How to Tackle Technology as a Small Operator
NATIONAL REPORT — If there is one common denominator between the convenience store industry’s small operators and bigger players, it is people — customers and employees alike. By creating a technologically relevant experience that attracts customers and retains employees, small operators can be more competitive in the marketplace.
“While most small operators do not have budgets to allocate to technology investments at the same level as larger regional or national operators, technology investments still play a key role in defending and growing market share,” said Aaron McLean, chief operating officer at Stuzo, a commerce technology solutions provider. “As such, small operators cannot ignore key technology investments.”
With labor shortages and higher wages producing strong headwinds for the industry, it’s critical for small operators — defined as having one to 10 stores — to run a lean business operation.
“Time is money. Technology, while it is an investment, will help improve operations and ultimately the bottom line,” explained Bree Bergman, Zebra Technologies’ North America retail marketing lead. “Checkout and inventory management solutions that create a frictionless experience for both customers and employees create stronger loyalty — ultimately helping improve the top line.”
Stuzo’s McLean echoes Bergman’s sentiment, adding that for small operators, technology investments typically need to provide a greater return on investment (ROI) per dollar spent and be hyper-focused on areas that have the highest probability of ROI within a short window of time.
With the right tech investments, small operators can benefit from:
- More store visits and more spending per visit;
- An increase in bottom-line performance;
- Capitalizing on new business model opportunities quicker;
- Delivering a more seamless and convenient consumer experience;
- Increased efficiency and productivity across supply chain/logistics, IT, marketing and store operations; and
- Reduced security and business continuity risk.
Smaller players should keep in mind that every retailer’s technology journey is different, and just because a certain technology is installed by a competitor, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right answer for their business.
Any technology change can appear daunting — especially when the technology landscape is extremely complex and rapidly evolving — so Bergman advises small operators to start first with identifying what business problems need to be solved and then asking themselves why each problem needs to be solved until they get to the root of the issue.
“While this may seem like a trivial process, it will help narrow the focus when searching for what technology is needed today and desired for the future,” she said. “It’s important to take a step back, remove the blinders and really evaluate operational processes from an outside-in perspective. What tasks or processes take a long time to conduct? Which have several steps involved? Are there areas where pen and paper are being used?
“It’s very easy to become comfortable with processes that have been in place for years, but even though it may be a tried-and-true method, there may be a better, more efficient and more cost-effective way to accomplish the same end result,” she advised.