Finding Efficiencies

PCATS expands scope, sees 20% bump in attendance

Gray Taylor

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Donna Perkins is always looking for efficiency.

As the pricebook manager for Calloway Oil Co. in Maryville, Tenn., Perkins finds the annual PCATS conference to be a treasure trove of information, even though the emphasis is on developing and augmenting technology standards specific to the channel.

"As a 22-store company, we have to do more with less," she told CSP Daily News. "If we want to grow and stay in business we have to be as or more efficient than [our competition]."

As an example, she said that after a conversation with a grocery supplier at the conference this past week, she found out she could electronically send credit memos--a small discovery, but again, yet another efficiency.

One of about 150 attendees at the annual Petroleum Convenience Alliance for Technology Standards annual conference here, Perkins helped working committees build business cases and actual schematics for various areas of store-level and home-office technology. She was particularly enthusiastic about their work with lottery, saying there was new energy around smoothing out the "pain points" that exist.

Attendance was up 20% this year in part because of an expansion of its mission, going beyond standards to include education, industry challenges and emerging technologies, according to Gray Taylor, executive director for PCATS. Simulating a breach and engaging attendees on data security issues were big successes this year, he told CSP Daily News.

"It's hard to get excited about how things get plugged together," he said, referring to PCATS initial, narrower mission of building c-store specific standards. "But you ask any backoffice provider if they know a product that isn't using PCATS standards and they won't be able to think of one modern installation."

Expansion of the group's scope was an important and naturally occurring evolution, said Drew Mize, vice president of product management and marketing, The Pinnacle Corp., Arlington, Texas. The data security committee is only two years old and yet a third of conference participants chose to attend, he noted, adding that the expansion of scope has lured in CIOs as well as people from operations and marketing.

"Data security is an important topic not only now, but in the future," Mize said. "It's about where we're going with payment and the future of payment, whether it's [encrypted card data], contactless or mobile payment. But with [PCATS], we're way ahead."

The four-day conference rounded out last week on an upbeat note. Bruce Bates, vice president of sales and marketing for PDI, Temple, Texas, said the industry's ever-changing mix of fuels and merchandise, as well as regulatory and business mandates from credit-card companies, force changes on technology supporting the store. For instance, he said that while still workable, the electronic business-to-business motor fuels standard had not been enhanced since 2003. While not out of date, the standard needed modifications to make it more easily understood.

Bates predicted more effort would be necessary as the industry moves further into areas of loyalty, business intelligence and item-level inventory.

PCATS also recognized a couple of its own. Kraig Adams, vice president of customer solutions for large stores, north and south, for Coca-Cola, Atlanta, had for the past seven years been active with PCATS, serving as board secretary and vice chairman of the merchandising and marketing committee. An internal move within the beverage manufacturer forced him to step away from PCATS.

Another longtime PCATS member having served in several positions since its inception was Brad McGinnis of VeriFone, Clearwater, Fla. McGinnis had been given added responsibilities with the POS provider and had to bow out of the organization. PCATS officials presented both with awards at the conference's general session.

Since PCATS become the technical entity for NACS in a relatively recent merger, Taylor said talks have occurred about streamlining the association's technology conferences--namely PCATS and the annual NACStech Show set for this spring, but combining or doing one instead of the other is currently not a consideration. Both meetings have different focuses, with PCATS being a working, hands-on developmental event, whereas NACStech has a more educational, product-showcase feel.

Next year, the PCATS conference is set to go back to New Orleans, with plans to return to Tucson the year after, Taylor said.

PCATS is a standards and education focused entity formed by members of the c-store industry in the 1990s. Initially stemming from a National Association of Conveniecne Stores effort, PCATS broke off as a separate entity and operated as such until about two years ago, when it merged once more with the Alexandria, Va.-based c-store association.