FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Our high-performance race car is almost complete. We have pulled together a powerful turbo engine, great telemetry, winning powertrain, fantastic crew and the right spoilers and wings. In relation to our convenience store, we are set up for success with great facilities, the right data and analysis of the competition, excellent operations, the right merchandise and world-class pricing. Now, it’s time to get one of the most important aspects of our store nailed down: location.
In our high-performance race car, location is the chassis; if we get it wrong, then we will have little chance of success. The chassis must be structurally sound because it provides the support for all of the other aspects of the car—tires, body, spoilers, wings—it is the fundamental building block on which all other parts of the car seamlessly attach. Without a great chassis, it is unlikely that other parts will perform well.
There are some industry surveys that suggest that a significant number of customers are willing to drive for 10 minutes to save a nickel per gallon of gas. Leaving aside the economics of this decision--which is dubious to say the least--our data clearly highlights that this is one of those occasions where people say one thing but do another. I think that all data points can be “useful” when looking to improve a business; however, not all data points are “equal.”
Our data has shown that the location of a store has the most influence on its ability to drive volume. A store could have the most modern pumps and car wash, be completely in step with what is happening in the marketplace, offer the right products at the right prices, stock the freshest food served by the friendliest team. However, if that store is in a less-than-desirable location with poor access, then it is almost certain that it will fail.
But the converse isn’t always true. Even a good location can be incredibly unsuccessful if the facilities are poor, merchandise and pricing practices are inappropriate, the staff isn’t up to standard and the store is operated without being aware of competitive influence or customers’ needs. Even still, if you can get your hands on a great piece of dirt, then you have a much better chance of delivering great results.
I can speak with certainty about the importance of location, not just from my business experience, but also as a consumer. I frequently fly to and from our corporate office in New Jersey and rent a car at Newark airport. I always return the car full and on one occasion had the pleasure of driving around Elizabeth, N.J., looking for a gas station. There were a couple stores that were on decent sites and I never felt completely unsafe, but they weren’t sites that I would have visited under other circumstances. Frankly, I was never happier that New Jersey law meant that I couldn’t pump the gas myself; I sat in my locked car with the window slightly cracked.
I recognize that it’s impossible to move a store once it’s built, but recognizing the limitations of poor traffic and demographics should at least play a significant role in determining a store’s strategies and tactics. Much like buying a house, when thinking of purchasing or building a gas station always remember location, location and location!
Coming in Part 8 of “The Race for Volume” series: Brand.
Ian Thompson is the senior vice president of strategy at Kalibrate.