Retail management boot camp?
January 16, 2017 4:15 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the odd position of needing to run and grow a year-old and still-struggling retail store...without any real retail experience to speak of. SO much more inside?

Day-to-day operations, cash flow, and staffing are finally pretty much under control and we are starting to have a solid customer base, so what I most urgently need now is to get the books and back office sorted out. Focusing on getting a more accurate picture of business position and ultimately do better analysis so we can fine-tune and grow faster...I have a trial-by-fire understanding of many of the pieces but no good system for putting them together. This is a medium-sized convenience store and grocery with a couple thousand skus, 60% of which come from one main vendor and the rest split between ten others. It's a royalty-only franchise (not a 7-11) with a lot of flexibility in what we can bring in and and how we run the business, and not a lot of back-end support. The store also manages nearly 10,000 gallons of fuel a day so there's a lot of money moving around. Here's what I'm working with:

- a pnl I update daily and finalize monthly, with charts tracking trends by month, day of week, category, etc. I also track bills/expenses in this. This has turned into a horrible sprawling mess of a many-tabbed google sheets workbook but I'm open to learning quickbooks or whatever if that's the right thing to be using.
- a cash flow spreadsheet I update daily; this is where AR/AP get tracked (most of our bills and vendors are paid immediately tho). I do budgeting based off of this too but it's been pretty informal, there hasn't been a lot left over after expenses (though that's getting better!)
- a (decent) POS and (clunky) franchise-provided back office web app for daily cash reconciliation, lottery and fuel reconciliation, pricebook management, etc. I can run some pretty good sales reports through this and use them constantly to forecast order quantities, adjust par levels, and generally look for opportunities.
- credit processing 100% handled by the fuel brand thank goodness. We collect cash for their fuel and our merchandise, they collect credit and debit charges for the same, and we settle up each day.
- payroll and tax prep handled by an actual accountant.

What I am missing:
- INVENTORY MANAGEMENT oh my god. Currently we do a periodic count with clipboards and pencils and hand reconciliation against what I think we should have given purchases minus sales and adjusted, roughly, for markdowns. The count isn't done at the item level but at retail price points just because I don't know how to do the former efficiently. I feel like there SHOULD be a way to do this or even go to a true perpetual inventory system given that my main vendors give me edi invoices and we scan every item but I don't know how to put it together? We have very little storage space or extra $$ so staying at just-enough levels on inventory is important and a constant struggle. This is for the half the store on retail accounting, btw - all food service is on cost accounting and that's a whole different headache.
- any very clear idea of how to synthesize all this and make it useful/get more strategic. I don't have any business training and feel like we're leaving money on the table because I don't know what an optimal product mix looks like, an accurate picture of shrink, how to interpret margin numbers, etc. I need a book, a free online course, a...? on retail strategy, c-store specific or more general.

Common sense and ass-busting has gotten us a surprisingly long way over the last few months and the business is growing again. We're about to go into a very high-potential growth period with a new 500-unit condo complex opening across the street and I want to get us sorted and smarter before then so we can keep up.

I've outlined some specific holes here but am open to anything you think might be useful at this point - resources for learning, advice, anecdata about what did and didn't work for you in retail, creative ideas for getting people in the store (we are doing local marketing and the usual social stuff but I'm looking at testing conversational commerce opportunities, hosting community events...?), even what you do and don't want as a c-store customer, I'm a sponge for it all. Please don't just tell me I'm in over my head - that's evident - or to hire someone who knows what they're doing - if I could I would.

Thank you thank you thank you!
posted by peachfuzz to Work & Money (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If I were in your shoes, I would consider joining the National Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing, and attend some of their events in order to network with people who do what I do and face the same challenges.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 4:56 AM on January 16, 2017

- a (decent) POS and (clunky) franchise-provided back office web app

My first thought is, do you have to use to franchise-provided stuff? Because I am sure there are turnkey retail management software packages that cover all of that plus inventory and employee scheduling and accounting and customer info and on and on. (No actual experience with them, so I can't recommend specifics, sorry, but I am sure they exist. They kept popping up in search results as I did my own research into inventory/rental management software for the company I work for.)
posted by soundguy99 at 6:07 AM on January 16, 2017

My first thought is - real accounting system is your top priority, which may include/be integrated with a better POS with integrated inventory management, which would be a plus if you can swing it. With all those SKUs and that level of complexity I don't see how you could possibly keep up with shrink, and 90% of what you listed above should be getting handled through 1-2 pieces of software, I'd think. Convenience/grocery/gas is such a common business, and so commonly handled with independent businesses and small chains, that I'd be very surprised if there wasn't a good off-the-shelf software solution out there. Might be available, along with advice, from the association mentioned above

As for the specific product mix, two suggestions come to mind:

- hire a consultant (which is different from hiring someone permanently) if possible. A few thousand bucks worth of advice might get you some major wins in product mix. He or she could walk through your store and point out all kinds of things to change in your layout and product mix.

- with or without hiring a consultant - listen to customers and keep tinkering. I'm always the guy looking for the "magic bullet" or the "best practices," but I don't think there could be a single solution. Your ideal product mix could be different from another store just down the street.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:18 AM on January 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've managed numerous specialty retail businesses. Both were family businesses, but one was a large multi million dollar one.

Many industries have industry specific software that enables you to do inventory, pos, etc all in one software. This is very helpful so that you can also run reports.

I would see what resources you have within your industry. You can even call or stop in to other businesses like yours (perhaps not direct competitors) and ask what they use/do. Usually between manufactures, etc you can ask around and find what resources are available.

Feel free to message me if you have any questions
posted by kbbbo at 11:14 AM on January 16, 2017

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