The Importance of a Clean Forecourt in Gas Stations and Convenience Stores
A forecourt is a customer's first interaction with your gas station or convenience store, influencing their decision to step inside. More than ever before, a clean forecourt and providing a welcoming, and safe environment can persuade customers to leave the pump area and explore your food offerings. The increased focus on cleanliness since the COVID-19 pandemic serves to further underline the importance of these factors.
Transforming the Image of Convenience Store Food
Convenience stores have long been dismissed as a last resort for food purchases. However, the perception of convenience store food is gradually transforming, as chains across the country strive to improve their food offerings and overall image.
Companies like Casey’s, a chain of gas stations and general stores well known throughout the Midwestern United States, have turned the tide with innovative, popular offerings such as its beloved pizza. The fifth-largest pizza chain in the U.S. in 2021, Casey’s made around $1.2 billion in revenue last fiscal year from its afternoon and evening sales alone. And with breakfast becoming their next frontier, it’s evident that providing quality, enticing food can turn a pit stop into a dining destination.
The transformation is not limited to Casey's alone. Midwestern gas station/convenience store chain, Kwik Trip, is on a similar path, aiming to change the narrative around gas station food. By developing proprietary product lines like rotisserie chickens and in-house bakery goods, they're setting high standards and providing competitive alternatives to larger grocery stores.
The industry giant, 7-Eleven, has been making strides too. Their offerings extend beyond mere convenience items to incorporate features of full-blown restaurants, complete with drive-thru services and dining areas. These revamped stores illustrate how first impressions, facilitated by a clean, appealing forecourt, can entice customers inside and potentially change preconceived notions about convenience store dining.
Analysis of Convenience Store Industry's Performance
Such initiatives seem to be yielding results, as convenience stores witnessed record in-store sales as of 2022. The NACS State of the Industry data highlights the industry's resilience and growth. Total convenience industry sales soared to $906.1 billion, with in-store sales accounting for 33.4% of that figure. Fuel sales saw a whopping increase of 41.2%, reaching $603.2 billion.
Despite the crucial role of fuel sales in this success story, focusing only on offering competitively low gas prices can lead to missed opportunities. If customers are not drawn into the store from a clean forecourt, potential revenue from higher-margin goods could remain untapped.
Cleanliness as a Critical Factor in Customer Satisfaction
In a post-pandemic world, cleanliness equates to safety. This applies to a clean forecourt as well. Gas stations and convenience stores need to recognize and embrace this shift in customer sentiment. A survey conducted by GasBuddy in April 2020, during the early stages of the global pandemic, ranked cleanliness inside the store, restroom cleanliness, and cleanliness at pumps among the top five considerations for customers visiting convenience stores. These results underline the importance of cleanliness for customer satisfaction and repeat business.
To emphasize a point beyond mere perception, cleanliness has a direct impact on food sales. If you're selling food, your entire store, not just the kitchen or serving area, must be clean and well presented. When it comes to food service at gas stations, initial impressions are paramount. An appealing and clean forecourt encourages potential customers to choose your station over competitors. That’s not to say that the inside of your store is not important. The reality is, once customers are inside, a pleasant smell, spotless floors, dust-free shelves, and well-presented staff can enhance the shopping experience, persuading customers to make purchases and return in the future.
Because today's gas stations and convenience stores are evolving from simple pit stops to complete service experiences, cleanliness, particularly in the forecourt, can make a significant difference in attracting and retaining customers. A clean forecourt and a well-maintained station is more inviting, enhancing the overall customer experience and portraying a sense of quality and care. Even though the pandemic is over, the level of cleanliness cannot be discounted. A commitment to clean service areas demonstrates a commitment to health and safety, which is a continued natural concern for consumers in the wake of the COVID-19.
The Business Impact of Investing in Cleanliness
So, let’s summarize exactly what you gain by investing in cleanliness.
- Increased Customer Satisfaction: A clean, welcoming environment contributes to the overall customer experience, leading to higher satisfaction and the likelihood of repeat business.
- Boosted Revenue: Clean stores and food service areas can lead to increased sales, as customers are more likely to make purchases and explore higher-margin goods in a clean environment.
- Market Differentiation: In a competitive market, maintaining high cleanliness standards can set your gas station or convenience store apart from the competition, attracting more customers.
- Enhanced Food Sales: Cleanliness directly impacts food sales. A well-maintained food service area can boost customers' perception of food quality and safety, leading to increased sales.
- Safety Assurance: In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, cleanliness equates to safety. A clean environment demonstrates a commitment to health and safety, which is important to customers.
- Improved First Impressions: A clean forecourt provides a positive first impression, influencing customers' decision to choose your station over competitors and to explore beyond the pump area.
- Higher Retention Rates: A commitment to cleanliness can contribute to customer loyalty, as customers are likely to return to a clean and well-maintained store.
- Enhanced Brand Image: Cleanliness contributes to the overall image of the convenience store, portraying a sense of quality and care, which can positively affect brand perception.
- Resilience and Growth: As evidenced by industry data, clean, revamped convenience stores are showing resilience and growth.
The above reasons point out how “clean” is becoming critically important as more and more people are coming into your store. Cleanliness should not be viewed as an optional extra, but rather a fundamental aspect of the customer service experience that contributes significantly to the success of gas stations and convenience stores. Your customer experience benefits from it and most importantly, it is one of the easiest and most impactful ways you can increase customer satisfaction.
Moreover, the significance of cleanliness is not confined to the interiors alone but penetrates deeply into the food service area as well. Reflect for a moment on the ramifications of maintaining an unhygienic environment where food is served. With the rising prominence of the food service industry within the convenience store sector, the cleanliness of the food service area directly shapes customers' perception of the quality and safety of the food offerings. Dirty floors, grimy shelves, and inadequate lighting can drastically undermine the allure of the food while potentially leading to health code violations and dwindling consumer confidence in product quality. Normally, you wouldn't compromise on the cleanliness of food service areas for these reasons, so why would you neglect the cleanliness of the exterior of your food service area? A customer, or potential customer, would not differentiate between the two. If the exterior of a restaurant appears unkempt, it typically raises doubts about eating there. So, why should your in-store food service be any different?
According to QSR Magazine, several convenience store chains are making notable efforts to rebrand their food service, shifting their focus from simple convenience to quality driven. As mentioned previously, Casey’s, a chain of gas stations and general stores, has become a culinary haven within the industry, with its pizza service alone accounting for $1.2 billion in revenue in a fiscal year. This is a staggering number and proof that food service is becoming very important to the C-store bottom line. Companies like Kwik Trip and 7-Eleven have followed suit, making significant strides in improving food quality and overall menu variety. The moral here? Quality and cleanliness must be considered together if convenience stores aim to successfully capitalize on food service sales. It is normally just as easy for your customers to drive down the road to your competitor as it was to drive to your location. Customers will vote with their dollars if they don’t like what they see, and they do. No matter how delectable the food or competitive the pricing, the sales of such services are likely to suffer if the environment in which the food is served does not adhere to high standards of cleanliness.
Cleanliness, Safety, and Customer Appeal
Cleanliness, however, goes beyond just being a good business practice; it is now also intrinsically linked to safety due to the impact of COVID-19. The pandemic has underscored the importance of hygiene and cleanliness, causing a lasting impression on consumers that may persist for some time.
Cleanliness and safety should extend beyond just the in-store experience. A clean forecourt offers the first impression of the quality of service and safety a store provides. A well-lit, clean forecourt not only increases the appeal of a convenience store or gas station but also gives the impression of safety. These factors can strongly influence a customer’s decision to choose your gas station over competitors.
Store operators must prioritize the cleanliness of their establishments, both inside and out. Employees should be adequately trained to maintain high standards of cleanliness, with regular checks and cleaning schedules in place to ensure a consistently clean environment.
Conclusion: The Solid Business Case for Cleanliness – Your Bottom Line
In conclusion, the cleanliness of a gas station, convenience store, or a foodservice area isn’t just a nicety—it’s a necessity that directly affects sales and customer retention. It’s time that store operators recognized the significant impact that a clean and safe environment can have on their bottom line and started investing accordingly to maintain cleanliness standards. After all, a clean business is not only good for the customers—it’s good for business too.