Seemingly every other retailer in this year’s Top 101 is running, acquiring or building stores in Florida. No. 13 on the list, Wawa, plans to build at least 120 locations in South Florida between 2017 and 2022. No. 40, CEFCO, chose Florida as its seventh state to enter in May 2015. And No. 1 on the list, 7-Eleven, continued to grow its footprint in the state, acquiring 94 South Florida sites from Biscayne Petroleum LLC and Everglades Petroleum LLC just last November.
Atlanta-based RaceTrac (No. 24) has had a presence in Florida for more than 40 years, with 170 locations today, 13 under construction and plans for 60 future sites.
“We anticipate continued growth in Florida for the foreseeable future,” says Brian Thornton, vice president of real estate and engineering. “RaceTrac hasn’t identified other areas of the U.S. that offer similar benefits to Florida.”
What follows are 10 reasons (and one bonus reason) why retailers are flocking to the Sunshine State.
“The weather is a big factor, but more importantly, I think it’s the improved economic climate,” says James Miller, communications director for the Florida Retail Federation, Tallahassee, Fla. Since 2012, Florida’s economy has averaged 2.3% annual growth (vs. 2.0% nationally) and its economic growth rate in 2014 ranked 11th in the country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
Miller says the booming economy has a lot to do with a legislature that routinely lowers taxes and manages regulations to help businesses succeed.
“We heard directly from [Wawa] leadership that, compared to other states, they’re finding more opportunities in Florida because of our efficient permitting processes,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott said during a recent trip to visit Wawa executives in Pennsylvania. “Because we are focused on eliminating redundant regulations, we’ve made Florida more competitive for attracting jobs like those at Wawa.”
Retailers and the Florida Retail Federation credit Gov. Scott directly for a lot of the Florida boom. Considering his proposed billion-dollar tax-cut package and routine trips to recruit companies to Florida, Scott may just be the most business-friendly governor in the biz.
“Every year he’s unveiled something he feels is going to get Florida in a more dynamic position to win jobs and to recruit businesses to this state,” Miller says.
At 19.9 million residents, “Florida is the third-most populous state in the country,” says Miller. What’s more, another 800 people move in every day.
“It’s also extremely diverse,” Miller says. “South Florida is completely different—different population, different everything—than north Florida.”
“Miami is growing in population, particularly because of its proximity to Latin America,” agrees Arturo Zizold, CEO of Miami-based Victory Petroleum. “That’s helping economic activity.”
“Florida has a built-in advantage with having 100 million tourists per year. And they always leave with more than they came with,” says Miller. “Those tourists need to gas up their car and grab a snack.”
For regional retailers with strong brands such as Wawa, the tourist population and the slew of northerners who retire in the area gives them an instant connection.
“They can come down and automatically have name recognition, which is something any business entering a new market would appreciate,” Miller says.
“It’s a very large, spread-out state. Whether you want to drive or don’t want to drive, you need a car to live in Florida,” says Miller. It’s simple math: More drivers mean more gas and more trips to c-stores.
A wide geographic footprint—65,755 square miles, to be exact—means there’s plenty of room for retailers to grow and succeed.
That room to grow makes it easier for so many retailers to thrive in Florida’s friendly climate.
“We welcome other c-store retailers to the markets we call home,” says Thornton of RaceTrac. “Healthy competition makes all of us stronger.”
Nice weather isn’t just a perk—it actually improves sales. Management Science Associates data shows c-store sales pick up when the temperature rises above 67 degrees. Florida averages 70.7 degrees, according to the NOAA National Climatic Data Center, putting it in a nice climate for strong sales.