Updating And Expanding Our Product Offerings Are Key To Attracting Customers
Recently, I set out with some FOA leaders to visit a few 7-Eleven stores and some of our competition to see how we are sizing up compared to other c-store chains. After a few stops it became clearly evident to me that, although 7-Eleven is heading in the right direction with several programs designed to bring in more customers, there is still a ways to go before we can exceed what are competitors are doing.
This year we have rolled out Expand the Assortment (ETA) to offer our customers a larger variety of items and we have done well with it, which is reflected in increased sales in the majority of our stores. Our customers, at this point, are now aware that we do have a larger assortment of items to meet all of their needs.
ETA also permits franchisees to better control the slower selling items and replace them with more profitable ones. However, in order for this to work more effectively we need a continuous influx of new products and new ideas coming into our stores. This would further allow us to keep up with the competition and make customers aware that we are constantly changing our product assortment.
In addition, when we looked at the competition, we noticed that they had seasonal end caps or themes. In working with our current suppliers, we need to have new, exciting items available to our customers that are more on-going and relate to what the competition is doing, not just a single pre-book that someone puts together that doesn’t work for our stores.
The other thing we noticed when we visited the competition was food service. Their food service was very appealing and they had a wide variety to choose from, which we lack. For example, our fresh-made sandwiches are mostly the same assortment day in and day out for a month. Occasionally, we come out with a new one. The simple fact is that the customer wants new options. We need to update our food service offerings more regularly in order to keep our customers coming back. This is where we are really lacking compared to the competition. One competing store that we visited, their fresh bakery assortment and display put ours to shame. It was appealing and a good looking product. Given the competition that we are facing, we need to look at our current suppliers to make sure we are getting the best food service products possible.
In regard to the physical plant, we noticed that the competing c-stores we visited were brightly lit and had a very low profile that seemed inviting—they made you want to go in to shop. There was no signage in the windows to clutter the view. Although we have taken the approach now where we don’t want our windows blocked, we still need to figure out a way to make our stores less cluttered.
The competitor’s stores were also very clean. I realize that cleanliness and image are very important to our customers and it’s something that we need to do. However, given the obstacles franchisees have with the labor pool and minimum wage, etc., it’s harder and harder to maintain our stores to the level our customers expect. So this must be a team effort with our franchisor. The point is we need to have clean and inviting stores.
7-Eleven has always emphasized that we need to know what our competition is doing, so we should regularly stop by and see their neighboring stores. Given the economic conditions we are in, now is a good time for us to go back to basics—both franchisees and SEI as a team—and reevaluate and bring everything up to the new standards. We also need to hold our suppliers responsible to meet those standards, just like franchisees are required to meet cleanliness standards. The effort we put in now improving our stores and product assortment will benefit everyone—franchisees, SEI, and the 7-Eleven brand—in the future with higher sales and increased customer counts.