Opinion

How Can We Be Different?

One of the greatest criticisms of convenience stores is that they all look the same – carry the same products – are simply winning by being in convenient locations.   Differentiation occurs primarily through friendship with local customers (know them by name) and or location.  I remember 15 years ago, when Tim Horton’s exclusive quick serve offer delivered 1,000 plus customers daily looking for their java fix – a serious point of differentiation – but much of that is gone now with their expanded own-locations.

So the question is – what would your customers say to the question ” what makes you different?”.

I bet it is not the grocery staples that occupy two aisles – or the main brands of chips and beverage that occupy the majority of other space.  So what is it?

It is interesting to see the explosive growth of “private-label” offerings at Macs and 7-Eleven – their products are found in every aisle and almost every category.  Is it working?  It is private-label strategy designed to keep main-line brands competitive or is it “customer-centric” focused meeting the needs of customers seeking quality and or value of money.

There is an interesting success story behind private-label with Netflix.  They recently reported 50% growth in their last quarter of subscribers – paying $10/month approximately to get what they want when they want to see it.  Their form of private label is original content that they are paying to produce.  Shows like “House of Cards”, “Orange in the New Black” are giving them a differential advantage when they compete with broadcast networks, Amazon, HBO and Showtime.  They spent $5 billion last year on private-label content – which is a big bet on being successfully different.

Companies compete on being different and not on “being the same”.  Slow traditional products that line valuable shelf-space could be replaced with exciting new innovations – where less is more – but the world of convenience is either moving too slow to change or too focused on listing allowances that preserve the status quo.

Amazon’s announcement last week that they are getting into convenience stores should open retailers “eyes”.  If anything I have learned in 25 years of business is the fact that change is constant and if you are standing still, you are losing ground.

For independents – ask yourself and ask your customers – what should be removed from your store and what should be added?  This is a great conversation to start to lean forward into change.