The backbone of convenience

The backbone of convenience

The Night ‘n Day Foodstores chain is a family business that was established in 1990 by Denise and Andrew Lane. Today, there are 52 outlets trading across New Zealand, under the leadership of second-generation family member, Matthew Lane.

Night n Day convenience
Matthew Lane, General Manager, Night ‘n Day

C&I caught up with Matthew Lane who stepped into the General Manager’s role not too long before the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the globe. He shares the challenges he has faced in taking over the family business at such a difficult time and gives some insight into what we can expect to see from Night ‘n Day over the next 12 months.

C&I: How have your first few years as General Manager been?

Lane: More has changed in the last year than probably in the last four years. Some changes have been pretty good, and some have been average but overall, the industry has been resilient.

I feel at an advantage in some ways as I have had experience at each level within the convenience industry. I worked filling up drinks when I was 14, I’ve been in the business development team prior to taking on the General Manager role and I’ve also led the finance team; so, I’ve had pretty good exposure at all levels. This helps me with making decisions in some respects as there can often be a real disconnect between the understanding at the head office level and the understanding at a retail level.

Going into COVID, I had barely had a chance to get my feet on the ground as General Manager, but I don’t think any amount of time could have prepared me for what was to come. It was so unpredictable and what was relevant within the hour was then no longer relevant two hours later, so it was impossible in some respects to make solid plans. But I think the worst thing that could be done was to not commit to decisions. You really needed to be concise in the decision and get clarity but then not be afraid to say, ‘I got that wrong’ and then take a step back again.

C&I: How was Night ‘n Day’s performance during the height of the pandemic?

Lane: The first few days of lockdown were incredibly quiet; we were down around 85 to 90% across the group. We were expecting a reduction, but 85% was very significant.

From that point onwards we worked hard and invested quite heavily in our marketing, but for a while there our performance was very up and down.

We recognised that a lot of people were using social media while they were scrolling through the internet and waiting for the next update, so that was a prominent investment for us and allowed us to be front and centre with people for quite a long time.

We also ran a campaign that was calling out to local suppliers who were struggling with not being able to move their products. A great example is that we found an egg supplier based just to the north of us who could not move her product and was at the point where she was literally going to dig a hole and bury them all on the farm. Eggs aren’t typically a big seller for us, but we bought all of her stock and sold it basically at cost. The opportunity wasn’t a big cost for us because we don’t really sell eggs anyway but it gave value to the consumer and it also allowed this supplier to realise at least some value rather than burying them all.

Over this time, we had several different avenues of marketing and eventually what we saw was the smaller convenience environment became much more attractive to shoppers than the hustle and bustle of the supermarkets. People also moved to shopping more locally and found a greater appreciation for supporting local businesses, so I think it really connected our stores back to their local community.

Ultimately every small decision we made led to the one outcome, there was no single thing that I could point to and say, “we made it through COVID because of this”. It was those little micro decisions and those opportunities that gave us a platform to get through the toughest times.

C&I: How do you see the convenience landscape evolving into 2021?

Lane: There is a real foundation in the convenience industry, and it has come leaps and bounds over the last 10 years. People have this perception of being more time poor than ever before. Take Uber Eats and Netflix for example, you can sit there, order food and know exactly when the driver will arrive with it. Or you can watch an entire series within a single night with no adverts. These examples have prepared people to not want to wait. Time has become more precious to people and saving time really is the backbone of convenience.

Technology has never been more important than it is now. Technology really matters for the convenience sector and we never would have said that 45 years ago. Having technology at our fingertips, be it artificial intelligence or self-scanning – which we’ll be getting into – or whether it’s online training modules – there is just so much technology that is being driven, and without that technology, ultimately, you’re flying blind.

C&I: What are the key strengths of the Night ‘n Day group?

Lane: I’d probably say that it’s our ability to move quickly. We pride ourselves on completing a lot in a very short space of time. We receive opportunities and are very happy to change tact if we need to. We can have an idea, decide on the day, and not have to go through layer after layer of approvals.

Our other strength is the combination of our franchisees. We’ve got people on the ground who are personally invested in the business, they have skin in the game and their hearts are right in it. Then on the flipside we have a really strong team and support centre at head office level who help remove some of the burdens on our franchisees and allow them to focus on their core aspects of retailing. The combination of these two elements works really well – without the franchisee or the franchisor it just wouldn’t work.

C&I: What was the most inspiring or pivotal moment for you during 2020?

Lane: I’ll never forget 2020. I think it’s one of those things where we will look back and see that there was so much learning and so much development. Perspectives have changed and we have a whole new appreciation for what we’re doing. Hopefully, we’ll see that resonate for years to come.

I also have to say that it was inspiring to see how the staff across our stores really banded together. During the toughest times, they didn’t have to come to work, but they continued to show up to support their employer, to support the franchisee and the support the customers as they came into our stores. From a cultural perspective it was incredible to see everyone really band together when they came under pressure.

It’s also been great to see that all of a sudden ‘competition’ doesn’t mean what it used to. Overall, everyone is so much more appreciative of the café down the road or the person at the clothing store, there is just a whole new level of appreciation for the people and businesses that surround us.

C&I: Finally, what do the next 12 months hold for Night ‘n Day?

Lane: We have actually seen the number of enquiries from potential franchisees grow fivefold since pre-COVID, with a lot of this opportunity in high profile locations. We have got two new outlets scheduled to open in 2021 and we are in serious discussions regarding another two.

I am really looking forward to seeing things get back to that work-life balance. To be able to reconnect and recharge in the new year is going to be incredibly important.

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