"I officially became a soccer mom this fall when my nine-year-old daughter earned a spot on the local travel soccer team. I was initially thrilled by her ability to make it onto such a competitive team—and then I realized that the “travel” in travel soccer team meant some long drives every weekend. Her first game took us to Summit Point, West Virginia, nearly a two-hour drive from Washington DC. we were warned ahead of time about the lack of restrooms at the field and were encouraged to stop along the way for a bathroom break. So we did just that somewhere along Route 340, about 20 minutes from our destination.
We found a convenience store/gas station referenced on a highway exit sign, pulled off the main road, found the station, snake past a couple of cars at the gas pumps, and parked. We should have kept on driving.
The store looked typical enough: promotional signs for fresh, hot pizza dotted the windows, candy and beverages greeted us as we walked in and the clerk pointed out the bathroom at the back of the store. But once we got in the bathroom, it all went to hell in a handbasket, as they say. The bathroom smelled. The only toilet paper available was what littered the floor. The toilet did not flush. The soap dispenser was empty. My daughter and I high-tailed it out of there, never to be seen again. When I told her we could try another convenience store down the road, she said to me, “Let's wait until we can use the porta-potties at the field.” Once we got to the soccer field, a few of her teammates and their parents were sharing similar tales of C-store bathroom disgust from their travels. So ours was not an isolated incident. A clean bathroom is really such a simple thing. Yet its inverse—a dirty bathroom—wreaks intense havoc on the public perception of our entire industry. (Do you think my fellow soccer moms would have thought it was cool that I work for the convenience industry?) So why do so many retailers pass on a exerting the effort required to have a clean bathroom? I’m hoping you’re not one of the guilty ones. If you are, clean up your act."
~ Erin O. Pressley Editor-In-Chief/Publisher SOURCE: NACS Magazine (October 2014)
The Power of Cleanliness in the Convenience Store Industry
Imagine: you're on a long road trip, perhaps en route to your child's away soccer game, and you decide to stop at a convenience store. You're hoping for a quick rest stop, maybe to grab a bite to eat, and fuel up for the journey ahead. But as you approach the store, you're met with oil stains, dirty fuel dispensers, and the unmistakable sight of litter. Your first instinct? Drive past and find a cleaner alternative. Why? Because the cleanliness of a store plays a critical role in shaping the customer's perception and influencing their buying decisions.
1. First Impressions Matter
For many customers, the first point of interaction with a convenience store is the forecourt. If the gas pumps are dirty or there are visible stains and grime, it sets a negative tone. A customer's subconscious may interpret this dirtiness as a sign that the store is poorly managed, making them less inclined to trust the quality of products inside.
2. The Bathroom Experience
One critical area often overlooked by many convenience store operators is the bathroom. As detailed above by Erin O. Pressley, Editor-In-Chief/Publisher of NACS Magazine, a bad bathroom experience can deter customers forever. A clean bathroom is not just about hygiene but also about preserving the reputation of the entire industry. When customers encounter filthy restrooms, they may associate that neglect with other aspects of the store. Think about it: if a store can't keep its bathroom clean, what does that say about its food handling practices?
3. The Connection Between Cleanliness and Sales
CAF did a case study on this very subject. Company A and Company B's case studies serve as perfect examples. By focusing on exterior cleanliness, including addressing challenges such as oil stains and maintaining consistent standards company-wide, these stores witnessed remarkable improvements. Company A saw a significant 27% increase in stores meeting brand standards for exterior cleanliness in just six months. Meanwhile, Company B experienced a 5% surge in sales by simply emphasizing exterior image and cleanliness.
Moreover, according to M/A/R/C® Research, after the price, cleanliness is the top reason customers choose a particular convenience store. This indicates the direct relationship between cleanliness and profitability.
4. Online Reputation and Reviews
In today's digital age, a store's reputation is not limited to word of mouth. A staggering 70% of Americans check online reviews before making a purchase, according to Mintel American Lifestyles 2015. If a customer has a negative experience due to the store's uncleanliness, it can easily translate into a bad review online, deterring potential customers.
5. Differentiating on Cleanliness
Retailers that stand out in areas like cleanliness, safety, and friendliness don't just enjoy more foot traffic; they earn double the wallet share. For the convenience store industry, where turnover is rampant and competition is fierce, setting a high standard for cleanliness can make all the difference.
The cleanliness of a convenience store is not just about aesthetics; it's about trust, reputation, and ultimately, profitability. As consumers, we're not just buying products; we're buying experiences. A clean environment signals to customers that the store values them and is committed to providing a safe, high-quality experience. For store operators, prioritizing cleanliness is not just good hygiene practice—it's good business.