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Learn to become a relationship expert

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Photos by Brandon Gray

Devanshu Narang had been in Canada barely three months when he opened his Brucedale Esso convenience and gas location in 2009. Coming from India with his wife Ritu, Narang worried cultural differences might impede his business success in Guelph, Ontario.

But after six months of relationship-building, the Narangs were on a first-name basis with many of their customers, and a regular clientele was coming to the store to swap stories with Devanshu and Ritu.

“There has to be genuine concern,” says Narang, who also earns customer respect through his work with the local Guelph Mercury newspaper. “In the world of big box stores, customers will come to your store or your gas station only if they can share a part of their life with you and you can genuinely relate to that.

“Relationships are absolutely key in our business, and that’s what we’re focused on. It’s like a family thing – you’re part of the community. We’re called for parties and functions, and people come to share their problems.”

Narang also advises retailers to go outside the usual convenience comfort zone and try something new. His Taste of India foodservice program is one-of-a-kind in the area, with customers gobbling up almost a thousand fresh-made samosas a week.

“We realized food is an important part of the convenience business, especially fresh or prepared food,” he says. “We bring diversity to the place, because we specialize in our type of food that we do well. It’s an area where people were not aware of samosas, or even spring rolls, when we started. When we started doing well with that, we added other dishes like curry chicken, butter chicken, and the vegetarian dishes. A lot of people come for the food, and they buy other things, and that helps.”

Three years after he started a new life in Canada, Narang is on a sure footing for success. “Gas stations and convenience stores are a very rewarding business, but you have to focus on your inventory and your customer relations. If you can do that, and if you can add specialties, that can do wonders.”

Devanshu’s tips for success:

1. Pay attention to your customers. Keep track of what your customers are buying – by the fourth time they purchase an item, you should know what they’re going to place on your counter.

2. Specialize. Give your customers something they want, but can’t find anywhere else.

3. Focus on innovation. Customers get excited about new products, so regularly introduce them to SKUs they haven’t seen before. Ask your full-service distributor rep for information about the latest products during their next visit.