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How to Overcome Data Overload


ALEXANDRIA, Va.  — Imagine overcoming data overload, collecting the most impactful data, analyzing it, and using the insights gained to monitor your operational performance and make impactful strategic changes to grow your bottom line. Sound impossible?

Two data-driven convenience store retailers — Coen Markets Inc. and EG America — are living this “data dream” and shared their experiences during the recent NACS Crack the Code Experience.

The first step is to admit you have a problem, according to Colin Dornish, senior director of operations for Coen Markets and one of the participants in the "Making Cents of Your Data" education session. For the Canonsburg, Pa.-based chain, which operates nearly 60 stores in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, its data deluge amounted to too many reports being distributed on a daily/weekly/monthly basis — specifically, 15 reports a day, 105 reports per week, and more than 450 reports a month.

The team was “focusing on everything and solving for nothing” all at the same time, Dornish said. 

As funny as it sounds, the company decided to conduct “an analysis of our analysis,” he recalled. “Our feedback session revealed that too many metrics become counterproductive, whether you’re managing one site, one district or the entire chain.”

Since then, keeping it simple has been the No. 1 goal. This has meant figuring out the right reports for the right target audience. The company started with some changes in the monthly reporting that went to district managers and the operations team. It decided to standardize its operational reporting to align with CSX reporting (the largest online database of financial and operating data in the industry). Its operation reports now include: Statement Income Summary, Inside Sales & Margin, Fuel Summary, and DSOE (Direct Store Operating Expenses).

“We lined our stores up to see who was excelling and who needs assistance. With CSX, we have the ability to produce top-quartile performance to see where the national and regional standards are,” Dornish explained, noting that for its district and regional managers, the monthly reports are now a great tool to position the company’s data against neighboring store and industry data. “It’s really great for us to see what’s in line, what’s out of line, and where we need to focus our future and grow our profitability.”

Another area of data focus for Coen Markets has become the daily analysis, which it calls the District Review. This comes out through email every day at 9 a.m. and gives the district managers a sense of where the business was yesterday.

The daily “retail recap” is like a quick snapshot and assessment for district managers to see pretty quickly where stores are having trouble, and who’s in line and who’s not, explained Dornish. It measures inside sales, inside sales compared to last year as a percentage, inside sales vs. the last rolling six months as a percentage, total fuel gallons sold, total gallons compared to last year as a percentage, total gallons vs. the last rolling six months as a percentage, retail customer count, inside customers compared to last year, foodservice dollar sales, and food sales vs. the last rolling six months as a percentage.

Beyond its leadership team, Coen Markets also ensures that its store-level personnel are armed with the data and information they need. To achieve this, the company created a performance board. “We implemented a key communication board with a scorecard,” Dornish said. “It doesn’t have to be sophisticated — ours is a dry erase board that gets filled out every morning.”

The board covers hard data such as fuel gallons, foodservice dollars, retail dollars, inside and outside loyalty percentage, and waste in dollars. But there’s also “empathy and culture” on the board, such as anniversaries, birthdays, upselling items, and focus points.

Being able to see this daily, “store folks are a lot more engaged in data points and rattle them off,” said Dornish. “They know the key store numbers and take pride in them when they see changes or increases.”

Store leadership teams receive this information daily and post it for their teams after 9 a.m. The company has found that the performance board is “an easy way to get our site-level performance communicated to our teams in a timely manner, while adding a well-received human element,” he added.

Embracing Data as a Continuous Process

Similarly, Cumberland Farms, operator of approximately 600 convenience stores in seven Northeast states and Florida that is now part of the United Kingdom-based EG Group, believes in rationalizing and standardizing its field reporting. “But it’s a continuous reporting process, especially when something new comes along like COVID,” said Joshua Bradstreet, director of business support for EG America. “You have to commit to the fact that it’s a continuous process; you’re never finished.”

Bradstreet highlighted some of the chain’s specific data snapshots currently in use:

  • Store Visit Dashboard — Provides financial information, category data and people metrics (like turnover) to assist the corporate team when making store visits. “What we found is this is a great conversation starter for fostering communications with the store and corporate folks,” he said. “Store teams love to talk about their store, what they do well, and what they need to work on. This report fosters the sense that each is helping one another achieve our corporate goals and corporate-level programs.”
  • BHAG Scorecard — BHAG is short for Big Hairy Audacious Goal, a compelling, long-term goal that inspires employees to take action, which comes from the 1994 book, “Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies.” This scorecard is presented weekly on a big laminated posterboard in the company’s back office and is aimed at improving store performance. “It highlights our people, our offer and the guest experience, with the belief that if we take care of each other — our people — they, in turn, take care of our offer, and our offer and our people take care of the guest experience,” Bradstreet explained. A goal in the People column is to fill at least 90 percent of promotion opportunities from within, while a goal in the Offer column is 1,600 pizza slices. There’s also BHAG scorecards for store-level, district and region.
  • Special Projects Dashboard — Allows for intelligent decisions and bold, decisive action on new concepts like curbside pickup and farm fresh to go, rather than building these on a “Field of Dreams” approach. “We review the data on a weekly basis to see if we’re meeting expectations and providing the right products that customers want,” said Bradstreet.
  • Corporate Metric Review — Utilizes a software program that enables the retailer to forecast its labor needs in 15-minute intervals. Bradstreet calls this “a great labor-savings and time-savings dashboard.”

The EG America executive cautioned that with all dashboards, the output is only as good as the data that goes into the system. “So, make sure you’re referencing additional information to corroborate the data,” he said.

The NACS Crack the Code Experience was a five-week digital event that brought together convenience store industry retailers and suppliers virtually in lieu of an in-person NACS Show this year. It ran from early November to early December. 

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