Raise your hand if you had the word “pandemic” in your 2020 strategic plan – and like that, the world quickly changed. The COVID-19 pandemic is reaching further and farther than any key worldwide event in several decades. How we interact with one another; how business is conducted; where we live; and how we manage through all of this is, quite candidly, up for grabs. The changes to our lifestyles are deep and wide. No one is spared.
The convenience store industry is no different. Retail has taken huge hits due to the lockdowns but fortunately for the c-store industry, we were declared essential and able to minimize the economic damage in the short term. The long term, though, poses some greater challenges including the following:
- Managing a Safe Environment: Safety becomes the number one attribute for existence. If the employee and customer feel in harm’s way, nothing else will matter. Think about poorly lit canopies or a foodservice operation that has a foodborne illness. There are rarely second chances for safety. Developing detailed procedures to ensure safe practices and following up daily, weekly and monthly with training has to become initiative number one in today’s environment.
- Expanded Transactions: Again, with safety in mind, C-stores need to expand their transactions to include a combination of alternative checkout options. Touchless via an app; curbside pickup keeping the customer from entering the store; and delivery all need to become viable options to address the wide-ranging perspectives of our customers. Many customers will feel fine coming into the store while others won’t go near you with a ten-foot pole. Options are a must.
- Marketing Communications: With the constantly changing landscape, over-communicating to your customer base on how they can use your store is critical. Don’t assume that the customer knows that you are open; perhaps have changed hours; or are limiting certain types of transactions. You may want to consider a Grand Re-Opening when the time is right in order to re-introduce your store to the community. Lastly, it never hurts to give back to the healthcare community in your trade area so consider creating PPE or feeding your local healthcare workers.
- Future Store Design: Strategically, stores need to morph even faster to foodservice as more and more restaurants close. There is clearly a race for share-of-stomach and the starting gun has already sounded. Consideration needs to be made in the safety procedures around foodservice handling, social distancing queuing, pickup/delivery options and non-traditional concepts. Could the store-of-the-future be a mini warehouse? How this all plays out will be a moving target, but c-stores need to overhaul their strategic CAPEX going forward.
I wish I could say that we know what lies before us, but this is a moving target. This is a far more reaching, moving target than any of us every imagined. Much like the significant changes we all experienced after 9-11 with regard to security safeguards, COVID-19 will have long-lasting impacts for the c-store and every other industry out there. The new normal will continue to evolve.