Using Technology to Preempt the C-store Customer’s Path to Purchase

By David Mostovoy

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It’s the age-old proposition in the convenience store industry: How do you move customers from the forecourt/gas pump area inside to the store?

There are so many factors here working in tandem. If you write a flowchart, it may look something like this:

Clean, well-lit, inviting environment for the customer to want to fill up →  well-placed and accurate promotional signage → (if available) working TVs/digital signage at the pump.There’s a similar flow inside the store:

Clean, well-lit store → well-placed, accurately priced products and promotions → adequate customer service and POS technology to complete the sale.

You begin to see that upselling to an in-store purchase basically comes down to 3 components:

  1. The manual component: a clean, well-maintained forecourt and a clean, well-stocked store
  2. The technology component: ensures vendor/retailer promotional prices are properly reflected
  3. The labor/staffing component: for exceptional customer service

The reality is that in-store sales software is just that—in-store. It can tell you how many iced teas you sold in the summer, but it’s not going to tell you if the promotional signage in the forecourt told customers they should come inside for a buy-one-get-one free deal. Software won’t tell you if your employees at the foodservice counter promoted the new food item or handled the food with the proper food storage and handling techniques.

Software doesn’t provide information on the environment—it only informs about the result.

Pre-Empting the Result

So who are the retailers that answer the age-old proposition? They’re the ones who manage to pre-empt the result by creating informed processes based on what they know works. They’ve broken the 3 key components down to task management as follows:
  1. Processes to clean the store to maintain a welcoming and safe environment.

  2. Working technology—and that doesn’t necessarily mean digital pumps. It could mean conducting a security audit of payment terminals, especially in a time of targeted criminal activity. These are the kind of safeguards that are crucial to your brand.

  3. Real-time store-level insights that could note staffing levels and any other issues that may occur. Say for a period of a month, you send a district manager to a group of stores to complete an operational audit during the peak time of the weekday. Sample questions could be:

- Are there enough attendants at the pumps?

- Are the foodservice attendants following safe food handling and preparation procedures?

- Are there at least two cashiers manning the registers?

- Are gas pump payment systems secure and showing no signs of tampering?

Using a mobile solution like Zenput, senior management can not only create the audit to ensure key tasks are completed, but they can also customize the parameters and get automatically notifiy the appropriate employees when exceptions arise. These are the actionable insights that help retailers improve their operations and as a result, their bottom lines.

Learn more about Zenput’s real-time retail execution capabilities by clicking here.

See Also:

Converting Your Forecourt into a Moneymaker

Today’s Forecourt: Opportunities to Convert Customers from the Pump

Auditing Branded Gas Station Forecourts Can Increase Supplier Payments 

Topics: C-store

Healthy Food in C-Stores: The Transformative New Trend

By Vladik Rikhter

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From 1952 to 1972, Sheetz Inc. did not sell gasoline- the pumps were only added in 1973. There’s a similar story behind Oklahoma-based QuikTrip, which first began as a mini-mart in 1957 (And the founder was actually inspired by 7-Eleven stores during a visit to Dallas). It wasn’t until 1971 that QuikTrip installed its first gas pumps.

So there you have it. It took a decade, or in some cases two, for prominent convenience store retailers to offer gasoline. If there’s ever a “Jeopardy!” Convenience Store edition, you’re now well prepared.  Interestingly enough, both of these retailers are today considered innovative leaders in convenience store foodservice. QuikTrip is known for its QT Kitchens full-service counters, while Sheetz is known for its M•T•O (made-to-order) menu and Shweetz Bakery offerings. And as reported by Convenience Store News, both of these retailers are now looking to open more stores without gasoline. Food-only stores are not only a return to their roots, but also a realization that high-quality, prepared food (high-margin sale for retailer) is driving traffic, even without gasoline (low-margin for retailer).

"To be successful without gasoline, a store has to offer high-quality, well-differentiated prepared food," Donald Strenk, a consultant for the industry, told CSNews. "7-Eleven does well [without selling gas], but they may not be averaging $300,000 a month. Sheetz and QuikTrip have locations that do significantly high sales in the c-store."

Setting up a smaller store without gas pumps allows retailers to experiment both with a smaller footprint and different merchandise. For instance, QuikTrip’s 3,500-sq.-ft. downtown Atlanta store is even more focused on fresh foods than other locations.  

The fact that more convenience store retailers are committing to healthy choices was one of the headlines of the 2016 NACS Show. Aloha Petroleum, Ricker Oil Co. and Core-Mark International made commitments to the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) at this year’s show.

A commitment with PHA means more than “Oh, these apples in the cold case are nice to have in the front of the store.” We’re talking real commitment! For instance, Ricker’s committed to offering healthier food options at an affordable cost; marketing and promoting healthier food choices; and offering employee benefits such as a 50% discount on all fresh fruit and vegetables purchases. Aloha also committed to PHA’s beverage marketing initiatives to promote fruit and vegetable consumption and water as healthier choices. As a distributor, Core-Mark will do its part to modify merchandising sets to incorporate healthier options.

According to the PHA, half of the U.S. population visits a convenience store every single day, and these consumers are looking for healthier options. Each of the new PHA partners is “stepping up” to ensure both consumers and retailers have access to healthier, more accessible options. It’s what 21st century retailers need to do—step up to meet the changing preferences of consumers who demand quality and demand it now!

More Options, Better Execution

In our experience working with convenience store retailers, we know that consumer preferences change and that retailers must respond to them or risk the consequences of losing business. The most successful retailers adapt to change with ease. Some even thrive because they’re able to successfully differentiate themselves in the market.

Remember: The quality of fresh foods is ultimately a reflection of your brand. Because these foods are fresh, they often come with more food safety concerns, so employees must be mindful of storage temperatures and other food safety factors.

Ultimately, if retailers want to provide customers with better, healthier food choices, they have to optimize the store-level execution of safety checks and audits. 

If you’re looking for a solution to help maintain safe, high-quality food operations, read this white paper on creating a food safety audit, visit Zenput’s website, or schedule a demotoday.

Topics: C-store, food safety

The Future of Convenience Store Foodservice

By Joe Skupinsky

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Did you go to the NACS Show in Atlanta this year? We did, and had a great time exhibiting our product for the second consecutive year! A huge thanks to everyone who stopped by our booth.

The NACS show always presents great opportunities to make new acquaintances, and it’s also a great time to catch up with our current customers. But one of the most important things we take away from NACS is education. We always want to learn about the topics and trends that matter most to our customers.

One of the hot topics—and it has been a hot topic for the past few years—is the future of foodservice in the convenience store industry. Convenience Store News attended a foodservice trends session led by Clint McKinney,  group director of Category Advisory- Convenience Retail for Coca-Cola North America. McKinney shared six keys to satisfying new customers:

  1. Value Plus - meal bundling or offering a new topping or flavor
  2. Evolution of Healthy - simple ingredients, fresh food, transparency, and “clean eating”
  3. Flexibility & Discovery - expanding meal occasions to coincide with the growth of snacking
  4. Hyper-Convenience - on-demand delivery, takeout, and drive-thrus
  5. Digitization - using social media to create share-worthy content
  6. Brand Authority - having a clear brand identity and telling a clear story  

In another session, NACS Chairman Jack Kofdarali advised retailers that they must put an emphasis on food as challenges arise in other product categories. He explained how not that long ago, customers were choosing between something delicious vs. something fast. That’s no longer the case, as many retailers are providing delicious food, quickly.

Improving Retail Execution: A Practical, On-Location Approach

Successful convenience store foodservice operators would agree that execution is fundamental to building a brand. That’s where Zenput helps convenience store retailers and other foodservice operators. Zenput allows retailers to identify what they do best and where they need to improve—all to strengthen their brand.

Let’s revisit some of the key points and see how, exactly, Zenput can help C-store operators with each.

Value Plus - Zenput allows retailers to build custom audit forms, for everything from store cleanliness to price and promotional accuracy. Inaccuracies and issues can be identified and addressed in real time.

Evolution of Healthy - Customers want healthy and fresh foods, but supplying the demand has its own challenges. The store’s cold case needs to be regularly restocked and refreshed. With Zenput, managers can make this a daily task and track compliance across stores. Zenput is even compatible with a food thermometer as an added food safety audit functionality. 

Hyper-Convenience - If you’re a convenience store operator with drive-thrus - great - you’re ahead of the industry curve! Using Zenput to audit your drive-thru, along with your kitchen and staging area, helps identify potential weaknesses like dirty or broken appliances that may be slowing you down or costing you customers.

Zenput is also a great tool for maintaining high execution in the forecourt, which strongly drives convenience store sales. This topic was addressed in another NACS Show educational session. John Eichberger, executive director of the Fuels Institute, discussed the importance of first impressions at the forecourt and advised retailers to make it clean and friendly, while satisfying customer cravings.

Convenience store retailers can also audit their forecourts to make sure they’re clean, functioning, and up-to-date with all the latest promotional signage. Whether they’re located outside or inside the store, clean restrooms certainly send the right message to customers who are considering a foodservice purchase.

Eichberger added that there are three principles to keep in mind: brand visibility, brand perception and brand experience. Like the foodservice takeaways, it all comes back to brand.

Practical, Everyday Branding

If there’s one takeaway about branding that I want to share, it’s this: it doesn’t sit on a shelf.  

There’s the philosophy of branding, and then there’s branding in reality. At Zenput, we are practitioners of reality, and our flexible platform reflects that. We want retailers and foodservice operators to use our mobile solution to measure and report actual conditions in their stores. Get notified in real-time when something is askew, assign a task to fix it, and then have the ability to follow up to ensure its completion. Experiment with new audits to improve retail execution and know you can easily change them, as you should in an ever-changing retail environment.

To learn more about our mobile solution, check out our blog, or click here to: find out more about how we help convenience store operators improve their operations.

If you'd like to schedule a demo, go to zenput.com and click on ‘Schedule demo’ in the top right corner.

 

Topics: C-store

3 Reasons Why Your C-store Pricing is Wrong

By Jennifer Hoffman

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There’s a convenience store right down the street from me. The other day, I stopped in there for two personal necessities: milk for my cereal and gum for my desk at work. This store is a small mom-and-pop operation, and it became apparent to me that mom and pop also don’t believe in clearly pricing their goods. I paid about $4 for those two items, and I can’t tell you how the pricing broke down because neither shelf nor product was marked.

Sure, in a perfect retail setting, every store has clear and accurate pricing. Promotions are also accurately priced and displayed. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.  Human error abounds and the most “cutting-edge” retailers can make pricing mistakes. If mom and pop make a pricing error, it can be chalked up to their small operation (although, I prefer “tough love” and not giving them a pass). If Whole Foods makes a pricing error across their chain, it can become a brand-damaging narrative that the media pounces on, and that’s what actually happened.

The reality is that you can’t afford not to audit your prices because there’s a good chance your prices are wrong! Here are three reasons why:

1. The human factor
Employees can miss a SKU when adjusting prices or they may accidentally overlook information about pricing changes. Employee turnover or insufficient training can also play a role here. Store managers, whether accidentally or not, may deviate from corporate pricing structure.

2. The “computer” factor
Pricing in the retailer’s information system can also be inaccurate. It could be wrong CPG data from the manufacturer or vendor. As a result, the wrong price is recorded at the store level. Important note: At some point, you have to draw the line between machine and human accountability. That’s why I put “computer” factor in quotes. Pricing isn’t static and at the end of the day, someone—preferably more than one person—needs to cross-reference the accuracy of the information in the system.

3. The promotions factor
Misplaced point-of-purchase materials, mispriced compared to competitors, lack of in-store visibility. These are all problems related to your promotions. That’s the diagnosis, but the remedy is real-time information. If you’re regularly auditing your stores and accounting for these things—and most importantly, if you can fix them in real time—you will have a competitive advantage.

Remember that your customers are only spending a couple of minutes in your convenience store. In terms of customer service, you may not have time to ask your regular customer how their kids are doing. You may not have the time to know your customer that well. But when you provide accurately priced goods that are conveniently placed and your employees are knowledgeable about promotions, you’ve just won in customer service.

So, how about checking those prices? Mom and pop would write down the SKU and flip through a book or check their computer. Meanwhile, the super competitors are scanning  a barcode for instant data. That’s where the technology is heading, and you should go with it.

Zenput is a mobile software solution that allows retailers to be proactive vs. reactive. It’s a platform where insights can be shared easily and instantly. The Zenput app also incorporates a barcode scanner for SKU verification. With Zenput, retailers gain the ability to verify promotional pricing and respond to pricing inconsistencies at the store level—all in real-time.

To learn more about Zenput’s functionality in convenience stores, click here.

Topics: C-store

Healthy Food Promotions: A ‘Must’ for Retailers

By Brian Harris

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Across the food industry, healthy, better-for-you food promotions are becoming more than a “nice thought.” They’re becoming essential to attracting new customers and retaining current traffic. More retailers are launching promotions and reorganizing product assortments as they realize the opportunity to increase their bottom line.

Family Express of northwest Indiana is an example of one such retailer. Convenience Store Decisions recently reported on a new better-for-you initiative at this 68-store chain. For the next two months, children 12 and under who visit one of Family Express’ locations will be offered a free banana, pear or apple while their parents shop. The retailer is also working towards displaying its healthier food options to make it easier for customers to find and select healthy foods. Eventually each store will have a “Better for You” section.

Convenience store competitors are also making an effort to improve their healthy snack offerings. In June, CVS Pharmacy announced the expansion of its assortment of healthier foods and beverages to more than 2,900 stores nationwide. This includes the expansion of better-for-you snacks at checkout lanes and healthy trend zones. Raw snack foods are currently on display in the summer, and they’ll be followed by vegan options in the fall.

The CVS promotion adapts with the changing seasons and recognizes that healthy snacks are here to stay. Packaged Facts recently released data that should get every retailer fired up about this category. In the past half-decade, healthy-ingredient snacks have seen steady growth. In fact, the market’s compound annual growth rate of 4.7% has outpaced overall food and beverage sales growth. That rate is expected to jump to 5.7% between 2016 and 2020. That translates to $25.4 billion in sales by 2020.

According to Packaged Facts, snack bars are still the largest category of healthy-ingredient snacks, followed by sales of nuts and seeds. In terms of growth, meat snacks continue to be the fastest-growing category within the segment, particularly in supermarkets and convenience stores.

Retailers across different channels are getting the message: Healthy foods attract customers and the expansion can be profitable.

The public sector is also taking note as it considers ways to support retailers who want to expand access to fresh produce, particularly in urban areas. For example, Philadelphia launched the Philadelphia Healthy Corner Store Initiative to support neighborhood stores that are trying to expand healthier offerings. “The representative from the program showed me data that I could make as much money selling two tomatoes as I could soda,” one c-store owner told NACS Online. “I didn’t realize produce could have such a decent markup.”

A Checklist a Day Makes the Apples Stay

The success of healthy food initiatives is dependent on three factors:

  1. Getting the word out via promotions
  2. Product selection
  3. Execution of display

Remember: No promotion in an ever-changing retail environment falls under “set-it-and-forget-it.” If you’re going to test the effectiveness of a new healthy foods campaign, you have to mobilize your team and follow up in each store.

For instance:

  • Is promotional signage up and accurate?
  • Is there enough product available? Are products priced correctly? (Don’t make the Whole Foods pricing error!)
  • Are individual stores executing the marketing plan? (In the case of Family Express, is every age-appropriate child provided a piece of fruit? This observation can be recorded.)

Having regional or store managers account for a promotion’s various elements via a checklist is smart, intuitive, and enables you to react in real time. It could mean the difference between a promotion increasing your bottom line or failing to make a return. Tools like Zenput increase accountability and increase returns by providing real-time, actionable insights. To learn more about how this mobile solution works in the c-store environment, click here.

Topics: Retail, C-store

Today’s Forecourt: Opportunities to Convert Customers from the Pump

By Jennifer Hoffman

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Today’s convenience store forecourt offers one thing to retailers and customers alike—opportunity. For retailers, the forecourt represents the opportunity to convince customers to make an additional purchase beyond the gas pump. For customers, the modern forecourt should be an opportunity to quickly and safely make a fuel purchase while learning of a store’s promotions.

Gas station customers have 3 motivations when they arrive on your property:

  1. They have to fill up their tank. As we know from NACS, 80% of fuel sold in the U.S. is sold at a convenience store chain. Filling up could be their sole motivation.

  2. They need to fill up their tank and use the restroom. That’s a common scenario for customers traveling during the summer months and an ideal opportunity to upsell during their pit stop.
  3. They fill up their tank and purposely stop for beverages, snacks, cigarettes or perhaps even a lottery ticket. That’s a c-store retailer’s ideal customer—the customer who is already interested in entering the store.

But let’s not give up on the other two kinds of customers and let’s not take that third type for granted. The forecourt is an opportunity not only to upsell, but also to promote brand loyalty. It’s a positive experience with efficient and friendly service that makes these customers return.

In order to provide a positive experience, retailers need to create a forecourt environment that fits all three of these characteristics:

  1. Well-lit, clean and inviting. If it’s not a safe, inviting and sanitary environment, a customer might not go the extra distance to use your restroom, nevermind purchase a food product.

  2. Functional. Is your equipment working? Are the pumps and credit card terminals functional? Do you monitor for security? A security breach can damage your brand and lead customers to choose your competitor down the street.

  3. Promotional. You can have the best merchandise mix in your store and the most thorough attention to detail. But if you’re not advertising new products at your forecourt, that’s going to be a problem for moving customers into your store. The forecourt has numerous surfaces and vantage points that can be used to advertise to customers, whether on the actual gas pumps or standing signs. There is an opportunity to integrate small screens and digital signage technology into the modern forecourt as well.

Keeping Up With Trends

The convenience and fuel retailing industry has never been one that stands still, so expect more changes to the forecourt in the near future. As discussed in a recent Convenience Store Decisions article, the future of the convenience forecourt will be better lighting, more touchscreens for ordering, more drive-thrus, and more outdoor seating. We already see retailers across the nation implementing these changes.

Now is the time to start finding out what works for your brand. Implement a change—perhaps an upgrade to promotional signage—and measure the outcome. Define a set of core criteria for converting customers from the forecourt and audit your stores to make sure they’re implementing these best practices. By optimizing conversion of sales now, you’ll be better positioned to implement the design of the future when the time comes.

SEE ALSO
Converting Your Forecourt into a Moneymaker
Auditing Branded Gas Station Forecourts Can Increase Supplier Payments
How to Conduct a Property Inspection

Topics: C-store

Brand Auditing for Convenience Stores

By Brian Harris

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Previously, we’ve discussed the basics for building a brand audit for quick-service restaurants. While the same can be applied to convenience stores, we want to focus on a key aspect of brand auditing that’s especially relevant to convenience stores: brand identity.

How’s your identity these days? Is it strong and vibrant? Are you conveying to customers what makes you special? Better yet, are you wondering how on earth you can be expected to measure something like brand identity?

Well, there’s good news—it is possible to audit your c-store brand.

Consider this: QSRs have an advantage of being distinct from one another just by their signature food items. A customer isn’t going to McDonald’s because they have better ketchup than Burger King. They’re going because they have a craving for a Big Mac or a McFlurry. But it’s trickier for convenience stores that offer many of the same packaged goods and have a history centered around the gas island.

Fortunately, consumer perception of the industry—especially in terms of foodservice—is slowly changing. C-store retailers that are winning the brand identity game are those who have strong products and packaging. Think of the 7-Eleven Slurpee and Wawa Hoagie. Sheetz has branded its own Made to Order menu while QuikTrip offers QT Kitchens.

Promoting those unique products—whether it’s a fountain drink special or a proprietary snack—can be do wonders for brand identity in the short and long term.

However, clever marketing ideas are only as good as your ability to follow through and execute. So let’s revisit this idea of building a brand auditing survey, while taking a closer look at some areas a convenience store can check for compliance.

Brand Auditing with SWOT

You may already be familiar with SWOT, which stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Completing a SWOT analysis at the store level may be the answer to finding out how your network can reach the next level of success. Here’s an example of building a convenience store brand audit with SWOT:

Strength - Individually branded/proprietary products

  • Quantity of product
  • Date packaged
  • Price
  • Placement in the store (Verify your planogram.)
  • Promotional displays and/or signage

Weakness - Cleanliness

For now, assume this is a weakness because it is a classic thorn in the side for the industry. No one wants to buy your food when they’re grossed out.

  • Cleanliness of fuel islands
  • Cleanliness/clarity of windows
  • Condition of floor
  • Cleanliness of counters/customer food prep areas (coffee bar/beverage dispensers/grab-and-go islands)

Opportunity - Increased Exclusive Product Offerings

  • Inventory quantity (Do stores have more floor/shelf space for more proprietary products?)
  • Product quality (freshness, dates, price, etc.)
  • Effectiveness of retail promotions (Verify promotions. Are products, signage, and placement correct?)

Threats – Competitive Promotions

  • Category awareness
    Vendors are your retail partners, but they are also competitors in proprietary products. How are they pricing products and what kind of products do they offer?  Knowing this can help optimize sales. An example is the success of Wawa Iced Tea. Wawa chose not to complete with major soft drink manufacturers in the soft drink space. Rather, there was more opportunity to compete in proprietary iced tea.
  • C-store competitor awareness
    Do you know what promotions your competitor down the street is offering? If not, it’s time to find out. Make this a part of your regional manager’s routine store visit.

The Takeaway

If you’re going to devote time to creating a brand audit survey, at least make sure it will provide actionable insights. Keep in mind it’s not about the quantity of questions you ask—it’s about the quality. Importantly, create a survey that goes beyond “yes” and “no” answers. Go in with the mindset that you want to fix any problem that may be uncovered. Ask for photos, gather data by scanning barcodes, and evaluate store conditions on a sliding 1-10 scale. Following this process over a period of time will reveal both exceptions and successes you may not have initially recognized.

Topics: C-store

Time to Reject the Status Quo in the C-store Workforce

By Brian Harris

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Now in its eighth year, Convenience Store Decisions and Humetrics Human Resources Benchmarking Survey identifies the key employee issues affecting convenience store retailers and what they can do to overcome them.

Respondents represented chains of varying sizes with varying annual revenue. About 45% were corporate personnel, and store managers and human resource professionals represented another 23% each. Below, we’ve summarized some of the report’s key findings, and offered our own analysis on what can improve.

Stagnate Employment Indicates Stagnant Employees

It’s the perennial trend of the convenience store industry: The biggest human resources challenge in 2015 was keeping good people. Among respondents, 71% expect that to be the same case for 2016. While 26.5% expect to add more staff this year, 60% expect they will not change significantly in 2016. In terms of employee turnover, 28.3% of respondents saw an increase in 2015, but experienced an hourly employee turnover of just 55%, which is lower than what NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, reported (77%).

Analysis: CSD points out that few retailers are taking any proactive measures or doing anything differently to meet this challenge. They also point out the fact that when employees are fired, it’s mostly due to attitude issues. For this reason, pre-employment attitude screening tools can help.

We see another opportunity in increasing employee accountability in a way that keeps employees engaged. This needs to be a wake-up call for the industry. We’re not advocates of micro-managing—in fact, that’s counterproductive and quells innovation. Rather, we advocate for the clear assignment of roles and the ability of the employer to follow up on whether or not tasks are completed.

Increasing the productivity of your staff will help your bottom line, and it can also make employees more engaged. No staff member should feel they’re picking up the slack for someone else on the team. When good employees believe they are heard and treated equally, they are more likely to stay. Ideally, these good employees will advance into management roles—a win for everyone!

Training on the Upswing

Whereas in 2015, 70% of respondents reported that training programs stayed about the same, 44% expect them to stay the same in 2016. Retailers who plan to increase training will put the greatest emphasis on customer service skills (78%), followed by foodservice safety/sanitation (44%), manager/district training and teamwork (43% each).

Analysis: These stats are definitely a silver lining. It tells us that retailers are realizing the benefit of increased attention to new employee on-boarding, and perhaps they’re learning the hard lessons of the food industry over the past year. While foodborne pathogens in the supply chain may be difficult to control, retailers must do everything in their power to maintain sanitary conditions in food preparation areas. It’s no longer acceptable just to “wing it”—they must follow a checklist to ensure all appropriate measures are taken.

Missed Opportunity Through Technology

When asked about new technologies acquired to improve the hiring process and/or increase productivity, nearly 60% of retailers reported no additions in 2015 and 50% have nothing planned in 2016. The other 35% mostly mentioned new systems of payroll, recruiting and scheduling.

Analysis: What about task management through mobile technology?  The best part about implementation of mobile technology is that it doesn’t require a large investment in new equipment. Rather, it’s a matter of employees downloading an app onto their smartphones. Create a checklist for your managers, assign specific tasks to specific stores, and monitor completion of critical tasks. In the convenience industry, a real-time solution—one that includes GPS locator and the ability to attach a photo—just makes sense.

It’s time to stop settling for the status quo in the convenience store workforce. From retailers to technology providers, let’s make it a goal to work together to increase productivity and improve the adaptability of this ever-changing industry.

Read CSD’s full report

Topics: C-store

Bottom Line: Car Washes Increase Revenue

By Jennifer Hoffman

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With convenience stores selling an estimated 80% of the gasoline purchased in the U.S., adding a car wash may seem like a good idea. It gets even more promising when 86% of U.S. car wash equipment manufacturers reported a collective revenue increasing of 20% last year, according to a 2015 industry survey.

The study appeared in a Convenience Store Decisions article about car washes becoming a high-margin opportunity for convenience stores. “Presuming there is a market to be served and the site has the ability to process the demand, the car wash can contribute significantly to the bottom line,” Eric Wulf, CEO of the International Carwash Association, told CSD. He added that convenience store operators have more options than ever before due to new models and technologies. From mini-tunnels that minimize land usage to RFID technology that automates payment, more retailers are having success by increasing their throughput of cars per hour.

Car Wash Fundamentals

Like the convenience store or gas island, a car wash must be clean and functional, and offer a positive customer service experience. Car wash promotions are connected to the store’s marketing efforts and can tie into loyalty programs; the profit margins are intertwined.

CSD profiles Idaho-based Stinker Stores, which operates two touchless and eight soft-touch car washes. The select number of stores offering those services is notable, considering Stinker Stores operates 65 locations throughout the state. All of the systems have upgraded equipment to maximize efficiency and ensure that customers are getting the best experience.

Remember the Nationwide insurance commercial which depicted a rather large human baby as a car? Don’t mess with your customer’s baby! They will take to social media to complain, including on platforms like Yelp, and this can damage your brand.

Honk if You Have a Process

Whether installing or maintaining a car wash operation, it’s essential that you audit your operations both for functionality and marketing program compliance.

Sample audit questions:

  1. On average how long does it take a car to be washed, from the time it arrives at the terminal to the time the customer is ready to leave?
  2. Is equipment operational? (Can be more specific: brushes, rinsers, wipers, blow dryers, etc.)
  3. Is the car wash terminal an inviting, well-lit environment?

If the survey was built with Zenput, an answer of “no” to questions 2 and 3 would elicit a photo or explanation that could alert senior management that service is needed. Senior management could also set the average service time for Question 1. Therefore, they would receive an alert when the service time was taking too long. There might be a malfunction inside the tunnel or simply a traffic jam on a bright, sunny day when everyone wants a wash.

We usually say Zenput provides store-level insights. In this case, wash-level insights—down to a lack of soap—could be accounted for during an audit. It’s yet another example of how mobile technology can empower business operators to explore profit-building opportunities—without the fear of losing your shirt in the wash!

Topics: C-store

Raising the Bar on C-Store Restroom Cleanliness

By Brian Harris

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As I sit on an airplane reflecting on restroom cleanliness, my friend has just stood up to use the facilities. (Inconveniently, he has a window seat.) It’s the reason why I wouldn’t join him in having a coffee before the trip. I tend to avoid public restrooms whenever possible, but sometimes you don’t have a choice—like when you’re 30,000 feet in the air!

How important is bathroom cleanliness in the world of convenience retail? According to a recent report by Convenience Store Decisions, it does impact your business.

“Bathrooms likely have a larger impact on inside store sales than some retailers realize,” David Bishop, managing partner at consulting firm Balvor LLC, told the magazine. From working with a c-store retailer, he learned that one out of every 10 customers walking into the store visited the bathroom. However, none of these customers indicated that using the bathroom was the primary reason for their trip. “In other words, having great restrooms isn’t pulling customers into the store like a good promotion does,” Bishop explained. However, a dirty bathroom can “push customers right back out the door—especially if the customer had interest in prepared foods where both your hands and a stranger share a sandwich through touch.”

Why are restrooms so memorable? Probably because they put most of our senses on guard, including sight, touch, sound, and smell. That’s how you should be auditing—in consideration of the senses.

Sight

  • (Safety first): No smoking signs are posted.
  • Smoke detectors are present and working (should have indicator light).
  • “Employees must wash hands before returning to work” signs are posted in correct location.
  • Toilets flushed and seats clean.
  • Toiler paper is present in each stall.
  • Stall doors lock.
  • Trash cans are emptied.
  • Floor is mopped.
  • Mirrors wiped down.
  • Sinks are free of debris.
  • Hygiene products, if offered, are stocked.

Touch

  • Soap containers are filled and working.
  • Hand-dryers/soap dispensers are working.
  • Cold/warm water is working and at safe temperatures.

Sound

  • Light music is playing. (It could help diffuse the sound of sinks and toilets.)
  • Smoke alarms are installed.

Smell

  • The bathroom is properly deodorized.  
  • The bathroom smells like smoke. (That should trigger an alert/action from senior management.)

Other important things to audit:

  • Is there an employee schedule/checklist to ensure the bathroom is being cleaned periodically?
  • Are the proper supplies available to clean the restroom?
  • How does the temperature of the bathroom compare to the rest of the store/restaurant? (Is the customer comfortable here?)

Ratings and Photos

Some of the variables above may require more than a “yes” or “no” answer. That’s when it’s helpful to have more options, including a ranking system. Zenput allows senior management to set parameters on restroom audits. For instance, you can set the bar that all of the restrooms throughout your network must be rated a “6” or above on cleanliness entries.

With maintenance issues like dirty floors, a full trash can, or defective stall doors, field managers can take a photo and upload to their audit. Based on this photo, a task can then be assigned to fix this problem. The manager or staff addresses the problem and a new photo is shared for verification. Once verified, the task is marked complete.

Restroom audits come down to employee accountability and a brand’s definition of “clean.” If you rely on your staff to clean restrooms, make sure that the same person isn’t getting stuck with this task. A good employee could get frustrated and leave if other employees aren’t pitching in to help.

Define “clean” as a company/brand. Don’t forget that you set the bar by having clearly defined parameters. Developing a restroom audit can help you define those parameters, so go ahead and get started!

Topics: C-store