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Opinion: Innovating Inside the Store and Out

Situation we see with gasoline is exactly why convenience retailers need to focus more than ever on what’s selling inside their stores
gas pump
Photograph: Shutterstock

CHICAGO Two hundred miles. That’s the distance from my home to my son’s college. It also seems to be the appropriate distance to get a feel for how gasoline prices have blown up in recent weeks.

During two recent roundtrips from Chicago to Indianapolis (thank you, spring break), I witnessed 30-cent variations in gasoline pricing from week to week and from location to location.

It’s not news to any of you, I’m sure, that gas prices have spiked since Russia attacked Ukraine at the end of February. That came on top of a year of slowly increasing fuel prices as consumers began to return to the road post-COVID lockdowns and the country started to rely more on imported crude oil post-inauguration. As I write this story in mid-March, the average U.S. retail price of a gallon of gasoline is a record $4.10, up $1.33 since a year ago.

Add to the mix, additional price spikes are expected now that President Joe Biden has banned oil imports from Russia, so much so that the state of Arkansas has authorized retail fuel outlets to temporarily display and sell fuel in half-gallon increments with proper signage to help with labeling on pumps that cannot display prices of more than $10.

So how high will gas prices go? $7? $10? Certainly, we’re about to see that threshold tested in ways we never have before.

It’s a wakeup call for Americans … or a political football that will echo in Washington through the 2024 election and likely well beyond.

The Fuel Factor

Those of you who are familiar with this special issue of CSP magazine, our Category Management Handbook, may be asking yourself: Why is he so focused on fuel in the opening of an issue that is all about in-store sales? In fact, we covered the issues facing gasoline in depth in our previous issue [CSP—Mar. ’22, p. 16].

The situation we see with gasoline is exactly why convenience retailers need to focus more than ever on what’s selling inside their stores.

In 2020, influenced dramatically by pandemic lockdowns, retailers saw their gasoline dollar sales drop to their lowest point—$292.6 billion—in more than 20 years, according to NACS’ State of the Industry Report. At the same time, COVID issues and all, in-store sales hit an all-time high, up 1.5% to $255.6 billion.

Retailers could take those startling statistics and wave them off as once-in-a lifetime anomalies. Or they can consider them a glimpse of the long-term future of the c-store industry and use it as inspiration to evolve their product sets, embracing the products and promotions that are driving sales today and updating them as regularly as necessary to keep stores fresh and customers intrigued.

People Quotient

To that end, this issue also includes interviews with CSP’s 2022 Category Manager of the Year Award winners. I wish I could begin to tell you the fun we had during Convenience Retailing University this year handing out these awards and celebrating the winners! It was truly a “you had to be there” event. (Watch for photos in the May issue.)

What I can do is share some of the winners’ insights and inspirations. You’ll find Q&As with each of the nine winners beginning on the next page. I also can congratulate them—again—on their well-deserved recognition.

And this year, I am excited to announce the creation of a CMOY Hall of Fame, including the induction of its first member. (See pg. 6.) These esteemed retailers will be recognized during each CRU Conference for setting a standard of excellence for category manager.

So welcome to an issue packed with data, insights, ideas and suggestions. I expect you’ll find it useful as you consider how your product sets can develop over the next weeks, months and years.

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