TEMPLE, Texas — At StrasGlobal, the word "innovation" means meeting the changing demands of the customer.
"One can innovate, but if you're not aligned with what the customer is looking for, you’re innovating for nothing. It has to be targeted innovation," said Roy Strasburger, president of StrasGlobal, a contract operations provider that services retail locations for companies, who for various reasons, don't have the expertise, infrastructure or desire to operate them. Currently, it is operating 25 stores around the country. Most of its clients are one to 10-store owners.
The innovation lens at StrasGlobal is finely honed. There are three main focuses: serving its customers better, increasing the company’s efficiency, and improving the lives of its team members.
Since the coronavirus pandemic took hold, Strasburger said he and his team are innovating more than ever because the pandemic exposed some weaknesses.
StrasGlobal quickly realized that it did not have a way to communicate with customers to let them know that its stores were open and had essential items. It had no online presence in place. So, the company is now accelerating efforts around implementing a loyalty program to open a channel of communication that did not exist before and to gain valuable information about its customer base.
"Originally, we were thinking of loyalty as being a marketing and promotional tool. Now, we’re looking at it foremost as a communications tool," Strasburger explained.
The pandemic also led StrasGlobal to realize that it needed to expand the way that its stores serve customers. In May, it launched online ordering with both curbside pickup and home delivery options.
Strasburger foresees contactless payment, online ordering and delivery becoming entrenched in the post-COVID shopping habits of Americans. Other ways he sees the pandemic changing the convenience channel for at least the next 10 years are:
People will be interested in local shopping opportunities because they'll want to have a fallback option in case of another lockdown situation.
Health and safety will be a competitive edge. Retailers will be able to use this as a differential in the marketplace, appealing to those people who will still be aware a few years from now. He also anticipates more local health and safety regulations being put in place once the dust settles.
Convenience stores will go back to what they were like in the 60s and 70s. They will start becoming small markets again. StrasGlobal is expanding center-of-store items.
Loyalty programs will continue to grow in importance.
The good news for the c-store industry’s small operators, according to Strasburger, is that they are well-positioned to quickly react to however the business changes in the future.
"Adaptation is a huge advantage of the small operator over larger retailers. We can improvise and pivot quickly, and if something doesn't work, we can change it just as quickly," he said. "We want to be as indispensable as possible."