Title: What is your store famous for?
Sub-title: Depanneur La Resource in Bourcherville Quebec, has carved a nice market niche by offering clients close to 350 different types of beers, mostly from micro-breweries. We recently talked to its long-time owner Jean Desroches.
CSTORE LIFE: Jean, why did you pursue micro brewery beers?
The short answer is that I love beer and I wanted to share that love with my customers. I put in long hours here. I am often in at 6:30 in the morning, and I don’t leave until late at night, sometimes 10:00 or 11:00 o’clock. When you are working with products that you like, the day goes by a lot faster.
CSTORE LIFE: How has your business grown since you took on this
Don’t get me wrong. Our reputation for stocking a wide variety of beers has been good for business too. Beer sales in general in many depanneurs (as convenience stores are known in Quebec) have been shrinking for some time due to an increasing government focus on drunk driving. Two convenience stores in our area have closed, partly as a result. But because of our focus on beer, our clientele has changed and is in many ways more loyal. A big part of our customers are no longer your typical “six-pack drinkers,” who down them all in one sitting. Many buy more for the taste. This has helped us to stem the decline that other stores are feeling and has changed our sales mix slightly. Right now, 25% of all our revenues are beer-related. Of that close to 30% are micro-brewery products, which is not too bad when you consider that these comprise only 4% of all beer sales in Quebec.
CSTORE LIFE: What are some key differentiators between you and
other retailers (convenience and grocery) in your local market?
There are three other convenience stores in our neighborhood, and a couple of majors nearby. So we have to work hard to stand out. Our beer inventory is a big part of it. But it has also spawned an unexpected result: beer has become a real conversation piece at our store too. Our customers ask us for advice on the different products. Some give us special orders or requests. In short, our positioning has deepened our relationship with our client base.
CSTORE LIFE: What challenges and growing pains have you encountered over the years?
Our biggest challenge in the micro-brewery beer segment comes from the extremely aggressive pricing policies that many supermarkets use with the popular brands. They sell at, or below cost, as a loss leader to draw in traffic. In some cases, they sell so cheaply that I will buy a few of their cases, mark them up, and re-sell them. The other challenge that we have is that many micro-breweries require that you take a minimum number of case from them, if you want to buy. That is tough because you never know which items are going to move. Fortunately, we get most of our products from distributors and they are far more flexible.
CSTORE LIFE: Managing 300 different micro brews must be hard. How do you handle inventory and make sure everything is fresh?
Don’t forget that, micro beers, (which you can keep on the shelves for between one and five years depending on the brand) tend to have longer shelf lives than do the major beers (which you can only keep for six months). However the micro-brewery beer salesmen help out quite a bit. They go in the back to see what is selling, mostly because they want us to take more. But they also let us know when certain items aren’t moving.
CSTORE LIFE: Do you work with the “we-expect-id program?” How
has this helped your business?
Keeping clean on the ID front is extremely important to us. We work hard to communicate this to our employees, many of whom are extremely shy about asking for proof of age. However the Quebec government levies large penalties if you sell either alcohol, cigarettes or lottery tickets to underage consumers. In the worst cases, repeat offenders could lose their license. One tool that has been particularly helpful in this regard has been a function on our cash registers that asks the cashier if they have checked ID of restricted product buyers. The cashier has to answer “yes” or “no.” This provides a subtle, but surprisingly-effective reminder.
Peter Diekmeyer (email@example.com) is CStore Life’s Quebec correspondent.
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