When he was young, Jacques Bouvier would watch as kids carefully picked out candies for a penny each in his dad’s convenience store. Today, in his own store, he watches as a new generation of neighbourhood children count their coins to buy as many candies as they can afford.
Between his youth and June 24, 2016, when he opened Dépanneur Le Repère Gourmand in Saint-Lambert, QC, Mr. Bouvier had spent 25 years in tourism development and regional products, witnessing the importance of local marketing. As a Saint-Lambert resident, he had an eye on a 1929 building strategically located at 189 Green Street, only 45 seconds from his house. When the owners finally agreed to sell it, Mr. Bouvier made the purchase and started renovating it to accommodate a kitchen, a cold room and beautiful antique merchandising furniture.
“I am very strong on personal contact. In this world of text messages, I believe in creating an environment where residents who come in for milk or beer can talk a moment and trade news,” says Bouvier. He decided to create this business with his daughter in mind. She will graduate from cooking school in the spring and already spends time in the store’s kitchen.
It’s essential that all convenience retailers understand the neighbourhood they’re a part of, and that their offering truly addresses the needs of the clientele that walks through their doors. For Mr. Bouvier, this is his mission.
“Saint-Lambert is the fourth or fifth city in the country with families with the highest income, and I knew it would be quieter in the summer months while residents travel in Europe or elsewhere. Since 45% of the local people are away during summer months, we set up an ice cream counter during the summer that we replace with other displays and more indoor seating the rest of the year.”
The location lends itself perfectly to a free delivery service because the store primarily serves clients within about 600 meters in all directions. Several seniors’ residences, as well as families with children, are a big part of the community. The store offers a menu of ready-to-eat comfort food, such as boeuf bourguignon, lasagna or shepherd’s pie, from Monday to Friday that can be purchased in advance and delivered to the clients. There is no waste because everything is prepared in small quantities; the offer matches the demand.
High margin and attraction
When he chose to set up an attractive ice cream counter, Mr. Bouvier knew it would mean high margins. “I don’t believe in giving room to equipment for a 6% margin. I don’t work with volume. I target 25 to 30% margins. Here, people take time to talk just like in the old days. I like to look people in their eyes. It may take a little longer to grow the business but that’s what I like.”
When you walk into Le Repère Gourmand, it feels a bit like stepping back in time. The wide and colourful candy assortment is merchandised in antique display units. In the bottom drawers, the cigarettes are hidden, and he only stocks the brands bought by his regular clients. Beer is also discrete unless there is a contest, like the one held last summer to win a bicycle with an old-fashioned look. The bicycle was displayed in-store to create excitement and make an impact on customers as they entered the store.
“You can’t wait for customers to come in, you must reach out and get involved in the community as well,” he says. Mr. Bouvier discovered a bridge club close to his store with 40-50 players several days a week. He prepared bridge chocolate bags and brought them to the bridge players. Soon, they were going into his store every week to get more. He also reached out to the business community with offers to prepare candy packages for conventions.
By finding creative ways to sell candy, Mr. Bouvier sees increased sales and a faster turnover of product. They hand out free bags of candies to local kids for Halloween; cakes decorated with candies incite clients to order again and again. “We encourage a higher turnover in our candy section. I’m about to make potato candies and we prepare our own taffy.”
He also discovered that the local arena does not have a food counter, so he went out there on a Saturday morning and introduced the parents to his coffee. If he sees an opportunity to introduce the community to his offering, he takes it.
Seeing a smile on his clients’ faces
At Dépanneur Le Repère Gourmand, stocking quality products means satisfied, loyal customers.
Mr. Bouvier is proud to see smiles on his client’s faces when they come in to pick up the freshly baked croissants he picked up at “the best bakery in the world” and a delicious coffee. On weekends, he brings in French baguettes and loaves. He grabs every opportunity to bring the local residents back into his store as often as possible by offering quality products they can buy more easily (or conveniently) in his store.
“People are starting to know me and I know them more and more with each conversation,” he says.
How can you learn from Mr. Bouvier’s community-minded success?
“If clients ask for something three times, they can be sure it will be available the fourth time it’s requested.” This is how he ensures his customers come to his store to buy the kind of coffee, croissants, micro beers or salads they prefer.
At Le Salon last year, he and his spouse attended different workshops. He liked the wine and beer workshop to evaluate the potential for his store. “I carry certain micro beers that clients want. But they do not tend to buy convenience store wines, so I have to respect the needs of my clients.”
Newspaper ads may not work. Focus on the activities around the store and go out to meet the people who could become regular clients. It could be bringing large thermoses of hot coffee or chocolate to the arena, the knitting club or nearby offices. Match your opening hours to the needs of your community to attract frequent buyers.
Putting the prices with taxes included for candies or treats avoids disappointment from young customers, while also making the service faster.
Don’t be afraid to move things around in the store according to the seasons or special occasions. Christmas stocking fillers displayed in the window draw in people looking for ideas. Be creative in matching items. “We offer a free bag of fresh popcorn from our bright red machine with beer purchases. They usually end up buying extra bags!”