Traits of Industry Top Performers

Dennis Folden, Industry veteran

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This issue of CSP on p. 49 identifies the industry’s top 25 chains. Top performers in the convenience industry often share the same characteristics:

  1. Great people who are passionate about the business. The brand is a reflection of the people who make up the organization, from the store associate to the CEO. The best compliment a customer can give any c-store chain is that its employees are friendly and professional.
  2. Leaders who care about their customers and employees. They set the standards for the company. The more they care about the customer and the employees, the more successful the company is. My mentor often quoted Theodore Roosevelt: “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” In our problem-solving and fast-paced world, have you recently told someone how much you appreciate him or her?
  3. A clear vision and mission understood by all. It seems like an easy goal to hit. Send a memo or announce it at a meeting. But did it resonate? Start each business meeting by randomly asking someone, “What is our mission?” Better yet, ask a store’s third-shift person. The vision and mission should act as a test for an initiative being aligned. We all have struggled with successful initiatives or products that may not align with the strategy of the company. Having the fortitude to deal with these exceptions can move brands toward top results. For example, a company may identify its differentiator as speed of service, but it hangs onto products that take time to sell and create bottlenecks at the POS. Another example would be differentiating with customer service and then having policies contradicting that service level. During my tenure in the industry, I had the opportunity to work with a team to acquire stores. In my early years, we debated services or products sold by the store being acquired compared to what was in our stores. The model of taking the best parts of both stores and combining them was not successful. If you have a brand, process and system that are working, the acquired stores should adapt and integrate. Vision and mission cannot change with the acquisition.
  4. Business analytics that provide usable information. This is the industry’s most dynamic change of the past decade. We have powerful software programs to analyze store data. However, to be a leader, you need to understand how to optimize your offer and retail price. The top-performing chains use metrics to measure performance and seek ways to measure the execution of strategy. A decision made without analytics is merely searching in the dark. Hire an expert to get the most from your data; big databases used by a competent analyst create an advantage.
  5. Systems and processes that create a culture of continuous improvement.These are also changing the retail environment. Top chains find the best solutions to complicated problems. Some retailers are moving toward self-checkout. Others are processing credit transaction remotely in the store, making everything more efficient for the retailer and the customer.
  6. Mentoring and leadership development programs. Although classroom and MBA programs can develop management skills and techniques, mentoring is still the best for developing character and passion for the business. The biggest gift you can give a prospective leader in the organization is your time. We all suffer from lack of time, but what could be more important than the development of a leader? In my opinion, this cannot be outsourced; it requires active listening and your participation. Investing in people is more important than filling positions.
  7. Strategy that is executed, not just created. Top chains have the confidence to create a strategy for their stores and execute that strategy. We cannot be all things to all people or a compilation of profit centers that do not contribute to the strategic plan.
  8. A store-centric philosophy that makes stores more important than the home office. Stores are top priority in a success-driven environment. The home office is a store support center. Its function is to enable store employees to meet the needs of the customers.
  9. Products and offerings based on customer needs. Top-performing chains frequently ask what customer expectations are and if they align with the brand. The organizations that implement strategy and execute at a high level say no to products and non-conforming locations that don’t match their strategy. They have a true belief in their vision and mission. 

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