The World's Unsexiest Business
adding a little sizzle to the convenience store industry
Chicken or the egg?
Did the convenience store, mini-mart, corner store, milk bar, Kwik-E-Mart become the 'necessary evil' eyesore of the neighborhood or did the neighborhood pre-ordained demonizing and negative stereotype perpetuating ways never let its image be elevated from the doldrums of a third tier beacon of retail?
Take a look at the following Tweets and Yelp reviews:
It's so easy to bash the convenience store/gas station, whether modern, sleek, and innovative or a true 'eyesore', that when upper echelon retail has the last laugh, it's most always at the expense of our loosely enforced standards. But forget about what pinkies in the air retailers think of our beloved stores, we also need a serious kick in the ass every so often to clean up our act.
Allow me to introduce the upcoming fork the in road. A true bifurcation.
It may not happen tomorrow but the writing is on the wall.
For the convenience store owners and brands that do everything to play into the negative stereotype, I say shame on you. While on the other hand, those who are raising the bar (and hopefully being compensated with greater market share) should no longer be called simply a 'convenience store'. In fact, referencing an analogy of what Xerox has done to the copier industry and Google to the search engine, the brand should become the descriptor and all encompassing reference for the industry. Grammar wise it should become the noun (or verb) depending on the usage. If someone asks where you're going, simply say I'm going to [INSERT FAVORITE BRAND OF CHOICE FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE CONVENIENCE STORE] instead of just the convenience store. Maybe I'm in need of a reality check but we constantly need to question our most basic assumptions and tenets just as much as we're promoting new ones. Industry show rhetoric should consider addressing this very issue instead of masking it with initiatives that appear to affix band-aids.
Let's mention a ubiquitous convenience store brand and its thousands of US stores along with prefacing with what I'm about to say as not being defamatory but a perceived contradiction and well intentioned subsequent call to action. Speaking to the epitome of loosely enforced standards, the quite often unkempt stores seem to be a product of a heavily centralized management structure that would rather 'pass the penny' to franchisee preferences while 'collecting the buck' in royalties and fees. The franchise structure might suggest that management is decentralized and distributed, but perhaps only on an ideological front.
By the deduction of appearance, quality, and cleanliness, the widening chasm between corporate shininess and store level grit is widening. Employing a sum of parts argument, for any convenience store giant, brand equity is a bottom up additive measure of both store level consumer experience and product mix attribution equally. Although corporate initiatives may be forward thinking and seemingly industry advancing, if store ones seem to be missing the mark executive perception will soon become disingenuous. Since we seem to be in the heyday of hedge fund activism, it's only a matter of time before usurping corporate board seats becomes an eventual reality for which only at that point can company heads see the value in a high positive correlation between cleanliness and sustainable profits.
Let me also mention there certainly are individual franchisees and groups that uphold the highest standards of the brand but exceptions to the rule can't shoulder the burden of the already tarnished reputation of an entire industry at large.
For the above reasons, this brand (among others) simply doesn't lend itself to quality and the formerly neighborhood welcomed retailer as much as it does one resigned attribute -- reliability. On that front it wins hand over fist. But that alone heralds a healthy dose of positive disruption. A much welcomed one.
That's a serious problem for the rest of us. And one that doesn't seem to be in the process of being tackled.
Let's forget about Jeff Bezos for a minute. And then totally erase from your mind his now realized vision of creating the ultimate online one stop shop for everything imaginable. Then to really give the convenience store industry a shakeup (while perhaps even raising the middle finger to it), he decided to stick his nose in brick and mortar and the deluge of negativity came raining down. John Dvorak's overall negative impression might be a little too one-sided.
Throw in a dash of Alibaba founder Jack Ma and a sprinkle of Flipkart's founders Binny and Sachin Bansal and you have the entire online retailing spectrum covered on a global scale. But while you were too busy focusing on these online retail influencers (or even their massive accumulation of market share and then wealth), you may have forgotten about the vision behind that branded (dare I even refer to, and somewhat agree with it being a "symbol of class status") beverage you're currently sipping. Or just pretend for a moment that you cheated on your in-house super premium java. Speaking of which, from an observation perspective occurring at the last three NACS shows, I've seen brands such as Farmer Bros (in 2015 was faced with having to shift its California operations out of state) and Canadian based Van Houtte spend fewer dollars on their booth build-outs and marketing while small to mid-sized US based distributors, manufacturers, and suppliers alongside longstanding Italian ones have directed more dollars to beefing up their trade-show presence.
Among one of the more noteworthy coffee brands seen on the 2016 trade-show floor from a packaging, taste, and vision standpoint was La Colombe.
Back to that beverage you're sipping...
I'm just hoping you didn't order a Unicorn Frappuccino and then proceed to gloat over your conquest of the poor barista that was subjected to your wrath.