VILLA PARK, Ill. -- Rahim Budhwani got into the convenience-store industry by accident. After the NACS chairman moved from India to the United States to work in information technology, some friends who operated c-stores encouraged him to invest in one as an easy way to make a little extra money.
So Budhwani found someone to run a store, signed a deal for his first site, and prepared to sit back and reap the benefits.
“And just two days before [acquiring] the store, [the operator] said he got a better opportunity and moved to Dallas,” Budhwani recalled during his recent keynote speech at the 7-Eleven Franchise Owners Association of Chicagoland’s annual trade show in Villa Park, Ill.
Stuck with a 10-year lease on the property, Budhwani had no choice but to learn the ropes. His own employees had to teach him what a convenience store was, he said.
“My interaction with the industry was filling gas outside and occasionally going in and buying a Diet Coke,” he said.
Now the CEO of 6040 LLC, which operates more than a dozen c-stores in Alabama, Budhwani shared what he’s learned along the way with the gathering of Chicago-area 7-Eleven franchisees. Click through for Budhwani’s tricks of the trade ...
1. Working in the store vs. for the store
Budhwani acknowledged that much of the day-to-day work of running a convenience store takes place within its walls. But to really improve a business, he said, operators need to get out of the store.
“If you don’t go out and see what is there, you will always be behind the curve,” he said. “You want to be ahead of the curve.”
He encouraged operators to attend educational sessions, join trade associations and other organizations, and attend trade shows to educate themselves about the industry and get new ideas.
2. Don’t reinvent the wheel
While hunting for ways to boost business, Budhwani said operators don’t need to make big changes—small tweaks go a long way.
He used Ricker’s well-known Ricker Pop program—soda fountains bearing the Ricker Pop banner—as an example of a simple but successful idea that could be easily replicated in any store.
“You don’t have to reinvent [the wheel],” he said. “Just use it.”
3. Listen to the customer
Budhwani shared the story of one his stores that had launched a pizza program. “It was a complete disaster,” he said, recalling that they couldn’t sell even a pie a day.
He began asking customers what they would like to see in the store instead. The heavily Hispanic clientele said it wanted food similar to what they ate at home. So Budhwani ditched the pizza program and replaced it with a Tex-Mex station serving tacos, tamales and tortas.
“Our sales quadrupled in the first week,” he said. “We saw double-digit increases year after year.”
4. Connect with the community
“I never say c-stores are convenience stores,” Budhwani said. “I always say they’re community stores.”
He urged operators to embrace their role as a community hub, using one of his own Alabama stores as an example. After Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005, the area around Budhwani’s store lost power, but the store was spared. Though they didn’t do any sales for a month, the store opened to first responders, supplying them with free pizzas, water and Gatorade.
The community took notice, Budhwani said, and business grew "significantly" when the store reopened.
“It is important to stay connected to the communities you are in,” he said.