By Dave Deddens
It’s always tough being an entrepreneur, but owning and operating a convenience store (C-store) is more difficult than ever in today’s world due to limited lending, escalating gas prices and a sluggish American economy.
Not only is it hard to open a store, it’s even more challenging to find ways to make it profitable. But as a lifelong entrepreneur, I’ve always found ways not only to survive, but also to thrive. And after more than fifteen years as a convenience store owner I’ve found the key to success is providing our customers with a powerful restaurant option when they’re filling up the tank.
Here’s why – contrary to popular belief, convenience stores have historically generated very small margins on gas sales and rising prices are making those sales even less lucrative That means that delivering a quality in-store experience, which typically means strong food and drink options for travelers on the go, is the key to turning a profit. The problem, however, is that most customers are reluctant to buy meals because they don’t see convenience stores as a place to sit down and eat.
The solution? Bring in an iconic and established quick service restaurant (QSR) brand, like I did with Blimpie, to offer customers a fresh ready-to-go meal they trust.
Entrepreneurs have to get creative and take risks to make it in today’s world
Now, bringing on a franchise brand to your existing convenience store location is a big decision, but as these observations from recent surveys suggest, it’s a risk worth taking:
- The average convenience store customer is 18-34 – the target age for many QSR’s (http://www.csdecisions.com/2012/03/29/meeting-the-needs-of-todays-c-store-customers/)
- Consumers who have never purchased food at a convenience store haven’t done so because they believe the food is of low quality – serving them with a highly respected national brand can change that mentality (http://www.csdecisions.com/2012/08/22/fresh-foods-fast-service/)
- 2/3 of convenience store customers say the shop in convenience stores at least once a week and 7 out of 10 say they buy food and drink items – instead of chips and candy, why not offer these customers a fresh and satisfying meal? (http://www.csdecisions.com/2012/03/29/meeting-the-needs-of-todays-c-store-customers/)
My company, Blimpie, is doing a great job helping convenience store owners like myself capitalize on these opportunities and better cater to the customers who come through their doors. Not only are their sandwiches the freshest on the market, but the company has developed specific initiatives that make it easy for convenience store owners to become Blimpie owners as well. These are:
- In 2012, Blimpie has lowered the initial franchise fee for convenience store owners to just $5,000, making the initial investment considerably less burdensome.
- Blimpie also allows for major build-out flexibility so each convenience store owner can integrate the modified Blimpie store into his or her convenience store without completely altering the original store. This allows each owner to avoid countless build-out headaches and, in turn, save big money.
These initiatives are working.
Because of the initiatives above and the success that convenience store Blimpie owners like myself have experienced roughly 1/3 of all Blimpie locations are now in convenience stores and more than ½ of all franchises sold since the beginning of 2011 have been convenience store locations.
Now, I can’t promise that brining in Blimpie or another QSR will fix all revenue generation issues that a convenience store faces. For example, Blimpie has been crucial to my success, but I would not be nearly as successful as I am today without the guerilla marketing tactics I execute in my community (i.e. catering to local events, making special offers to schools and business in close proximity to my store, etc.). But I will say that I would never open another convenience store location without co-branding with a strong and recognizable QSR brand.
Entrepreneurs have to get creative and take risks to make it in today’s world and I did just that by bringing in Blimpie to my convenience store. The decision has turned my store from a gas station that sells convenience store items to a restaurant that happens to sell gas. Considering convenience stores make considerably more money on food than gas, it’s in every convenience store owner’s best interest to be known as a restaurant that just happens to sell gas, too.