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At Your Service

WITH SOME TRADITIONAL PRODUCT CATEGORIES UNDERPERFORMING, C-STORE OPERATORS NEED TO LOOK HARDER AT NEW SERVICES THAT CAN FILL THE SALES GAP. Nobody does service like the Japanese. Indeed, their C-store universe is one populated by a broad range of services from baggage and parcel handling to event tickets to financial and business supports to utility bill payment centres. From Kagoshima to Hokkaido, stores, called Kombini, offer more as a way to attract new business and earn respect of established customers who look to the locations as places that makes life less complicated. “The Kombini is everywhere in Japan,” says Jen, a visitor from Asia who is having lunch at Winnipeg’s Japanese Centre as way to connect to her homeland. She reports that there are often competing stores on separate corners in large places like Tokyo and Osaka. “They compete by offering service and food products like rice balls or onigiri (sandwiches). Kombini do not sell gas,” she says, noting that it would be impossible for the small footprint shops to have pump service. There are about 40,000 Kombini in Japan. Yes, you can buy toothpaste or pet foods as well as beverages and tobacco not to mention alcohol and confectionery items, but the real difference is in the level of service available. For example, people that are planning to travel can drop off their bags at the store where a service delivers them to the airline. Kombini are also a place where people can find a restroom even if they don’t plan to make a purchase. According to Jen, people look to the Kombini as places that make life easier. “I would be very surprised to find

a sign in a window that said washrooms were for patrons only. In Japan everyone is a patron of the Kombini.” The idea is to get people coming in as often as possible. Need theatre tickets or a pass for a music festival? Look no further than the kiosk at your local Kombini. Do you need cash or want to send a money order to Tibet? Operator 7/Eleven has its own bank – Seven Bank – and it works with Western Union to provide International transfers at more than 12,000 C-store locations in Japan. Many stores also offer business tools like fax machines and photocopiers as well as a location to buy bus tickets, and train tickets or pay a water bill. 7/Eleven even provides free WiFi connectivity at it locations under the ‘7Spot’ signs in store. Kombini’s also offer patrons tobacco and liquor 24 hours a day. In Japan youth need to be 20 years of age to purchase age controlled substances. One difference operators have between age restricted sales in Canada and those in Japan is that the customer must indicate they are of age by pushing an acceptance tab on the sales screen before the purchase can go through. Jen remarks that the speed of life in Japan can make day-to-day struggles seem more daunting. “We look to the Kombini shops for the simplicity they bring. They are our helpers in a difficult world,” she says. Here, Ren Smith agrees. Smith is an Ontario-based business consultant who advises on retail. He sees Canada’s con-

venience landscape turning to services like ATM (financial), video rental, prepaid cards, and other sectors like propane sales and repair facilities for about 10 per cent of sales. According to Smith, operators need to be wary of declining segments like tobacco that have propped the industry for so many years. “Retailers need to look harder at new sources of sales to replace those that are falling below the horizon line. To do this they must look inward to better understand their solid customer base and then look outward to see from where new business can come. I believe that expanding the services on offer is a perfect way to attract new trade,” he says, suggesting retailers simply ask their customers what they want and then deliver. In this vein he sees more foodservice coming to help with time crunched customers as well as more locations selling government licenses (park passes, fishing licenses or trash tags) not to mention utility payments and transit tickets. “There is money to made selling tickets to local events as well as doing money transfers. When people need a service C-stores need to be the place where services are found. Simply having a bunch of shelves selling the same goods as the grocer up the street will no longer cut it, especially when the large grocer is open long hours seven days a week. C-stores cannot compete with big food retail on price. C-stores must compete on service. This is where the battle for sales will be waged. Is your store ready?”

CONVENIENCE & CARWASH CANADA 

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Conv&carwash july/aug issue  

trade magazine for the carwash and convenience store industry in Canada