C-Store's Ronan Hegarty went on a course to experience the highs and lows of running a store - and lived to tell the tale

Running a successful c-store is hard work. This startling revelation may not come as much of a shock to most readers, but during a two-day residential c-store simulation course, I was put through the wringer, mentally at least, with worries over pricing, availability, staffing issues and, of course, the dreaded competition.
The course, which was developed by Australian training specialists Abbott Training Systems in conjunction with the Association of Convenience Stores, is designed to give a detailed insight into the day-to-day running of a c-store. The complex simulation also reflects the most current industry issues. The course is aimed at retailers, store workers and suppliers, to enhance their understanding of the convenience sector. It is also a lot of fun.
Proceedings started off gently enough with a bit of background reading and SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis. The group was divided into three teams and we got to know each other over some dinner and a couple of glasses of wine. However, this was simply the calm before the storm. The following day course developer Lynne Abbott had all three teams jumping through hoops in order to score points, not least in terms of punctuality, with events kicking off at a hideously early 8.30am - early for me, that is.
Abbott made no apologies for her strict approach. "It's a very intense course and there is a lot to learn, so time is precious." Even the evening meal that night was a working one, at which all three teams had to act out an advertisement for their respective stores, to much amusement all round.
At the heart of the event was the c-store simulation. Each team was given free rein over what strategy they would adopt, whether to focus more on service than price, or whether to be heavily promotion-led.
What was fascinating was that in the first instance it was impossible to tell what strategy each of the other teams was employing. It was only after the results from each financial quarter were revealed that the competitors could guess at what their game plan was.
Each team was well balanced with supplier and retailer members and it was interesting to see how each team put their plans in place. What emerged was that there are many different ways of running a successful c-store.
Despite one of the teams having to visit Tony the local loan shark after the first quarter to bail them out after significantly underestimating the amount of stock they needed, all three teams ended up in profit.
At the end of quarter three it appeared neck and neck between the team of Your Store and Boldy Blonde, (the team that included this magazine's wannabe retailer). The third team in the competition, Trio, appeared to have shot their bolt on a high-risk promotion-led strategy.
While Your Store and the intrepid Boldy Blonde were worrying about how to take vital market share from each other, Trio roared through as its promotions finally paid off.
The ACS says that the training has been so well received that it plans to repeat it next year. Abbott has run the course in Australia and the US and now has plans to expand it to bring together some of the teams from different countries to compete against each other. This would give participants from all around the world and all sides of the industry the chance to share knowledge.

What participants said

Julian Howitt, Palmer & Harvey McLane: "I would recommend this to anyone involved in the convenience store business."

Alun Johnson, Thresher: "An excellent course full of motivational moments."

Debs Smith, PepsiCo UK: "I enjoyed how a mix of people can work and have fun together, in a very motivational team."

Briony Wing, Masterfoods: "This would be a useful course for both retailers and suppliers, especially buyers and account managers."