This column comes to you this week from Toronto, Canada – the capital city of the province of Ontario.
Convenience stores in the state of Ontario can’t sell alcohol. Those in search of booze to consume outside of a bar or restaurant must go to a special store – the LCBO. Within their walls you can get hold of every single type of alcohol you might wish to find.
The Ontario Convenience Stores Association is fighting for convenience stores to be allowed to sell alcohol. It’s having some success, and making headway with those in power. But the three store owners I spoke to this week were ambivalent to the plans.
“It will bring us more trouble”, said one.
“We do perfectly well without it – where would it fit in here anyway?”, added another.
“I’d give it a go but there’s so many hoops to jump through. Is it worth it?”, questioned a third.
I went in one of the largest LCBO stores in Toronto at 10.30pm on a Saturday night. The shelves were empty, but the place was rammed. Trollies loaded with alcohol were being pushed around by every type of person you could imagine. The atmosphere in there was akin to a kind of kids-in-a-sweetshop joy.
The second store owner I quote above was in charge of a store of well over 1,500sq ft. She had, at a conservative estimate, 280 different crisp SKUs. I accept that diets differ around the world but no one needs that much potato chip choice. Would a small alcohol selection, complementary to her snacks range, not add something brilliant to her store?
What can British stores learn from the state of play in Toronto? The alcohol stores in Toronto may seem quite sterile in layout. But they made $1.7bn profit for Ontario last year. They work.
Take advantage of the fact that you are able to sell alcohol. Make your store clean, clear, easy-to-shop. Signpost brilliantly. Try new products to create areas of excitement, and make your store the sort of place that consumers want to shop in.
And when the possibility of a new revenue stream comes along, don’t rest on your laurels like the c-store owners I spoke to. Grasp every opportunity.