Play your cards right

A colleague was shopping in a local Co-op store recently and, prompted by the debit card terminal to vote on an issue of the day, she attempted to share this involvement with counter staff. "Yeah, I know," said the teenager behind the till. "It's really stupid."

A pity, really, that an imaginative attempt to engage the customer should be undermined because the staff member hadn't bought into it as much as the management. But it's a common problem, and I'm sure most readers of this magazine can think of similar examples of good ideas foundering because of lack of support from the frontline.

Across the industry as a whole, I sometimes wonder how high a priority is being given to getting staff involved, empowered and enthused. Despite an increasing number of available options, staff training is not as developed in the c-store industry as it could be, and many retailers still think of investment in terms of refits and ranges, not in terms of people and skills.

And it's not just staff who might need the education; many owners and managers, too, could benefit from the right sort of training to help them convey their ideas to staff, and get the results they want.

In these days of a struggling economy and cautious consumers, personal enthusiasm and the right in-store vibe could well prove to be the difference between success and failure.

Take the first step

Crime is a persistent problem for c-stores, and one of the biggest negatives to take some of the gloss off the positives of running your own business.

Unfortunately, many of the elements that make up a successful local store long hours, lean staffing, valuable stock, cash in the till also make it a prime target for criminals. In that regard, crime is widely accepted in the industry as an occupational hazard: rather like the poor, it will always be with us.

But there are still some measures you can take to reduce your chances of being a victim. Most of these involve building better relationships, both with your local community and your local police.

In this magazine, 25 years old this month, we have for a long time been championing the cause of those retailers who, faced with a problem in their community, have taken the initiative and reduced or even eliminated the issue from their immediate area.

Better government and institutional support would be a huge leap forward, but you might have to take the first step yourself.