Stephen Wilson, Category and Insights Manager, Strikeforce, offers up insight on how petrol and convenience stores can remain relevant and thrive in a competitive market.
During the depths of the pandemic there was plenty of commentary in mainstream and trade media about the vital role that petrol and convenience (P&C) played for local communities during these dark times.
Often the local convenience store was the sole reliable source of everyday essentials with major supermarkets’ supply chain severely disrupted, and when products were often sold out as quickly as they were place on shelf.
With movement limited by government mandates and the very real fear of contracting COVID, often these stores were one of the only options for households purchasing a few items in the safest possible environment.
With passing of time the significant contribution made by the sector has faded from the collective consciousness as the community largely reverts to pre-COVID habits.
So, does that mean that support from shoppers for convenience stores will also wain?
That largely depends on the overall offer. Good retail practices will continue to attract and grow a loyal customer base over time.
Recently I was on a road trip and came across a P&C store in an outer suburban enclave largely removed from main street trading.
It struck me that with limited retail choices in the immediate area, the independently owned P&C store was critical to ensuring that the 4,000 or so residents had access to fuel and essential everyday products.
My mid-week observation is that this store is well patronised and offers the local community a broad range of products across all major categories that you would expect from a local retailer.
So, why stop here and not take the drive 10 minutes up the highway to a regional centre to purchase top up items?
Firstly, the site is conveniently located on the corner of two main roads that converge bringing local and tourist traffic into and through the area.
The forecourt is clean, bright, uncluttered and inviting with ample fuel pumps and parking space and is in stark contrast to the tired set of strip shops on the diagonal corner, making the convenience store a destination of choice.
Despite being one of only a handful of options for fuel in the area, the site is competitively priced providing another reason for new as well as existing customers to patronise the business.
The retail offering is good with numerous choices and brands offered across key in-store traffic driving categories.
The product range features hot and cold on-the-go food options, easy to access coffee and a huge range of chilled beverages, ensuring attractive options for all meal and snacking occasions.
Internally the layout is equally uncluttered with all areas of the store in easy line of sight making the shopper journey easy to navigate.
Shelves are well stocked and ticketed. Categories are laid out in a ‘logical’ and methodical manner encouraging shoppers to take the full journey around the store with the potential of adding a few incremental items to their purchase increasing basket spend as a result.
Finally, there are several signs and notices dotted at the entry and exit point demonstrating support for and involvement with local groups, clubs, charities, and schools underlining the importance of being part of the local community.
While the local community aspect is not a major driver of loyalty for ‘out of towners’ it is a key consideration for locals who will make up a large portion of the site’s revenue stream.
So, while this example of a P&C site is in a comparatively semi-remote area and largely removed from other major retail banners, the offering remains attractive and competitive.
Regardless of where a site is located, delivering on solid retailing principles as described earlier in this article is desirable to attract and grow a loyal customer base.
Finally, a more generic offer can be tweaked to cater towards categories and products that resonate with the core shopper or shoppers that frequent or regularly pass through the area.
In summary, while the growth and patronage levels experienced during early days of the pandemic are unlikely to be matched again there is no doubt that P&C stores offering competitive fuel prices, variety and choice of on-the-go food and a positive shopping experience for locals and ‘passers-by’ will continue to remain relevant and thrive in an ever-increasingly competitive market.
This opinion piece was written by Stephen Wilson, Category and Insights Manager, Strikeforce, for the August/September issue of C&I Retailing Magazine.