The Need to Automate
Everyone did exactly as they were told. The field manager explained the new soft drink promotion. Convenience store managers and other workers listened intently to the goals of the promotion and followed the instructions for assembling and positioning the displays. Why then, two weeks later, are sales for soda and sports drinks falling drastically short of the target at 40 percent of your locations? The numbers are strong at every other store in the area.
Sales are down here, though, and the reason isn’t clear. The only way to get to the bottom of it quickly is to go to this particular location. When you do, you are dismayed to find part of the display was actually assembled incorrectly. You also notice the price is wrong, or maybe the consumer reward associated with the promotion was unclear. It was just an honest mistake, but it cost your company money.
Even if the loss is only a few hundred dollars at a store before someone catches the error, it adds up quickly if you multiply that by a couple dozen stores every month.
An executive’s response can’t be entirely focused on correcting these kinds of errors. You must provide regional managers and those working in the store every day with the tools to prevent these problems from interfering in promotions or strategic item placements. The process of transmitting information to every store and promoting accountability throughout is too large for any person to handle on his or her own. It’s no longer necessary, either.
You rely on managers and field associates to build displays appropriately and arrange items in specific ways. Automating the inspection of these kinds of tasks is the only way to achieve the accuracy and success from these programs.
Moreover, solutions that employees can access as they do their jobs around your stores are those most likely to deliver the results convenience store owners and chain managers expect to see.
These men and women aren’t standing behind a desk. They’re constantly walking through the store, serving customers, checking on product availability and doing any number of other tasks. Putting tools in their hands that they can access throughout the day, rather than tying them to a desktop computer in a back office, simplifies store management.
Pairing the automation aspect of managing these tasks with the convenience of mobile solutions creates the potential for every stakeholder to ensure processes that must be uniform from store to store, such as promotional displays, are carried out as necessary.
Here are just some of the ways technology can simplify operations and eliminate communication challenges that slow sales.
When building new displays to support promotions, c-store employees can quickly share images with store and regional managers with mobile devices to confirm the display. Instead of traveling to a location, managers can inspect the display from their smartphones to ensure it is done correctly. Similarly, exceptions in retail execution can be tracked, monitored and adjusted on the go to save managers time.
As products move from shelves, store managers can alert an inventory clerk to restock shelves with push notifications. Instead of heading all the way to the store room to find the right person, instantly alerting an employee to the situation means more opportunity for sales and less customers heading to other locations.
Regional managers can receive instant snapshots of their stores’ data to conduct site audits and report that information to corporate. Some travel is always going to be part of their jobs, but providing a more efficient means for delivering information and compiling reports with a mobile-accessible dashboard saves time.
Every executive has encountered one of those moments when the sales figures for a category or location come in shorter than anticipated. Too often, though, having that knowledge and ability doesn’t change anything. Someone gets a stern voicemail or email, and the problem eventually gets solved after three more people learn of the mishap.
A question you need to ask as a leader of your company, no matter the size, is: Would we do things this way if we started from scratch today? If the answer is “no,” then there’s a better alternative.
Ignoring technology that can simplify the way we manage stores is dangerous, especially since it likely gives a competitor an advantage. Moreover, so many problems stores face become so common and accepted that they miss chances to solve them. If a process isn’t efficient and an option for improving it exists, you must seize that opportunity.
Automating checklists and responsibilities on an individual store level makes accountability a companywide expectation and makes it easier for workers to pursue it.
Creating an avenue for smooth communication between each level of management, all the way down to the individual employee, makes it easier to reach sales targets and deliver positive experiences to customers.
Forcing field managers to inspect dozens of stores each week just isn’t necessary any longer.
Those unfortunate moments when figures fall short will never be erased entirely. However, finding ways to automate certain tasks and communication of ideas from each level of management to the next can make them fewer and much farther between.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.