CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Educating employees, tracking local regulations and vetting products and suppliers are c-stores’ top priorities when it comes to products made with cannabidiol (CBD), a nonpsychoactive component of cannabis, according to four retailers on the executive panel at CSP’s CBD & Convenience Retail forum, held Oct. 28-30 in Charlotte, N.C.
The panel, which featured executives from Yesway, CITGO, VERC Enterprises and Stop N Go, aimed to explore how c-stores are approaching the ingredient and how they plan to alter their business models down the line.
Here’s a peek into what each of these four chains has in store for CBD …
Pictured: Leo Vercollone (from left), Alan Adato, Vijay Patel and Jim Cox
VERC Enterprises, Duxbury, Mass., started selling CBD earlier this year in gummy, vape, tincture and cream forms. The ingredient has become such a hit that the chain plans to replace two Subway locations connected to stores with 400-square-foot CBD dispensaries, said Leo Vercollone, CEO of VERC.
“We’ve gone full speed ahead over the past 10 months,” he said. “Our industry is under assault with tobacco, and I’m looking for other products that will make up the difference. There’s a huge opportunity to become a leader with CBD.”
The dispensaries will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and will run on separate point-of-sale systems from VERC stores, Vercollone said. He did not clarify when these shops will open.
“When no one is in [the dispensary], we expect those employees to be sampling [CBD] to our VERC customers,” he said.
Vercollone acknowledged the risks involved with this move and emphasized that employee training and education will dictate if the dispensaries are successful. “You’ve got to spend a lot of time and resources to educate your front-line people,” he said. “Can we be wrong in a year from now? Yes. But if you put that product on the front counter and your associate is engaged, that’s a win.”
Yesway, Des Moines, Iowa, launched CBD-infused bottled water in 40 stores eight weeks ago and is exploring more options, including counter displays, said Alan Adato, manager of merchandising and procurement for Yesway. “It’s been positive for our associates and for our customers,” he said.
The water, which sells for $3.99 a bottle, is merchandised at both the front counter and back cooler and requires consumers to be 18 or older to purchase. Yesway uses a direct-store-delivery (DSD) distributor to vet other CBD manufacturers and other products under consideration, Adato said. The distributor also assists with putting together a plan-o-gram for where to merchandise products and employee education.
“We want to ensure that our whole team is comfortable with CBD,” he said. “We’ve had several conference calls with our managers and walk-through presentations done by our distributor. Because of the high turnover in c-stores, we want to make sure we have those regular conversations at the operations level.”
Branded fuel retailer CITGO Petroleum Corp., Houston, sells CBD products in roughly 1,000 stores yet has lots of ground to cover; it needs to make a 360-degree plan-o-gram for handling it, said Jim Cox, retail development and operations manager for CITGO. “Our retailers don’t have a clue what they’re doing,” he said.
While Cox believes CBD is a “golden opportunity” for c-stores—mainly to boost declining sales from tobacco—his retailers must learn about the types of products to launch, whom to ask for guidance and how to track local regulations. “If someone’s carrying an illegal CBD product in a specific area, that’s a problem for us,” he said. “There are standards our folks need to be looking at, and that’s why I’m here.”
Not only does Cox want to educate CITGO retailers, but he also wants to become a resource for other c-stores. He plans on hosting a monthly CBD webinar to offer retailers perspective and knowledge on the budding topic.
“Our ideal scenario is to create a good plan-o-gram, provide education to other retailers and help others establish their own programs,” he said.
Vijay Patel, manager of Stop-N-Go Convenience Stores in Asheville, N.C., has wavered in his commitment to CBD products. He wants to maintain a community-friendly image in his stores because many of them are near churches and schools, he said.
“We do a lot of work with the stores and churches in our community,” he said. “We haven’t been sure if CBD is a right fit for us.”
Patel said both he and his consumers have negatively viewed CBD as marijuana. But after learning more about CBD and its potential benefits, he said that marketing CBD items as health and wellness products may help improve the chain’s image—and the perception of the products—with its consumers.
“When you look at the perspective of it being a health and wellness product, that’s a game changer,” he said. “That’s something I can tell our church members who come to the store. This changes my perspective on how to merchandise [CBD] and sell it.”