Opening the Aisles: Your Guide to Buying a Convenience and Grocery Business cover image
02 Jul 2024

Opening the Aisles: Your Guide to Buying a Convenience and Grocery Business


In a world that never slows down, convenience and grocery stores serve as the cornerstone of our daily lives, offering far more than just food.

These establishments are vital hubs of essentials, catering to the needs of communities at all hours.

From household goods to personal care, and yes, the crucial pantry staples, these stores ensure that life's necessities are always within reach. 

Launching a business in this sector opens the door to not just financial prosperity but also to becoming an indispensable part of your local community's fabric.

It's about providing a service that supports the rhythm of everyday life, offering convenience, variety, and reliability that keeps your customers coming back.




Cracking the Code of the Convenience and Grocery Sector


Convenience stores are a cornerstone of the retail landscape, selling a wide range of products including cigarettes, beverages, travel accessories, snack foods, ready-to-eat meals, groceries, beauty products, merchandise, newspapers, and magazines.

This sector encompasses corner shops and milk bars but excludes businesses operating primarily as supermarkets, those selling specialised foods like fruit, bread, and deli goods, and activities generating revenue through fuel retailing.


Despite fierce competition, convenience stores have thrived by emphasising ease, value, and a variety of fresh and healthy products.

They have shifted their product mixes to include more profitable food-service items and have focused on meeting the demand for quick and easy meal options.

The pandemic initially hurt convenience stores due to reduced commuting and foot traffic.

However, the industry's performance rebounded with the return to normalcy and the adoption of new technologies like contactless payment and ordering methods. 

Over the five years to 2022-23, revenue has slightly declined by an annualised 0.1% to $4.9 billion, including a 1.0% increase in 2022-23.


Despite inflationary pressures, recovering employment over the past year has brought foot traffic back to urban convenience stores.

However, suburban and rural consumers remain underserved, often preferring to order from online retailers rather than drive to a convenience store.

The encroachment of e-commerce giants into metropolitan areas has intensified competition. In response, larger convenience stores have cut costs and innovated store layouts to better serve modern consumers.

Tailoring food options to local markets has been crucial to their success. Nonetheless, the Russia-Ukraine conflict and other purchase cost pressures have affected store profitability.


Innovation is expected to continue driving the sector over the next five years.

Integrating fast-food chains and drive-throughs in rural and suburban convenience store locations will help counteract competition from e-commerce retailers.

However, plummeting smoking rates and increased federal regulations will continue to challenge convenience store sales.

The Federal Government's ban on the sale of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) outside of pharmacies is set to further impact revenue.

To maintain profitability, convenience stores will increasingly focus on offering fresh food and enhancing convenience. Despite these efforts, revenue is projected to decline by an average annual 0.6% to $4.7 billion by the end of 2027-28.


The landscape of convenience and grocery businesses is as varied as the customers they serve.

From small, family-run corner stores that know every patron by name to larger, franchised outlets offering a wide range of products and services, the scope is broad.

Exploring the diversity of the convenience and grocery sector reveals various business types, each catering to distinct customer needs:

  • Traditional Convenience Stores: Offer quick access to everyday items like snacks, beverages, and basic groceries. Ideal for high-traffic urban areas.

  • Specialised Niches: Such as organic produce markets or international food stores, catering to specific dietary preferences or cultural tastes.

  • Liquor Stores: Focus primarily on selling alcoholic beverages, from craft beers to fine wines, appealing to adult demographics.

  • Mini-Markets/General Stores: Provide a wider range of products including groceries, household items, and sometimes even apparel, serving as a one-stop shop for local communities.


Each type presents unique opportunities and challenges, from the breadth of inventory to catering to specific market segments, to regulatory considerations especially concerning liquor sales.

The key is to align your business vision with the right model to meet consumer needs effectively.




Future Trends: Where is the Convenience Store Industry Heading?


Scrambling to Keep Up with Health Consciousness

As internet access proliferates, consumers are becoming increasingly health-conscious, prompting them to choose healthier food options.

Time-poor consumers and busy schedules demand fast, nutritious meals and snacks.

Convenience stores have responded by offering more gluten-free, organic, and fresh options to cater to these health-conscious consumers. 

According to IBISWorld, health and wellness products now account for a significant portion of convenience store sales, reflecting this growing trend.


Pandemic Disruptions Reshaped Convenience Stores

The COVID-19 pandemic brought about significant changes to commuting patterns due to work-from-home policies, disrupting the regular flow of customers who typically stop at convenience stores during their daily travels.

Many convenience stores, strategically located along commuting routes to capture student and worker traffic, saw a temporary decline in sales.

However, the pandemic also spurred many stores to adopt contactless payment options, enhancing convenience and attracting more consumers.

This technological shift is expected to continue shaping the industry.


E-Commerce Retailers: Daunting Competitors

Online grocery services have expanded significantly, offering home delivery options for food and essential items.

This expansion particularly appeals to consumers in suburban or rural areas who may struggle to find nearby convenience stores. 

To reclaim these consumers from online retailers, convenience stores must consider expanding into geographically underserved areas.

According to MarketLine, e-commerce grocery sales have increased by 15% annually, posing a substantial threat to traditional convenience stores.


Labour Shortages and Wage Costs Confront Major Franchises

The convenience store industry faces challenges in hiring and retaining staff due to a highly competitive labour market.

Stores are increasingly prioritising part-time staff over full-time staff to save on wage costs, but this strategy has limited the industry's profit margins.

Franchise owners are finding it harder to be selective in their hiring practices, further complicating the staffing landscape.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that the retail sector, including convenience stores, has experienced a 10% increase in labour costs over the past year.


Tobacco Sales in Trouble

Strong and consistent excise tax hikes have increased revenue per unit from tobacco product sales but have made these products less attractive to cash-poor consumers.

Additionally, e-cigarettes are capturing more of the youth market, posing a significant threat to traditional tobacco products.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reports a decline in smoking rates, which is expected to continue, further impacting tobacco sales in convenience stores.


Rising Disposable Incomes and Market Competition

While rising interest rates and persistent inflation are set to cut into consumer spending in 2023-24, economic normalisation will likely see consumer spending pick up again.

Domestic travel is expected to rise as retail petrol prices ease, benefiting convenience stores attached to gas stations.

However, rising disposable incomes will spur consumers to make bulk purchases, which convenience stores typically do not facilitate, leading them to turn to supermarkets and e-commerce retailers instead.


The War Against Tobacco Looms

Regulatory bodies are intensifying efforts to curb nicotine use among Australians, which will negatively impact tobacco sales.

The Federal Government's ban on the sale of e-cigarettes outside of pharmacies is set to come into effect, further weakening revenue for convenience stores.

According to the Australian Government Department of Health, smoking rates have dropped significantly, and this trend is expected to continue.


Consumers Turning to Supermarkets for Major Product Segments

Expanding into underserved markets will be crucial for the success of convenience stores.

Major product categories like takeaway food, health and beauty products, and cigarettes will face fierce competition from supermarkets and other retailers.

As urbanisation expands metropolitan areas, increasing the number of commuting adults, convenience stores can expect an uptick in foot traffic.

Upstream commodity prices for products like tobacco and produce are set to fall, making cost-cutting through consolidation necessary to stay competitive.


Modernising to Expand Market Share

To maintain competitiveness, convenience stores will need to implement more self-service checkouts with contactless payment technologies, rewards programs, and bulk essential grocery offerings.

Stores can grow their potential customer base by expanding ready-to-eat food options for late-night shoppers and offering healthier options for health-conscious consumers.

Traditional stores will need larger cool rooms to store an expanding range of beverages and additional space for a greater variety of prepared food offerings.


Navigating these changes successfully will position convenience stores to not only survive but thrive in a rapidly evolving market.

By adapting to health trends, embracing technology, and strategically expanding their offerings, convenience stores can secure their place in the future retail landscape.




The Shelf Life of Success: Advantages of Entering the Market

Owning a convenience or grocery store offers a unique blend of advantages:


  • Resilience to Economic Shifts
    Convenience stores often remain stable during economic downturns due to the consistent need for everyday items.

  • High Convenience Factor
    Their ease of access and quick shopping experience appeals to a broad customer base.

  • Community Engagement
    Ability to foster strong local connections and customer loyalty through personalised service.

  • Flexible Business Models
    The versatility to operate as standalone stores, franchises, or part of larger chains.

  • Opportunities for Niche Marketing
    Specialising in unique or locally sourced products can differentiate your store.

  • Enhanced Customer Experience
    Potential to incorporate technology for streamlined operations and better customer service.

  • Local Economy Support Potential
    By stocking local goods, you contribute to and stimulate the local economy.

  • Potential for Multi-Location Expansion
    Success with one store can lead to opportunities for opening additional locations.

  • Potential for Diversification of Services 
    Offering additional services like delivery, lottery, or bill payments can increase revenue streams.




Franchise vs. Independent: Weighing Your Baskets

For a detailed comparison of franchise versus independent convenience and grocery businesses, including the benefits and challenges of each, it's beneficial to consider aspects like brand recognition, operational support, and autonomy in business decisions. 


Franchises often offer the advantage of an established brand and support network, but come with higher initial costs and less flexibility.

Independent businesses require more groundwork to build brand recognition but offer more freedom in operations.

This analysis can help potential business owners make an informed decision based on their goals and resources.

Franchise Convenience and Grocery Stores


  • Brand Recognition: Benefit from a known brand that attracts customers.

  • Supply Chain Access: Utilise established supplier relationships.

  • Support and Training: Receive guidance, training, and operational support.


  • Initial and Ongoing Costs: Face higher startup costs and regular fees.

  • Operational Limitations: Adhere to the franchisor’s rules, limiting flexibility.

  • Market Saturation: Potential for brand dilution in crowded markets.

Independent Convenience and Grocery Stores


  • Operational Freedom: Complete control over inventory, suppliers, and operations.

  • Flexibility to Innovate: Freedom to adapt quickly to market trends.

  • Personal Brand Building: Opportunity to create and grow a unique brand.


  • Customer Base Development: Challenge of attracting customers without brand recognition.

  • Higher Marketing Costs: Potentially greater spend needed for market penetration.

  • Supply Chain Management: Responsibility for establishing and maintaining supplier relationships.

The Titans of Convenience Store Franchises


  1. 7-Eleven
    Market Share: 8.4%
    7-Eleven stands as the behemoth in the convenience store industry with a commanding 8.4% market share.
    Known for its ubiquitous presence and extensive product range, 7-Eleven's strategic locations and emphasis on convenience have solidified its top position.
    The franchise model, which includes a diverse array of ready-to-eat meals, snacks, beverages, and everyday essentials, caters to the on-the-go needs of modern consumers.


  1. Metcash
    Market Share: 2%
    Metcash operates an impressive array of sub-brands, including IGA, SUPA IGA, Mitre 10, and The Bottle-O.
    With a market share of 2%, Metcash leverages its vast network to provide a comprehensive selection of grocery, hardware, and liquor products. Its model supports independently owned stores, allowing them to benefit from collective buying power and extensive promotional programs.
    This structure helps smaller stores compete effectively against larger chains.


  1. Lucky 7
    Lucky 7 convenience stores, backed by Metcash, operate on a distinctive model where each store is independently owned and managed, granting owners a high degree of autonomy.
    Store owners are required to purchase a set quantity of products through Metcash and commit to a three-year agreement.
    This model courts business owners who want to maintain control while harnessing the power of collective buying, making it an attractive alternative to traditional franchising models.
    Lucky 7 stores face significant competition from supermarkets and fuel retailers offering convenience purchases.
    Unlike 7-Eleven, Lucky 7 does not require revenue sharing with the franchiser, allowing store owners to retain more profits.
    The group buying model helps Lucky 7 stores compete on equal grounds with larger establishments by combining resources and buying power.

  2. NightOwl
    Market Share: 1%
    NightOwl, holding a 1% market share, is focused on expanding its buying power and product range to enhance competitiveness.
    The company’s strategy includes growth through both traditional stores and the introduction of superstores.
    In 2011, NightOwl launched its first superstore in Hervey Bay, followed by another in Mackay, signaling a shift towards larger format stores that offer a wider range of products at competitive prices.
    This expansion aims to solidify NightOwl's market position and attract more customers by leveraging increased buying power to lower prices.




The Cost Code: Major Expenses in the Convenience Store Industry


Wages: Navigating a Tight Labour Market

The second-largest expense for the industry, wages accounted for 11.5% of revenue in 2022-23.

Convenience stores, though reliant on labour, typically require only a handful of workers to operate each store.

The use of part-time workers helps to keep average wages lower. 

However, expanded operating hours and labour shortages have heightened demand for workers, pushing wage costs up significantly in recent years.


Rent: Climbing in a Competitive Property Market

Rental costs are a significant expense for convenience stores, involving the leasing of premises for operations.

Variations in rent costs among stores can be attributed to differences in the size and location of premises.

Over the past five years, rent costs have edged upwards, reaching 8.2% of revenue in 2022-23.

This gradual increase reflects the competitive nature of the property market.


Other Costs: Utility Fluctuations Amidst Declining Expenses

Other costs for convenience stores include depreciation, marketing, utilities, insurance, accounting, and administration.

Depreciation costs, represented by investments in new computer and surveillance systems and store refurbishments, have historically been low.

Many store owners have invested in energy-efficient cooler doors, better facility insulation, heating and air-conditioning units, and energy-efficient lighting to mitigate fluctuations in utility costs.

Overall, other costs have fallen to 4.3% of revenue in 2022-23, reflecting these efficiency improvements.


Purchases: Impact of Supply Chain Disruptions

Purchases represent the most significant operating expense for convenience stores, accounting for 68.0% of revenue in 2022-23.

Convenience stores buy a variety of products, including cigarettes, tobacco products, coffee, packaged snacks, and fresh food.

Recent supply chain disruptions, exacerbated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, have driven up purchase costs, contributing to an overall growth trend over the past five years.


Profit: Struggling Amid Intense Competition

Despite a recovery as pandemic restrictions ease, profit margins remain under pressure due to intense competition and declining smoker numbers.

Supermarkets encroach on convenience store profits, and fierce price competition prevents stores from passing on increased purchase and operating costs to consumers.

The COVID-19 pandemic further hit profits as commuting decreased and consumer spending fell.

Although profit has recovered, it remains below pre-pandemic levels, comprising 5.2% of revenue in 2022-23.




Key Questions for Aspiring Convenience & Grocery Store Owners


Before taking the leap into purchasing a convenience or grocery business, equipping yourself with the right questions is crucial.

This preparatory step not only sharpens your understanding of the business's operational backbone but also unveils insights into its financial health and market position.

Each question serves as a key to unlocking valuable information, guiding your decision-making process with precision and confidence.

Let's delve into the essential inquiries that will illuminate the path towards making an informed investment in this sector.


  1. "What are the historical sales and profit margins?"
    To assess the business's financial health and profitability trends, ask for detailed historical sales data and profit margin records.
    This information helps determine the business's financial performance over time.


  1. "What share of your store’s sales is attributable to tobacco?"
    Understanding the proportion of sales from tobacco products can reveal the business's dependency on these items, which may be affected by changing regulations and consumer trends.


  1. "How have your store's property lease costs changed recently?"
    Recent changes in lease costs can indicate potential future expenses and help evaluate the stability and long-term viability of the business location.


  1. "How does your store’s profit margin compare with the industry average?"
    Comparing profit margins with industry averages provides insight into the store's efficiency and competitiveness.
    It helps gauge whether the store is performing above or below industry standards.


  1. "How vulnerable is your convenience store to competition from supermarkets?"
    Assessing the store's vulnerability to supermarket competition helps identify potential threats and opportunities.
    It reveals how well the store can compete against larger retailers.


  1. "What are the terms and conditions of the current property lease or ownership?"
    Understanding the terms and conditions of the lease or property ownership is crucial for evaluating long-term costs and the security of the business location.
    This information helps plan for future expenses and assess the stability of the premises.


  1. "Who is the target customer base, and what’s the competition like in the area?"
    Identifying the target customer base and local competition provides insights into market potential and competitive challenges.
    This information helps tailor marketing strategies and business operations to meet customer needs and stand out from competitors.


  1. "What regulations or licences are required for operation?"
    Ensuring the business is compliant with local laws and regulations is essential.
    Understanding the required licences and regulatory costs helps avoid legal issues and ensures smooth operations.


  1. "How is the inventory managed, and what systems are in place?"
    Evaluating the efficiency of stock management and inventory systems helps identify potential areas for improvement.
    Effective inventory management is crucial for maintaining product availability and minimising costs.


  1. "What is the condition of the physical assets and equipment?"
    Understanding the condition of physical assets and equipment helps avoid unexpected repair or replacement expenses.
    It ensures the business can operate smoothly without incurring additional costs.


  1. "Are there any existing employee contracts and what are their terms?"
    Knowing the terms of existing employee contracts helps understand staffing obligations and costs. It ensures a smooth transition and continued operation of the business.


  1. "What marketing strategies have been effective for the business?"
    Identifying successful promotional activities and areas for innovation helps develop effective marketing strategies.
    This information can drive customer engagement and increase sales.


  1. "Is there any outstanding debt or financial obligations associated with the business?"
    Avoiding unforeseen financial liabilities is crucial.
    Understanding any outstanding debt or financial obligations ensures a clear financial picture and helps assess the true value of the business.


Each question is aimed at providing a comprehensive understanding of the business's operational, financial, and competitive landscape, crucial for making an informed investment decision.




Embrace the Journey: The Heart of Convenience and Grocery Retail


As you prepare to delve deeper into this opportunity, it's crucial to remember that the true value of a convenience or grocery business extends far beyond the inventory.

Success hinges on the relationships you build with each customer, turning every interaction into a foundation for community trust and loyalty.

The ability to connect with your customers on a personal level transforms a simple transaction into a meaningful experience.


Venturing into the convenience and grocery sector opens a door to endless possibilities, where your entrepreneurial zeal meets the everyday needs of your neighbourhood.

This isn't just a business; it's a chance to become a cornerstone of your community, providing essential services and forging lasting connections.

In this dynamic industry, your store can become a local hub where people find not only products but also a sense of belonging.


Are you ready to embark on a journey that promises not only financial rewards but also the opportunity to make a significant impact on the lives of those around you?

Your adventure in the vibrant world of convenience and grocery businesses begins now.

This is your chance to create a thriving enterprise that champions community well-being while fulfilling your entrepreneurial dreams.

Embrace the challenge, and let your store become a beacon of convenience and care in your community.


Explore Opportunities in Convenience and Grocery Businesses Here.