Why do we, in the convenience store community, keep trying to “fix” the foodservice industry as we integrate their concepts into our retail developments? We often look to the foodservice industry as a panacea filled with high margins and happy customers. The reality is far from that. The foodservice industry, like every other, has its own unique recipe for success and its own set of hurdles to overcome on the road to profitability.
Over the years, quickservice restaurants and fast-casual restaurants have developed proven methods of success. The worst thing we in the c-store community can do while blending the two industries would be to forget the proven foodservice prerequisites. Doing so only serves to reduce our chance for success. Before integrating the two profit centers, we must fully understand the critical elements of each. Experience tells me that the three keys to any successful co-brand development are customer preferences, customer service and customer satisfaction.
Now before you think this sounds too simplistic, allow me to explain.
Customer Preferences The first thing my company does on any co-brand or multi-brand design/development is analyze the demographics of the location to determine the customer propensity for various offerings. We often hire a company to conduct a retail site analysis that looks at the location in great detail. Taking this step allows us to determine the exact mix of product offerings that will prove the most lucrative at that specific location. The retail analysis incorporates a variety of information including demographics, assessment of the competitive landscape, traffic generators and consumer matrixes to determine not only who your customers are but what goods and services they want.
We all know that customer preferences change from location to location, but many owners don’t adjust their product mix and menu offering to reflect the unique demographic profile of each location because they don’t know how. They do the same thing as they did in their last store because it worked there and it’s easier. By utilizing the right kind of analysis, though, we can determine with great accuracy the target customer and the resulting product mix as they relate to customer preferences. Without the information the analysis generates, it is truly a shot in the dark whether you offer the right product mix. This information is vital in developing the retail design strategy and marketing approach. No foodservice solution has proven universal enough to be appropriate in all situations. The customized approach always works best.
Customer Service I can’t recall how many times while working with a company on a new concept the first thing they want to do is cut back on expenses related to enhancing customer service. This usually happens due to a lack of understanding of the customer service matrix, which outlines what the consumerexpects. Operators may look to omit the drive-thru, reduce the seating, limit the menu or reduce the service-level in some other way. Then they wonder why the location underperforms. These customer service components play a key role in creating the overall dining experience that keeps customers coming back for more, and telling their friends, family and co-workers to check it out, too. From the unique dining ambiance to the sizzling hot food, the customer wants and demands the total sensory package.
Customers have too many choices available to settle for a substandard dining experience. Rather then dumbing down the offering, I encourage c-store operators to invest in the foodservice component, raising the customer service bar to offer more than the competition can--not less. C-store operators should consider making WiFi available to customers, allowing consumers to order via text messages, expanding the menu and including unique offerings to improve the customer experience.
I often see my customers lower the offering to meet their operational expertise instead of raising the bar to achieve greatness. Get the right people, the right menu and the right consultants (that is my only shameless plug) to create an unforgettable and overly satisfying experience for your customer. I guarantee the rewards will far outweigh the investment.
Customer Satisfaction On average, a dissatisfied customer will tell nine people about their bad experience. A satisfied customer tells an average of three people about their above-average experience. For those c-stores with operations not focused around customer satisfaction, the odds are against you. Centering your business on customer satisfaction is a difficult task, and sustaining that satisfaction over a long period of time is the hardest part of all.
How do you stay on top of your game and keep striving for excellence amidst limited resources, financial constraints, personnel changes and other environmental factors? Accomplishing this remains hard, and it must be systematic, repetitive, and ingrained in your core business fundamentals. Nothing will drive sales down more than a tired facility and poor employee attitudes. These two things alone will cause your sales to flatten and decline quickly. If your employees are bored with their surroundings, the customer will be bored, too. Create a plan that includes periodic remodels, menu changes and promotions that keep offerings fresh, employees interested and engaged, and your customers happy.
One constant in this business is change. If you aren’t changing with your customers’ changing preferences, you are on a slow, even potentially fast, decline. If your merchandising plan is the same today as it was three months ago, you are already getting stale.
Bringing in an outside perspective with statistical expertise can be the savior for the business on a slow decline. Conducting customer surveys, independent audits and competitive analyses on a regular basis isn’t over-analyzing. Rather, these steps remain critical for success. Just when you think you know your customer, that customer has changed. You must change with them. You must stay current with the trends and fickle tastes of your most valuable asset: your customer.
The unifying element between the convenience store industry and the foodservice industry is our customers. By capitalizing on the strengths of both industries, you can develop a vital and profitable combination that will have your customers coming back again and again. Understand who your customer is, give them what they want on a consistent basis and keep changing as your customers change. Don’t try to fix what ain’t broke.
“Parting Shot’’ is a monthly opinion column written on a rotating basis by guest authors. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of FE&S.