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A New Normal Requires Novel Solutions
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A New Normal Requires Novel Solutions

It’s time to get out of wait-and-see mode and rethink your company’s future,

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FORT WORTH, Texas — As businesses and communities begin to inch their way toward some new level of normalcy, one thing is clear: The coronavirus pandemic has changed the world and how we see it forever.

This new, still-evolving “normal” will be different in many ways from just a short time ago. One of the immediate casualties was time for planning.

Ready, Fire, Aim

In the haste to keep their doors open, many businesses quickly and wisely enacted solutions such as face masks for employees, plexiglass shields, socially distanced checkout lines and new ways to get products to consumers, such as pickup and delivery. These were all good and necessary efforts to stem the tide of falling sales and store traffic, but most retailers did not have time to look deeply into the problem to truly understand all the nuances of the situation and the best way to approach the solutions.

Solutions were offered in a scattershot way, and certainly some more effective than others. While it was entirely appropriate under the circumstances, c-stores were hardly the only ones to bear this cross.

As I watched the responses by our government leaders, all were swift and generally effective. Whether you are looking at it from the pandemic itself and the health of the people or the impact on the economy and individual businesses, our elected representatives were quick to act and generally generous to make funds available in their attempts to deal with the situation.

Don’t race to implement answers without first fully understanding the questions.

In hindsight, it’s clear they did not always know what they were dealing with, but they knew they had to do something. The unintended consequences were an increased reliance on the government to come up with the answers for us. What I saw was a long pause in the business world as we all held our breath waiting for someone to give us the answer.

But that’s no way to get on with business, and certainly not how we built our companies. We built our companies through innovation and customer service. The need for convenience, foodservice, petroleum choices and many other goods and services were met in many ways by this industry throughout history. It seemed like every challenge thrown our way was met with a fierce, independent, innovative nature that met the challenge head on. Let’s face it: This is an industry built by self-reliant mavericks.

Now, in what I hope is a post-coronavirus day and age, it’s time to do it again. The immediate danger is passing, and we once again must pick up the pieces. It is time to take a step back and reassess this new normal. How will we address it moving forward? Priorities have changed. Safety has become one of the most important things for customers and employees alike. What will we do to meet those needs?

The customer journey that we understood has changed. Their needs have changed, and different needs require different solutions. Convenience-store retailers must reinvent themselves to meet those needs. The challenge is to really understand what consumers want now. Now is the time to shelve the scattershot approach and think wisely about where we’re headed next. Don’t race to implement answers without first fully understanding the questions.

The Planning Process

In my last column in CSP, I brought up acronyms such as FOMO (fear of missing out). Well today, I have a new one: FOTU, the fear of the unknown. It seems that FOTU in this situation to varying degrees has paralyzed many of us into inactivity. Putting projects off in a wait-and-see approach to the problem.

My challenge to you is to take the unknown out of FOTU by studying the new normal and understanding our new customers. Yes, largely they are the same people, but they are forever changed. Are we going to change with them or allow ourselves to become irrelevant and go the way of Blockbuster?

See Also

There are many perspectives within every organization, and it will take all of them to help us understand our new customer base. I urge you to bring together a team of key individuals of every age, race and demographic in your company to look at the situation. In addition, bring in an expert or two with special knowledge of things such as psychology and design. Have a series of Zoom meetings with a broad agenda to tackle these questions.

The first step is always to understand the customer and his or her specific needs. The next step is to develop a plan that meets those needs in a way that works well within your brand and culture. Finally, we must develop ways to communicate that paradigm shift to the customers and employees alike in a branding and marketing campaign that resonates and separates you from those still suffering from FOTU.

As the need for knee-jerk reactions abates, this is the perfect time to do some deep thinking. Is it time to give your brand a fresh look that communicates to the world that you care? Make sure consumers understand the changes and how they are intended to meet the needs of that very special person: your customer.

Mike Lawshe is the president and CEO of Paragon Solutions, a c-store and retail industry design and consulting firm based in Fort Worth, Texas. Contact him at mlawshe@paragon4design.com.

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