Michael Tirey, who has been with Circle K for nearly 15 years, is responsible for category growth across Circle K’s franchise locations, including approximately 800 stores in 34 states. His categories include cigarettes, other tobacco products (OTP), health and beauty care (HBC), CBD, automotive, general merchandise and grocery.

What’s new and exciting in your category?
While CBD struggled last year as an entire category, the innovation in the category is what is most exciting. Look at the inclusion of vape CBD products and the quantity of beverages that are available. Flavor profiles for beverages have drastically improved over the past year with some very exciting brands and offerings.

Any recent changes to how you’re displaying products in your stores?
We have tried different avenues over the past year for displays and find that if customers can get close to the products, really see them, they are more likely to buy them. The idea is not to bury them on the front counter under or with other product displays. There needs to be a clear view that stands out. Variety of manufacturer and product type is absolute key.

What do you love about your category?
CBD keeps me on my toes. Especially with changes in regulations with how many states Circle K Franchise operates in. Now you also throw in CBN (cannabinol) and CBG (cannabigerol) products. The continued growth is exciting. Keeping up with the industry through online research, articles and reading interviews from people in the CBD manufacturing and distribution side can be a time-consuming venture, but it is a necessary one if you want to understand the industry and where it is going.

What is the biggest frustration?
Since Circle K Franchise operates in 34 states, the change in localized regulation is frustrating as those changes are not always communicated in advance.

How did the pandemic change your category?
The CBD category is not growing as fast as originally thought and was down almost 20% as a whole in 2021. But not all types were down. Products such as vape and topical HBC products are increasing, and gummies began to make a comeback after a down 2020. Customers were buying products online vs. brick-and-mortar locations. But vape and beverages will only be available at c-stores, vape due to shipping regulations. This is not to say the category is not growing, just that consumers have changed buying habits. Product assortment is key, though. It has changed what type of CBD products customers are buying—more health and wellness including stress relief due to more people working from home.

What trends are you watching?
What I am watching the most is the innovation of products. I am also watching for what CBD brands are beginning to be the most sought after. There is still not a hierarchy of brands, but some manufacturers do sell better than others depending upon geographic location. What manufacturers sell best in the West is definitely not the same as to who sells best in the Northeast. There are a lot of very good brands and products, and not all manufacturers make the same products. Finding out which companies or products will cause the category to spike upwards.

What products performed well in the past year?
HBC items such as the variety of topicals (rubs, ointments, freezes, etc.) are increasing as they are really an easy way for consumers to try the products, and easiest to understand if they are concerned about ingesting something. Vape, while small right now, is beginning to move the needle and is expected to continue upward. Gummies have begun to make a comeback and saw a nice increase.

What are your goals for 2022?
My goals are expansion into more product and manufacturer variety, looking into more of a health and wellness set with increased consumer education to show that Circle K is in the business of selling only the best quality, tested products.