Profiting with General Merchandise

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One customer’s purchase of a miscellaneous object is a retailer’s high-margin sale.

Products that fall outside of the cash-cow categories of tobacco, fuel and foodservice are often dismissed as nice-to-have income, but for many convenience store and travel center operators, the general merchandise category is a big boost to their bottom line.

Just ask Mark Russell, director of operations for Russell’s Truck and Travel Centers in New Mexico, which operates a handful of locations that devote about 20% of their interior footprint to three auxiliary areas: merchandise for truckers, gift items and general merchandise, such as sunglasses and ice chests.

“Truckers come in for oil, additives, CB (radio)-type stuff and parts,” said Russell. “Travelers come in to buy stuff they need and pick up gifts and souvenirs.”

One of the greatest benefits for convenience retailers that commit to extra space for general merchandise is that it provides retailers with higher-than-average margins.

Merchandise seems to sell best between spring and fall when families are on the go. Although the stores offer toys and activity books to keep kids entertained on long car trips, stuffed animals are usually the most popular.

Successful general merchandise sales depend heavily on a retailer’s ability to read its customer base. Offerings should be driven by the local market.

“In South Carolina, you might be selling honey, and in Florida, it would all be beach items,” he said. “It’s very different according to the local culture.”

Ultimately, “general merchandise is an extra sale,” said Russell. “Anytime I can sell a customer an ice chest or an iPhone charger, it’s a definite plus. We want to capture every dollar we can get.”

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