1. The real-estate game
When former NACS chairman Jack Kofdarali sold most of his convenience stores in 2016, it wasn't an exit from the industry. It was an opportunity to reinvest in the company, J & T Management, he had started with his wife 16 years earlier. Currently, he has more than 20 new locations in various stages of development, and he's set himself up as the guy in Southern California to come to when properties are about to go on the market. "We're going beyond seeking the properties that are available," he said during a workshop about site selection. "We're cold calling. We're planting the seed to say: Next time you have a site for sale that's suitable for a gas station, call us; we're your guys."
Photograph courtesy of NACS
2. What's driving drinks?
Beverages are top of mind for convenience-store consumers. Thirty-six percent of consumers said they purchase one or more items to drink every c-store trip, the highest of any c-store visitation reason. Only 24% and 20% said the same for quick-service restaurants (QSRs) and drugstores, respectively. “Beverages are not only key drivers of c-store trips, but they are perhaps the stickiness for habituation and loyalty to c-stores,” said Laurie Demeritt, CEO of food consultancy The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash.
3. Clean up your act
A good store cleaning and facility makeover can provide a three-times return on investment, according to Mike Zahajko, executive vice president of sales for CAF Outdoor Cleaning, Maple Valley, Wash. In one remodel case study, a retailer saw a 32% increase in inside sales and 11% increase in fuel sales once the project was done. One caveat: That "shine" will only last about 250 days, Zahajko said. In related research, GasBuddy analyst Frank Beard said upgraded, clean, well-lit c-stores—typically top-performing c-stores—receive 96% more visits than lesser competitors even though on average they sell fuel at 13-cents-per-gallon more than the others.
4. Fueling discussion
Fuel disruption was a hot topic at the educational sessions and on the show floor of the NACS Show. John Eichberger, executive director for the Fuels Institute, urged attendees at one educational session on the future of fuels to be open to installing an electric-vehicle (EV) charging station, especially as financial incentives remain that help cover the cost of equipment and installation, and if anything, to win the future loyalty of today’s EV drivers. Separately, Gilbarco announced a minority investment in Australian electric-vehicle charging system manufacturer Tritium. Through this partnership, Gilbarco will be offering EV charging stations to its clients in the United States, one of which the fueling-dispenser manufacturer displayed in its show-floor booth. Its aim, said Martin Gafinowitz, senior vice president of partner Fortive, is to ensure that gas stations “remain the location of choice for fueling vehicles,” irrespective of the fuel type.
5. 'Follow the incentives'
When it comes to the growth prospects of an alternative fuel, “follow the incentives” is what Christopher Brown, analyst of global automotive for Stratas Advisors, tells his clients. Consider that when Georgia, for example, ended its $5,000 tax credit for the purchase of an EV in 2015, sales of new EVs plummeted 90% the year after.
6. Getting into the weeds
Five major challenges retailers will face if/when marijuana becomes legal and available for sale in c-stores, as outlined by Scott Sinder, partner with Steptoe & Johnson and NACS affiliated counsel:
- Age-restricted product
- Restricted hours
- Insurance issues
- Security problems
- Employee training
7. Bring it on
Do not be afraid of criticism on social media. This was an important message delivered during retailer Maverik’s "Be-Friending Social Media" education session. “Sometimes you find out stuff that you may not necessarily want to know about, but you should know about,” said Nitro Rogalski, social media manager for Maverik. Rogalski used corn dogs as an example. About six months before the conference, Maverik phased out corn dogs from its stores. One customer was not happy, and he wrote an impassioned letter on Facebook explaining why. Because of his words and the fans’ reaction, Maverik recently brought corn dogs back. It even gifted 30 corn dogs to the Facebook poster for him and 29 of his friends. “I think he’s going to eat them all himself, but whatever,” said Rogalski.
8. 'Frack and refine'
During the Technology Roadmap session of the Conexxus TechEdge education sessions, members of standards-group Conexxus laid out key disruptors facing convenience stores. The most important among them were big data, the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI). But every potential disruptor hinges on the proper collection and distillation of data, and that is something any retailer can do with the right tools and the correct level of attention. “You’re sitting on oil,” said Gray Taylor, executive director of Conexxus, comparing big data to oil. “All you have to do is frack and refine.”
9. Defining data
Judging the success of a retail promotion is sometimes a matter of perspective. To streamline the effort, Dafna Gabel, vice president of SwiftIQ, Chicago, offered a hierarchy of data points to measure, in this order:
- Units sold
- Sales dollars
- Basket units
- Take rates
- Source of volume
- Return on investment
10. Clean and jerky
Jack Link’s foremost goal heading into 2019 is expanding its consumer base by making products that appeal to a wide range of people, said Tim Goldsmid, vice president of marketing for the company. Also, Jack Link’s looks to enhance meat-snack purchases altogether: Jerky products are only bought six to seven times a year on average, and that’s from people who say they “love” meat snacks. Breaking through these barriers will require work in three areas:
- Altering health perceptions (that is, making consumers realize jerky isn’t junk food)
- Lowering the price point
- Making jerky and meat snacks top-of-mind products
11. BFY vs. indulgence
Heading into 2019, Promotion in Motion will focus on two consumer segments: those looking for better-for-you (BFY) candy options and those seeking indulgent options, said Michael Rosenberg, the company’s CEO. These two groups were captured within Promotion in Motion's new products on the NACS Show floor: Welch’s Superfruit Mix and Gummi Fun Mix, respectively. In terms of where Promotion in Motion is looking for growth, Rosenberg said the confectionery will explore more chocolate options, as well as seasonal items.