safety, cash handling and more specific inventory data, such as tank amounts.

A flexible platform will allow you to create multiple surveys  for different purposes, which will save your company time and effort.


Topics: Business Operations, Retail

4 Tips for Performing a Supermarket Audit

By Vladik Rikhter

Photo by Lyza, Flickr

In May 2013, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) published its Food Retailing and Wholesaling Internal Audit Study. *

The study, which was released at FMI’s Annual Internal Audit conference last year in San Antonio, revealed two interesting facts about supermarket audits:

  • Eight in 10 supermarket retailers and wholesaling companies employ third-party vendors for audit functions, although for less than 10 percent of total audits performed.
  • More than 40 percent of companies expect to increase the size of their internal audit function over the next five years.

Based on the study’s findings, the self-auditing process is a crucial and growing part of supermarket retail operations.

Being proactive highlights operational strengths and weaknesses, and can help prevent potential losses that impact your bottom line.

Furthermore, having a self-auditing program sends a strong message to your team that complacency is not acceptable.

Four Tips for Performing a Successful Supermarket Audit

1. Make sure your managers understand the auditing process and encourage participation.
An audit is a large undertaking that requires everyone’s attention. Regional and district managers should all be involved in this process. Therefore, instructions for filling out surveys must also be clear.

2. Set well-defined parameters.
When will the audit take place? Will it be announced or unannounced? A lot of time can pass between third-party inspections, depending on your company’s audit schedule. Industry loss prevention specialists LP Innovations recommends self auditing at least once a month.

3. Choose a mobile solution with the right tools.
A uniform collection method is imperative to collecting accurate data that will lead to actionable results. Use a tool that can consolidate tasks and organize information in real time.

For example, why not use your mobile device with GPS and timestamp when checking in for the audit? When verifying merchandise, use this same device to scan a product’s bar code or take a photo of a promotional display. Having these capabilities will save time and resources.

4. Based on results, create an actionable plan and set measurable goals for your next self audit.
Communication is key. Provide feedback and guidelines to managers on how they can improve their stores. Present these findings to the entire store team and discuss what was done correctly. Focus on team accountability and fixing mistakes, from planogram execution to cleanliness or maintenance issues. Reward employees that go the extra distance.

“Inspecting what you expect within your organization sends a powerful message and is a critical tool for long-term success... Set the bar high and you may be surprised to see just how many people make it over.”

Bill Angiolillo
Executive Director of Client Services
LP Innovations

*N.B. The Food Retailing and Wholesaling Internal survey was conducted by 210 Analytics LLC and consisted of a nationwide survey of 31 retailing and wholesaling companies, representing more than 24,000 stores and 981 internal audit professionals.


Topics: Business Operations, Retail

Using Mobile to Improve Retail Store Quality

By Vladik Rikhter


Encouraging managers to use their mobile devices to input data and share photos can save time and effort throughout your organization. Saving time allows you to focus more on details and it’s the finer details that can really take your store to the next level.

3 Ways Using Mobile Can Improve Retail Store Quality

Adhering to brand stands across your network

Improve the execution of your retail promotions. Make sure your stores are on the same page with vendor signage and other marketing materials. Store managers might have different ideas when it comes time to set up displays. Your executive team can monitor retail programs from afar if photo-sharing is a routine part of your store audits.

Tracking store performance

There are a number of automated software tools on the market that can identify predictable inventory exceptions. However, what will account for unpredictable situations, including human behavior, weather and other trends? The real question becomes, “Who will account for these factors?” Involving your employees in this process will make a crucial difference in your decision-making ability, from allocating inventory to responding to changes in demand. Utilize GPS location data and mapping with timestamp, and track where, when and who is completing tasks.

Responding in real-time to retail exceptions

As a retailer, you know the importance of understanding your inventory exceptions and acting on them. By digging for data manually, you spend more time organizing the information into Excel spreadsheets than analyzing it to improve efficiency. A mobile solution can analyze data in real time and create interactive graphs for you. You can also choose to be notified by email when exceptions happen. Real-time tools help you and your team members act quickly in response.

Capturing photos

You can’t be everywhere at once. Save travel time by allowing your district or regional managers to be your eyes and ears on the ground. Capturing visual proof of what’s happening in stores -- from misplaced inventory to maintenance issues -- also ensures employee accountability.


Topics: Business Operations, Retail

Using BYOD to Empower Your Retail Employees

By Vladik Rikhter

BYOD Device Wall

As an IT policy, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has been subject to some recent controversy.

On one hand, some companies realize BYOD’s benefits, including reduced costs and increased productivity. It’s especially useful to retailers who rely on real-time exception reporting.

On the other hand, some companies worry about security risks and possible data breaches.

Fortunately, employees can use BYOD to create an entirely new data set, rather than accessing an old data set that contains sensitive information.

Specifically, a mobile app can create an entry point for a new data set -- referred to as task data -- by allowing employees to “push up” data from their mobile devices to a secure cloud.

Through the use of an app, sensitive information, such as sales, inventory and labor data, is *not stored* on the mobile device.

The employee-collected information is then viewed from corporate headquarters or a home office.

3 Tips for Retailers Considering a BYOD Policy

1. Know exactly why you are implementing the policy.

As we’ve discussed in a previous post, going paperless is worthless when you don’t have a process for collecting and analyzing data, and most importantly, if you can’t gain actionable insights.

2. Be able to manage the process.

Choose a solution that provides a centralized view of network activity and the ability to act quickly in response. A mobile app can be controlled on a corporate level, so access can be cut off at any time, if needed.

3. Provide a financial incentive to employees.

Generally speaking, BYOD requires a minimal investment since employees will use their mobile devices with their data service. However, companies should provide a small subsidy to employees as an incentive (perhaps $10 a month).

Business practices have changed over time. Fifty years ago, it was rare that employees were asked to use their cars for their job. Today, it’s common practice to reimburse employees for mileage on their own vehicles.

Similarly, BYOD is becoming common practice as more companies discover ways to streamline operations and reduce costs in the digital age.

Photo via Luke Wroblewski

Is Your C-Store Ready for the Holiday Season?

By Vladik Rikhter

Last-minute holiday shopping in a convenience store is no longer a punch line – it’s practical for busy consumers.

As a retailer, why not cash in? Generally speaking, 25 percent of U.S. consumers plan to spend more on holiday shopping this year, compared to 20 percent last year, according to a recent survey by Accenture.

4 ways to maximize revenue this holiday season


1. Stock your stores with last-minute gifts

Items include gift cards, lottery tickets, holiday candy and other stocking stuffers.

Did you know? An October survey conducted by the NRF revealed that holiday shoppers will spend more than $31 billion in gift cards this year, making gift cards the most requested item for eight consecutive years.


2. Be prepared for partying consumers

Last year, the National Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing (NACS) conducted a consumer survey that indicated one in five consumers planned to shop more often at c-stores to pick up beer, wine and snacks for parties they were attending or hosting. More than one in three shoppers aged 18 to 34 said they would buy more of these items from c-stores.


3. Be prepared for snowstorms and bad weather

Wintry weather can wreak havoc on gas sales and in-store categories like packaged beverages.

Make up lost revenue by adjusting your merchandise for changing weather conditions. Offer supplies such as shovels, salt, snow brushes/ice scrapers, batteries and bottled water.


4. Verify in-store promotions and communicate with vendors and employees.

Stocking your stores with holiday merchandise won’t help your bottom line if you don’t maximize your promotions. Encourage store managers and employees to verify displays and report exceptions to vendors.

When holiday shopping, more consumers consolidate stops by filling up their tank and grabbing a bite to eat at a c-store, as NACS’ survey indicated last year.

Increased foot traffic could mean more out-of-stocks and more customers misplacing merchandise.

Stay organized and improve communication between headquarters and your locations. By being proactive and readying your stores for the holidays, you’ll dig into a bigger slice of sales.


Topics: Business Operations, Retail

How to Implement and Verify a Planogram

By Vladik Rikhter


Congratulations! You’ve perfected your retail planograms – the visual representations of where you intend to position products in the store or on the shelf.

You’ve studied your stores’ demographics and have fine-tuned your merchandise selection. It’s a job well done but truthfully, it’s only one-third of the battle in maximizing your revenue.

Two Challenges Remain: Implementing and Verifying Your Planogram

Achieving 100-percent compliance is very difficult. It’s even more challenging when you don’t have the right tools that help you respond quickly to a problem.

A planogram – no matter how well designed – doesn’t account for real-life situations that require employee response.

Here are three instances where compliance gets complicated, and what you can do to get a handle on changing conditions:

1. There’s a disconnect between corporate and store data

The merchandise planner at corporate headquarters didn’t account for a local buying pattern that results in out of stocks or poor use of shelf-space.

Take action: Gathering feedback from your partners – store managers, employees and vendors – is crucial to maintaining your planogram. Have employees report exceptions in real time using their mobile device. Scan bar codes and use a QR reader to gather as much product information as you can. Immediately notify vendors of out-of-stocks.

2. Your store has maintenance challenges

The number of shelves and peg hooks has been miscalculated. Shelves should have been cleaned and there are some broken fixtures. Employees are not performing daily recovery to maintain the display’s appearance.

Take action: Before implementing the planogram, have store managers verify the setup by taking photos or video. Schedule a store audit when a new product rolls out to ensure that shelves are neat and all fixtures are in working condition. Implementing and verifying a planogram are team efforts. Make sure you have the capability to track employee tasks.

3. Store personnel are making errors placing product

Mistakes happen. Busy store personnel fill an empty space with a product not specified in the planogram. The consumer looking for the right product may think it’s out of stock even if it’s not. Additionally, shelf tags aren’t printed clearly and the wrong price is listed.

Take action: Conduct retail sales audits on a regular basis, and especially if a new or seasonal promotion is underway. Human error is bound to occur, but routinely verifying your merchandise through survey and image data will help you learn from mistakes that impact your bottom line.

Photo via Caden Crawford


Topics: Business Operations, Retail

Going Paperless is Worthless Without a Process

By Brian Harris


“One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.”
A.A. Milne
Author of “The Winnie-the-Pooh” series

Perhaps being disorganized is an advantage when you’re writing about the fictional adventures of a teddy bear. But when you’re operating a business, surprising discoveries that impact your bottom line are not fun. Staying organized is imperative to your success.

Going paperless is a great way to get organized and is widely considered the way of the future. Before you make the transition, however, you should ask yourself how a paperless system will directly benefit your business. If you’re making the switch just to save a few thousand dollars in paper, ink and man hours, it’s most likely trivial to your bottom line.

A paperless system is worthless if you can’t easily analyze the data and more importantly, gain actionable insights. Furthermore, it will not fix underlying inefficiencies in your organization.

These inefficiencies may include:

  • Lack of a uniform reporting system that collects and organizes data
  • Lack of ability to quickly take action when retail exceptions are detected
  • Ongoing maintenance problems that are neither reported nor addressed
  • Lack of executive or managerial oversight in the form of audits
  • Lack of employee accountability

So, how can you address inefficiencies while moving to a paperless operation?

Reevaluate your process

Consider how paper forms are currently being used in your business. Revisit your goals. If you use surveys or checklists to maintain your operation, are you asking the right questions? If you identify an inefficiency, don’t settle for the explanation “it’s just how we’ve always done it.” It might be time for your process to change.

Evaluate Software

Choose mobile software that allows you to easily create forms to collect data. The same forms must be used across the organization, so that data analysis is accurate.

A superior solution will provide a timestamp and GPS locator to improve reporting accuracy. It will also have helpful tools like bar code readers, QR code readers and photo/video sharing.

Make auditing a regular part of your operation

Equipped with the right tools, an employee at any location can access a standardized form using his or her mobile device, and report data for analysis.

Having the ability to track results in real time improves accountability and communication, making everyone’s job a bit easier.

As Winnie-the-Pooh’s friend Eeyore once said, “A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.”

5 Steps for Conducting a Retail Sales Audit

By Vladik Rikhter

retail-sales-auditPhoto via derrickcollins, Flickr

How are your stores performing? If you are a retail executive, you ask yourself this every day. But, if you were asked how your stores are performing at this very minute, would you know the answer?

The report sitting on your filing cabinet won’t help you, but a real-time software solution will.

Gain Real-Time Retail Insight

Collect and analyze data from your retail sales audit by using a mobile app on your smartphone or tablet.

Before you begin your audit, consider your objectives. They may include:

  • Monitoring your products in relation to what your competitors offer
  • Making sure your stores are in compliance with your organization’s procedures and standards, as well as those mandated by law

Once your objectives are clear, here are five steps to follow:

1. Decide which device to use

Will managers use a smartphone or tablet to complete the survey? Is there WiFi at the store, is the location in a cellular black hole?

2. Create survey questions and decide values

The quality of the data you collect is crucial. Brevity is key, so don’t make the questions too long or complicated. Consider using a mix of “yes” and “no” questions, along with multiple choice questions that have assigned, measurable values. Although retail execution is abig focus of your audit, don’t forget to ask about your store’s curb appeal.

3. Take photos and videos as part of the routine

When you ask your managers to conduct an audit, you are asking them to be your eyes and ears in the field. Provide a way for them to easily share photos and videos with you. Photoscan helps you understand everything from product displays to maintenance needs.

4. Scan bar codes and QR codes

Gather definitive information about products quickly. If promotional materials aren’t correct or stock is running low, you can notify your vendors right away.

5. Be consistent

Inconsistent collection methods can compromise the quality of your data. Make sure employees who conduct the audits understand the industry and retail environment. Provide training so that employees are comfortable navigating the mobile app and using it to collect information.

A time-saving mobile solution will make the auditing process easier not only for your managers, but also for executives analyzing the data collected.


Topics: Retail, Sales Success