Title: Make summer work for you

Sub-title: Convenience store sales patterns change as the year progresses. By tracking changes, operators can vastly increase productivity

 

During the last couple of weeks, Syed (Sid) Yousef, has been increasingly eyeing a Liquor Mart outlet located near one of his two Winnipeg area convenience stores. “During summer, alcohol sales there tend to go up,” explains Yousef, owner of the Kidair Shop and Stop convenience store. “So we try make sure that clients who buy alcohol there, can come over here and buy accessories.”

 

For Yousef, who got into the convenience store business shortly after he came to Canada from Pakistan early last decade, that means having drink mixes available and prominently displayed, making sure his ice freezer is stocked and that he carries a full line of plastic cups. But carrying alcohol-related accessories is only one of many changes that Yousef makes to adjust to shifts in seasonal demand. “Sales patterns change abruptly as the year progresses,” explains Yousef. “For example in June the three schools located near this outlet close for the summer, so we temporarily lose those customers. On the other hand we get increased traffic from tourists and drivers out for a summer spin.”

 

Track seasonal sales, respond to changes

Experts say that Yousef’s convenience store outlet isn’t alone in seeing seasonal sales variations. Major chains track their sales quarterly, monthly, weekly, and in many cases daily, in order to detect and profit from even the slightest demand shifts. However according to Dennis Gagliardi, a Business Development Representative, with Rothmans Benson & Hedges, not all of the smaller independent stores have access to the technology that allows them to do that.

 

“Before taking on my current job I ran a convenience store for 17 years, and while we tracked major sales categories such as tobacco, magazines, lottery and promos, I had to oversea the smaller categories on a more informal basis,” said Gagliardi. “However doing so can pay off big time.”

 

For example Gagliardi notes that tobacco product sales tend to increase during summer months as people spend more time outside. One big winner is Captain Black Cigars. “During summer a lot of people head out to the golf course, an activity that seems to lend itself well to cigar smoking,” Gagliardi explains. “As result, we prepared early, by running a Formula One Rooftop Contest, during early March and April. First prize was an expenses paid trip to the Montreal Grand Prix, with visits to the Ferrari pit included.” 

 

Adjust inventory patterns accordingly

According to Gagliardi, the convenience stores in his client base regularly adjust their inventories to prepare for seasonal variations. “For example during summer, the days are longer, the weather is warmer, and people, many of whom get their vacations then, are thinking more about recreational activities and a little less about work.”

 

One obvious change that Syed Yousef makes to services those relaxed, leisure conscious customers is to stock up on cold drinks. “You need to have a good variety and to show that the freezers are always full,” explains Yousef. “Ice creams, popsicles and other frozen products and Icee (a slushie-type offering) are also very big sellers.”

 

Yousef’s water product sales also tend to spike during summer months, due to increased participation by local consumers in outdoor sporting events, and general sun-related dehydration which tends to rise in tandem with thermometers. “Water is high margin for us, and it moves fast. So we stock a lot of brands and make them easy to find. In fact location, which is important throughout the year, is even more important during summer months, when customers want to get in an out of the store faster than during other times of the year when the weather is less attractive,” explains Yousef. “For example there is a soccer field near one of our stores. We want to encourage increased traffic by players who  come from there after their games.”

 

Seasonal events and patterns

That said, while most of the summer related changes that convenience store owners make relate to the shifting product demands stemming from warmer weather, not all do. For example summer months bring lots of special events to certain regions, such as festivals, concerts and sporting competitions, which by definition also draw traffic away from other areas. As a result, keeping an ear out for local happenings is a must. Another key indicator is to go a step beyond comparing a convenience store’s month’s sales with the previous month, but also to compare them with sales from the same month in the previous year.

 

For example much of the summer stocking that Yousef does is with an eye to servicing those tourists and summer drivers that pop into his stores during those months. That said, despite the strong success of both of his outlets, much of Yousef’s summer strategies are similar to the ones he employs during the rest of the year – only more so. “We do a lot of promotions, focus strongly on product positioning and seek out impulse products that will appeal to consumers,” he explains.

 

Gagliardi agrees. “One good way to get ready for summer is to do a good spring cleanup around the store. Make sure the place is well it, check all the lightbulbs, clear the garbage that may have accumulated around the lot during winter, refresh the signage both in-store and facing the streets and so on,” adds Gagliardi. “Of course of these things should be done regularly. But during summer people notice this stuff a little more.” Gagliardi also notes that convenience store owners who stock summer related products early in the season also benefit, due to the fact that they attract early adopters into the stores.

 

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