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If you look at the top convenience store retailers, you’ll notice similarities across their success stories. From the foodservice kings to the fuel pricing aficionados, here are five lessons you can’t afford to ignore.

1. Automate everything

Top retailers are doing it every day, and they’re winning as a result. They’re saving time and money and creating the kind of streamlined, efficient businesses that give them a measurable advantage over their competitors.

So, how are they doing it?

Imports. As the old adage goes “Time is money.” If you’re still manually entering data into your back-office system, you’re wasting time — so you’re wasting money. The best retailers import and export data all day, every day. It’s less error prone, and it saves time.

Integration. While the best retailers have ERP systems that can help manage every part of their business, there are some instances—such as fuel pricing and POS systems—where third-party integration is unavoidable. The transfer of information between systems should be seamless and timely for real-time, actionable decision-making.

Wireless networks. One of the major shifts among leading c-store chains has been the trend toward a wireless workplace as security concerns are addressed. Yes, I’m talking about transferring store-level data, from time and attendance data to inventory audits, using Wi-Fi-enabled technology. Some retailers are already using secure Wi-Fi services to create real-time inventory management environments that close the data gap between the store and home office.

Handheld devices. From merchandise receiving to audits to lottery management, handhelds have become the standard device used by an increasingly mobile workforce to capture site-level data. For retailers using secure Wi-Fi services, employees can transfer data from the handheld to the host office without ever leaving the sales floor.

2. Maximize Big Data

“Maximizing big data” means capitalizing on your transactional POS data in several key ways.

Manufacturer incentive programs. You may have noticed a growing trend recently. Manufacturers are offering retailers incentivized rebates in exchange for transactional data. Why? Because it removes the guesswork and plugs them directly into your consumers’ preferences via their spending habits. The good news is that manufacturers are shelling out millions of dollars for the privilege.

Labor allocation. Transactional data has the potential to impact multiple areas of your organization, including labor management. Any retailer will concede that labor is the most vital part of the store-level operation, but it’s also the most expensive, so finding ways to manage it better is absolutely critical. Transactional data allows you to allocate your labor staffing levels by tracking increases and decreases in store traffic based on sales.

Real-time audits. This is no longer the stuff of fiction. These days, the ultimate goal is having a truly connected convenience store environment. For merchandise audits, that means inventory levels are updated in real time to account for transactions that occurred during the audit, providing accurate visibility at the site-level.

Marketing. Perhaps the most widely found use of big data among leading retailers is marketing. I’m talking about transaction-level, market basket data that empowers you to spot affinity trends, create better promotions, and stop peddling package deals your consumers don’t want.

3. Eliminate Overtime

Reducing or eliminating overtime is the elusive unicorn for many retailers. They know they should be doing it, but they haven’t quite mastered the “how.” The convenience store industry employs millions of people every year. As the reality of increasing labor costs continues to sink in, it’s become apparent that the time-honored traditions of gut-based and best-guess scheduling just aren’t cutting it.

More than ever, retailers are relying on sophisticated workforce management systems that make scheduling easier, improve communication, and give them the tools to hold managers accountable for staying within allocated labor budgets.

The result? A more efficient workforce and, ultimately, monetary savings that contribute to the company’s bottom line.

4. Shrink Shrink

It’s a funny phrase with a serious message. In the daily fight for razor-thin margins, shrink is the enemy of great margins — unless you have the tools to catch it as it’s happening. The best retailers do, and they’re tackling the problem from multiple angles.

Item-level inventory. Simply put, if you’re not there, it’s time to catch up. Numerous articles have been written about the importance of item inventory. It’s a lot of work, but the benefits ultimately pay dividends — including improved ordering and significantly lower shrink levels.

Automated ordering. Implementing automated ordering is a must. Much like gut-based scheduling, gut-based ordering has to go the way of the dinosaur if you’re serious about eliminating shrink. Your software should be capable of analyzing years of sales, seasonal, holiday, and promotional data, enabling you to get reliably accurate orders, and take the guesswork out.

Shift reporting. Lastly, shift reporting has the potential to make a huge dent in shrink levels by allowing you to compare shift reports to item-level audits and transaction data. Take lottery, for example. Scratch-off lottery tickets are a traffic-driving, low-margin, high-shrink category. You can’t afford to lose any of your margin by spending too much time managing it. But here’s how the best are still winning. When you combine automated tracking capabilities with shift reports from your workforce management system, you get a quick, clear picture of where the shrink is occurring and the action you need to take.

5. Work Smarter, Not Harder

Working smarter, not harder really comes down to two things: spending the company’s money wisely and finding ways to work more efficiently.

Here are a few ways the best retailers are working smarter.

Invest in technology. If you want to operate at the highest level, you can’t be afraid to invest in smart technology. Find a technology supplier who is committed to constantly improving its platform to help you gain efficiency. Stagnation is not an option.

Get connected. Maximize your software investment by making sure your people get the best training and are plugged into vibrant communities that share best practices.

Outsource. When it makes sense, don’t be afraid to outsource critical parts of your operation. From pricebook maintenance to managed hosting services, outsourcing can allow your team to offload day-to-day management so you can focus on high-priority, strategic items, such as maximizing margins and expansion.

Manage your time. Leading retailers are masters of maximizing their time using automated reports and exception management. Both produce the same result: You get the actionable intelligence you need to make data-driven decisions without poring over unnecessary mounds of information.

Take the First Step

To be the best, you have to study the best. So, take a page out of their playbook, and check out the company that’s helped hundreds of retailers reimagine what’s possible for their business.