SAVANNAH, Ga. — Marketing, operations, and finance are three critical aspects of running a convenience store restoration program.
According to Kay Heritage, founder of Big Bon Foods LLC, they’re also the foundation of a three-legged stool, supporting what truly sets a company apart from its competitors: purpose and value.
Big Bon Foods’ goal is simply to “elevate more entrepreneurs,” Heritage said during the “New Convenience Retailer Panel” at the 2022 Convenience Foodservice Exchange. hosted by Convenience store news. An entrepreneur who operates a bagel and wood-fired pizza shop, food truck and ghost kitchen in Savannah, Heritage views its employees as individuals and tries to mentor them in business and life skills.
“Restoration is not the final destination for young employees,” she said. “So focus on the purpose of their existence from the beginning.” She pointed to her baker who ultimately wants to be a jazz musician and is happy to work a shift that matches his practices and gigs.
“If they’re ready to learn, we invest in them,” Heritage said. “We ask them what they really want to do.” As a result, Big Bon Foods did not struggle with labor shortages.
Retailers benefit from seeing employees as their biggest asset, regardless of business size, said co-panellist Bassem Nowyhed, multi-franchise owner of morning afternoon c-stores and founder and CEO of Invig Consulting.
“They’re the ones who run your business,” he said, pointing out that store employees lead customers through their customer service and attitude.
In addition to investing in it, Nowyhed suggests retailers seek to make the working day more engaging for employees. One method is to gamify things – for example, the first person to sell a certain amount of a newly introduced product receives a significant bonus.
“Everyone likes hitting targets and goals,” he said.
During the panel, Heritage and Nowyhed discussed other relevant topics, including:
Healthy products — In general, people are starting to switch to healthier foods, which means convenience store operators should look to offer a mix of healthy and indulgent options. Nowyhed cited Foxtrot as a good example of a chain that balances health and convenience.
Inspiration — Retailers can and should imitate and be inspired by those who do good catering without being imitators. “It’s normal to see who’s doing a great job,” Heritage said. “We learn from the masters.”
Omnichannel — This aspect of technology is critical to maximizing foodservice profits. “If you don’t somehow integrate omnichannel […] there is still a lot of money on the table,” Nowyhed said. “The new convenience is taking your product and putting it in the hands of the consumer without them having to come to your house.
Eight essential steps to success
Along with revisiting their purpose and values, convenience store operators need to move beyond rhetoric if they are to succeed in the restaurant business, according to Howland Blackiston, co-director of restaurant and retail consultancy King-Casey.
To date, many chains have refrained from making more than evolutionary or incremental changes to their foodservice offerings, rather than bold moves to seize competitive advantage, Blackiston said. This is largely due to a cultural resistance to change, perceived disadvantages, and the lack of an amazing crisis to drive breakthrough innovations and improvements.
“I don’t think the pain is still there,” he said.
Blackiston outlined eight “absolutes” for convenience stores to take restoration success seriously:
- Brand your catering business — Everything from decor to equipment to ordering methods should communicate “food” to the customer.
- Have an exclusive/signature menu – Parker’s Fried Chicken and Texas Born’s Tacos are examples that make the chains memorable. “Developing a signature article is an important step,” Blackiston said.
- Create a menu strategy – business goals drive strategies in tactics, which are applied to categories and then to individual products.
- Offer off-site solutions – This can include digital ordering, delivery and drive-thru, and other unconventional means. Blackiston denounced Chick-fil-a’s habit of “breaking the line” by sending store employees to the drive-thru to take orders.
- Design a Distinctive Environment – Dining initiatives such as Whole Foods Market’s Ramen Bar intentionally signal “this is a place to eat.”
- Create a restaurant culture – This needs to start at the top because nothing will happen in a chain “unless the people at the top say they want it to happen”.
- Embrace Continuous Improvement – Area-specific innovation and improvement teams should continuously focus on identifying and resolving improvement opportunities.
- Innovate through technology — Not all technology will be relevant to all brands, but technology can be used to create an exclusive brand experience.
The 2022 Convenience Foodservice Exchange took place in Savannah on June 21-22. A record number of more than 70 convenience retailers joined vendors and other category thought leaders at this year’s event, held at the Marriott Savannah Riverfront in Savannah, the host city of the South.