You wouldn’t run your car without an annual service or MoT so why not apply the same practice to your business?

Change is the byword of the c-store sector: new products, trends, changing customer profiles, new competition, suppliers and fluctuating economic dynamics. Change is what one year can make the tills ring like church bells on a Sunday and the next render them silent.

This is why regular review of every facet of the business is crucial if c-stores are not to suffer a trading downturn.
Business-to-business group Bibby Financial Services says it is for this reason businesses should carry out an annual MoT. It has devised the following checklist which it says can help firms make significant savings in time and money.

PLAN AHEAD
The business plan is an essential tool for success, incorporating a set of targets and objectives, but many companies do not review theirs as regularly as they should. As your business develops, so should your plan, so ensure it is reviewed and updated regularly.
Bibby Financial Services sales and marketing director Robin Goddard says if you do not adjust your business plan to changes in your marketplace it might be too late to undo the damage.

CREDIT CHECKS
As many as 44% of small businesses do not check customers’ creditworthiness before automatically extending their limits, according to a poll earlier this year by Better Payment Practice Group. C-stores that regularly supply sandwiches and drinks for board
meetings, parties and other functions, and offer credit facilities, should regularly review these to avoid future problems. It pays to be aware of the tell-tale danger signs such as regular late payment of invoices.

REVIEW SUPPLIERS
Suppliers should be reviewed on a regular basis to ensure the business is consistently getting best value.
By negotiating longer credit terms and volume discounts, you could have more spare cash to reinvest in your business. Goddard says: “It’s not always safe to assume that just because your buying group say it’s the best deal around, that it actually is in practice.”

FINANCE
Owners and managers should ask themselves if their current finance package is providing their business with the level of funding that it requires, now and in the future. If not, then now may be the time to consider the alternatives. Interest rates change and the competitiveness of finance companies change - you might be able to find a more lucrative deal.

INSURANCE
It’s vital that c-stores check they have adequate insurance cover to meet all their needs, and this should include premises and contents insurance. By law, owners and managers must also have employers’ liability insurance to cover any compensation claims.

IT SOLUTIONS
Check you have the required software licences and that they are up to date. Business owners and managers should also ensure they have an IT/software policy in place and that employees are aware of it.

KEEP ABREAST OF LEGISLATIVE CHANGES
Make sure your company complies with all relevant business legislation. There are many regulations that affect businesses including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Enterprise Act 2002. If you’re not certain which legislation impacts on your firm, you should seek professional advice.
Goddard says: “Legislation is the biggest headache for any small business. You must make sure you’re keeping abreast of the changes either yourself or by outsourcing it to someone else.”

ADDRESS THE STRESS
Stress can cause a fall in productivity, increased sickness absence and poor morale. Checking work levels and finding ways to reduce stress could pay dividends in terms of the wellbeing of both your employees and your business. Goddard says: “For small and medium-size enterprises and, certainly, owner-managed businesses, stress levels can be enormous without even realising it and that transfers onto the staff you employ.”

HUMAN RESOURCES (HR) MATTERS
Handling HR well can make a big difference to a company’s overall operation. Ensuring new employees are given a written contract within two months of employment is a must, as is informing staff in writing of the main terms and conditions of their employment and any changes to them. It is important to take references before hiring a new member of staff, to check they’re properly equipped for the role.

MARKETING YOUR BUSINESS
Successfully marketing your company is crucial as you may well have ‘best of breed’ products or services, but if no one knows about them then your business will no doubt struggle. Start by identifying your potential customers and then work out a strategy for
communicating with them efficiently and cost-effectively. This will change year by year in what is a fast-moving, competitive marketplace.

C-Store showed the MoT list to the Association of Convenience Stores. Spokesman James Lowman said there was no such thing as a business standing still - it is either moving forward or back.

“Try looking at your business with fresh eyes, as if you were the customer,” says Lowman. “It’s important to keep up with changing customer needs and to keep abreast of trends.”

Lowman points out that the most successful c-stores plac an emphasis on fresh products. “So look at frequency of delivery and service from your suppliers, as well as competitive pricing. For your branded goods, remember to focus on the customer, keeping your range tightly matched to their needs.” He agrees strongly with the need to review legislative changes. “Staying the right side of the law is not optional. You need to be making sure that your procedures are up to scratch, whether it be employing staff, selling alcohol and other age-restricted products, managing waste from your premises or generally looking after your products.”

David Robertson, chief executive of Bibby, adds: “Each year you have to make sure your car is fit for the road with an MoT. Surely your business requires similar treatment with a thorough annual check?”

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