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Industry Innovation

The Future of C-Stores: Operations & Maintenance

C-Store Operations and Maintenance Approaches will Continue to Evolve

Push - Pull of store operations

onvenience store operators have their hands full when it comes to running their businesses.  They spend countless hours on operational activities such as store design, display placement, customer service, money and credit handling, loss prevention, staffing, and inventory management.

As technology advances and c-stores offer new amenities, the pressure to keep up with maintaining the equipment and facility increases.  Businesses that are unable to keep their stores in good working order will fail to attract customers and capture market share in their community.  

Drivers of C-Store Operations & Maintenance Advancement

With the rise of e-commerce and delivery technology, c-store operators are being forced to reevaluate their business models.  Convenience is no longer the most prominent factor in differentiating c-stores from other retail-based businesses. Today, customer experience is key to maintaining a healthy customer base.  Customers expect to shop in an environment that is clean, fully stocked, and free from maintenance issues.

“If you just have a physical store and not an online presence, you can distinguish yourself by having amazing customer service. Actual human interaction can never be replaced and that is the advantage that a store owner has.”  Jason Parks, Co-Founder DermWarehouse

Many consumers have shifted their buying habits or have moved to e-commerce brands.  While many of these changes were already coming, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated this trend.  With the convenience of home delivery, foot traffic to c-stores has decreased. This makes it even more critical to give customers a great shopping experience.  A dirty restroom, broken soda fountain, or other maintenance issue could significantly impact their perception of your brand and chance of them returning.

Many c-stores are starting to offer new technology and amenities to enhance customer experience including coffee stations, quick serve restaurants, self-serve kiosks, and cashier-less checkout.  This technology is great, but it can cause a lot of frustration if it isn’t working. With more complex technology and equipment comes the increased need for regular maintenance and service.

Current Situation with C-Store Operations & Maintenance

C-stores require a lot of attention from a maintenance standpoint.  On average, a c-store can generate dozens of maintenance requests each month totaling $38,000 each year on repairs and upkeep for a single store.  The most common types of maintenance requests include fuel systems, building and property, in-store alarms, preventative maintenance, car wash, and refrigeration compliance and maintenance.  These issues alone account for about 80% of all maintenance costs.

Responsibility for tracking and monitoring this operational work depends on the type of business or support from a parent company.  More than 60% of all convenience stores are owned and operated by an individual with just one store, most of which are franchisees of larger brands like 7-Eleven or Circle K.  This means that the oversight of this work typically falls on the store manager or owner-operator.  For larger brands, operations and maintenance could be managed by a larger team based out of a regional or corporate headquarters.  

Current Challenges Impacting Convenience Store Operations & Maintenance

Customers expect to see stores that run like a well-oiled machine.  Unfortunately, changes in the industry and customer expectations are bringing new challenges that c-store operators must address.

  • Loss of Sales – With an average of 1,100 customers per day, c-stores can’t afford to have equipment that is down.  Slow responses to maintenance requests can result in a loss of sales.  For example, if the hot water is out, most health departments require a c-store to stop selling prepared food items.  This could be costly if the outage occurs during a busy lunch rush.
  • Work Order Tracking – C-stores that don’t have a robust workorder system will struggle to prioritize and track work order request.  It will also be difficult to evaluate trends in maintenance data if records are kept manually.
  • Operational Support and Procedures – Smaller chains don’t have the manpower to run a full cross-functional operations team.  Many of these responsibilities fall on one person, like the store manager or owner-operator. Many c-stores don’t have documented checklists for closing, opening, cleaning, or inventory to ensure that important tasks are kept on a routine.
  • Rising Maintenance Costs – Maintenance costs are increasing due to labor shortages in skilled labor (electricians, plumbers, etc.), increased fuel costs, and c-store equipment that requires a specialist.
  • Compliance – Health departments and other regulatory agencies require c-stores and gas stations to complete regular inspections and testing on critical systems.  Failing to keep up with these requirements could result in fines or other business disruptions.
  • Worker Burnout – With many retail operations being short staffed, this has forced workers to take on additional roles and expanded responsibilities. This could lead to worker burnout and an increased turnover rate.

What the Future Holds for C-Store Operations & Maintenance

In order to remain competitive, convenience stores will need to evaluate the way that work is being tracked and managed.  This includes both operational activities such as cleaning schedules and inventory checks, as well as maintenance activities to make repairs to light fixtures, plumbing, and other equipment.

C-store operators should expect to see new technologies emerging to help streamline the operations process.  Many will likely leverage automations and AI (artificial intelligence) to reduce the amount of time needed to track and assign work to employees and vendors.  These systems will also need to be integrated into equipment throughout the store to alert c-store operators of potential equipment failure or upcoming preventative maintenance.  

Maintenance and repair requests could also be shifted to third party maintenance companies that specialize in performing this work.  This would give small operators the ability to leverage the resources and technology of a larger company without having to incur infrastructure costs.

As work is streamlined and requires less manual oversight, operators will be able to leverage technology to get more out of their workforce.  Things like self-checkout will free up workers’ time to focus on more operational duties.  If executed properly, this additional effort can significantly improve the interactions with customers and the stores overall performance.

October 17, 2021