There comes a time in every multi-unit retailer’s business cycle that they want to launch a new product that requires a reconfiguration to their store. I am not talking about a raze-and-rebuild, but rather something as simply sending a new piece of equipment to the store that houses the new product. That sounds straightforward enough.
The challenges arise when the equipment goes to the store, and the manager asks “where does this go?” and proceeds to find a home for it. Over time with each new product launch, more and more “stuff” gets sent to the store and before you know it, each store is configured vastly different. With every new launch, rollouts become increasingly problematic and a burden for the facility.
Getting your arms around your facilities in an organized fashion is critical for the multi-unit operator. Maintaining a central repository of every store allows for key decisions to be made with all components of the store considered. Do they have space? Is there enough electrical? How will this impact the current floor plan? With a centralized store database, each of these questions can be vetted in advance of a rollout.
At a minimum, here is what is recommended in a centralized, store-by-store database:
Overall Facility: Capturing the exact dimensions of the site including the floor plan is essential to have at the ready. All too often, strategic discussions regarding multi-store rollouts hinge on the fact that the stores involved will be able to accommodate the initiative. A detailed site plan of the location – both interior and exterior – provide a number of answers to questions when it comes to the viability of the rollout at the store level. Gathering this information in advance, makes the planning process of strategic initiatives immensely more efficient.
Equipment: Next in the database is a detailed list of all of the equipment that are housed at each of the stores. The equipment location within in the store should already be identified in the floor plan above, this list pertains to the make and model of the equipment. Like most retailers, growth in store count occurs over time and as such, equipment used in the stores did so as well. It is critical to know what “version” of the equipment is currently in place. As long as you are at it, you might as well check the size of the electrical panel. Failure to have an accurate listing of the actual equipment on hand will result in a number of headaches on rollout.
Financial History: The store-by-store database also provides the opportunity to link store-specific financial information for each location. The database will enable the users to know the historical sales, margin and expenses for any particular location. Combined with the physical store attributes, the financial components of the store help guide decisions on future investments for this particular location. While one would like to have a “one-size fits all” rollout, prudent management should view their capital expenditures with a more discerning eye.
Capital Investments: Previously employed capital investments should also be tracked on a store-by-store basis. Is this a store that has responded favorably to previous upgrades? Or has repeated investments failed to deliver the expected returns? Managing your capital investments on a store-specific basis helps increase the aggregate ROI for the entire portfolio. For those retail industries that are faced with environmental issues, namely the gasoline industry, tracking the historical environmental activity at the store level is critical.
Store Characteristics: Over the course of developing your database, you may find that certain stores dovetail – from an attribute standpoint – with one another. These attributes may be physical (big vs. little store); demographic (urban vs. suburban vs. rural); or even by age (new vs. old). However you classify your stores is entirely up to your organization, but by doing so, you may be able to cluster “like” investments based on these characteristics. In addition, if the assigned characteristics provide a glimpse into the predictability of future investments, then your dollars will go that much further.
Pictures: Lastly, what store database can be complete without a pictures library of each location? As the adage goes, a picture tells a 1,000 words and having a pictorial database on each store is essential. That being said, random pictures of the store will not cut it. A sequence of pictures should be taken at each store the same way – that way comparisons are easily made. How you develop the sequence is up to you, but consistency is the key. In my days of taking pictures, I also started with the exterior from preset locations (i.e., SE corner of the lot) then moved on to the interior. I would capture the interior floor plan in the same fashion overall, then by merchandising section.
Creating a store-by-store database may appear to be daunting at the beginning, but the benefits of having that information at a moments notice are invaluable. Strategic and tactical decisions on key initiatives are much more easily made and executed. While the task of starting is daunting, the execution can be divvied up amongst many members of your team that are in the field. Come up with a step-by-step plan and begin to build your database over time.
John Matthews is the founder and president of Gray Cat Enterprises, Inc., a strategic planning and marketing services firm that specializes in helping businesses grow in the restaurant, convenience and general retail industries. With more than 20 years of senior-level experience in retail and a speaker at retail-group events throughout the U.S., Matthews has recently written two step-by-step manuals, Local Store Marketing Manual for Retailers and Grand Opening Manual for Retailers, which are available at www.graycatenterprises.com.