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Buying a convenience store: the secret to success is in the name

Nicky Tatley discusses the most important thing modern convenience stores need to offer: convenience.

In the Canadian province of Quebec, where French is the native tongue, convenience stores are known as ‘depanneurs’ or ‘deps’ for short. The literal translation being ‘one who gets you out of a jam’. 

According to the Canadian Convenience Store Association (CCSA), ‘more than 10.4 million visits are made each day to Canadian convenience stores’ - equating to one visit every three minutes.

Their research also states that ‘Canadians purchased $51.7 billion worth of goods and gasoline from convenience stores in 2014’ and that convenience stores employ over 230,465 people across Canada.

Whilst the functionality of these local stores has changed greatly over the years, the concept has remained firmly within that definition – a quick and convenient pit-stop, where you can grab what you need when you don’t have time to head to the supermarket.

During the UK’s industrial revolution, when large numbers of people were moving from the countryside to find work in the towns and cities, the ‘corner shop’ was born out of necessity.

These locally owned small businesses were started by smart-minded entrepreneurs who literally ‘cornered the market’. UK retail giants such as Marks and Spencer, Sainsburys and Tesco all began as basic family owned corner shops in Victorian times.

After the mass emigration of Commonwealth citizens to the UK in the 1950’s –1970’s, the corner shop became a highly popular business opportunity for newly integrated Asian families – and the trend has continued through many generations.

The first chain convenience store in the US was opened in Dallas in 1927 by the Southland Ice Company. It later went on to become 7-Eleven, the world’s largest convenience store chain. 

The franchise model is very popular in this sector - Canada’s Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. operates five of the country’s most popular stores chains. Quickie-Mart is another large Canadian convenience store chain and bears more than a coincidental resemblance to the ‘Kwik-E-Mart’ as seen on The Simpsons TV series.

Primarily intended to provide the most basic of supplies (in 1939, the Ohio based ‘Lawson’s Milk Company’ chain of stores grew out of a single shop at the owner’s dairy plant) the convenience store has had to adapt regularly to keep up with changing trends in consumerism.

Across the globe, convenience stores stock milk, bread, soft drinks, confectionery, cigarettes, newspapers and magazines, non-perishable groceries, alcohol and bathroom essentials. 

Depending on location – products on offer may vary. In Europe, for example, fresh baguettes will be on offer and often a deli-counter. 

In the US, coffee islands, hotdogs and slushies are fairly ubiquitous. Indeed, 7-Eleven’s Slurpee brand has become world famous – the highest number of them being sold in Winnepeg, Manitoba, winning the city the title of ‘Slurpee Capital of the World’.

In Asian countries such as Japan, Taiwan and Sinagapore, where the population growth has increased exponentially over the last few decades, convenience stores have flourished.

 In 1974 there were 1000 convenience stores in Japan and that figure increased to around 47,000 in the late nineties – meaning there is around one convenience store per 2000 people, compared to one per 8000 in the US. 

In Singapore, where most families are dual income, there is greater need for convenience shopping, and in Taiwan it is not unusual to see two 7-Elevens within 50 meters of each other. 

Due to these countries’ infrastructures, convenience stores here can offer services such as collection of parking/driving fines, utility bills and credit-card payments, postal services and even tickets for concerts, theme parks and airlines.

And although, globally, not all convenience stores offer such a range of products - most people now expect to be able to buy lottery tickets and travel cards, top up their phones, complete money orders, have passport photos taken and access to photo-coping and fax, as well as picking a pint of milk.

Many convenience stores now offer pre-made sandwiches, racks of fresh doughnuts that are delivered daily and in some stores in the US have small counters providing food from local fast-food restaurants.

With prices generally being slightly higher than supermarkets, the key to running a successful convenience store (especially small, independent businesses) is often in providing the personal touch. 

Store owners who take time to get to know their customers and offer a friendly, community-based feel will ensure customers will drop in on them, rather than the store up the road.

Staying open as long as possible is also an asset to sales, and many convenience stores now offer a 24 hour service, although in some crime hot-spots (in the US especially) – this means you will be served through bullet proof glass.

Times have certainly changed for the humble corner store – and who knows what may be on offer in the future, as the expectations of an ever-busy populace rise with the tides of technology and innovation.

Nicky Tatley

About the author

Nicky contributes articles to all titles in the Dynamis stable, primarily, and and is a regular contributor to other business publications including Talk Business, and NuWire Investor.


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