CHICAGO — Last-mile solutions, age verification and electric vehicles are some of the top topics convenience-store leaders are dealing with today.
At the 2021 NACS Show in Chicago, NACS President and CEO Henry Armour spoke to Jared Scheeler, CEO of The Hub Convenience Stores Inc., and 2021-22 NACS chairman, and Kevin Smartt, outgoing chairman of NACS and CEO of TXB, about what their stores are doing in these areas.
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Last-mile solutions are all about how a customer gets the product they want in their hands, Armour said.
For Scheeler, who operates a chain of six stores in western North Dakota’s Bakken oil region, his strategy on last-mile solutions changed amid the COVID-19 pandemic. At the start of the pandemic, the Dickinson, N.D.-based company enacted home delivery, which they handled internally.
“It didn’t take us very long to figure out that that probably wasn’t the long-term answer for us—just so many moving parts with that, insurance, need a lot of transactions,” Scheeler said. “We ended up transitioning that into third-party delivery, which has worked for us today.”
The only concern he has with using a third party, like DoorDash, customers say they ordered from DoorDash, rather than The Hub, he said. Beyond home delivery, Scheeler thinks c-stores need to be part of the drive-thru game like quick-service restaurants are.
“I’m not sure that I would build a new ground-up going forward without a drive thru,” he said.
Smartt also does home delivery at Bonham, Texas-based TXB, which stands for Texas Born and was previously Kwik Chek.
“It’s critical,” Smartt said. “What we’re seeing is afternoon, evening delivery is a bigger portion of that, which is what our industry struggled with.”
Smartt said the c-store industry needs to come together to keep third-party companies from owning their data.
“I think it’s a real opportunity for this industry to come together somehow and stand up in our contracts or whatever we do so at some point we own the data not them,” he said.
Armour showcased NACS’s new TruAge verification system at the show. The digital solution developed by NACS, Alexandria, Va., enhances current age-verification systems and protects user privacy, he said. It provides a simple way to check IDs when c-store consumers buy age-verified products like tobacco or alcohol.
The system is sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, Molson Coors Beverage Co. and Altria Group Distribution Co.
“It’s super important to be socially responsible,” when it comes to age verification, Armour said. “NACS has had a 60-year history of leading efforts to bring tools to our members to ensure that we’re doing sales out of our stores in a socially responsible way.”
So why did NACS launch TruAge? It’s something that customers expect, it can help present new sales opportunities, it enhances c-stores’ image, products c-stores’ business, protects data privacy and also helps the industry to own its own future, according to Armour.
With c-stores providing more than 80% of fuels, there will be a mosaic of fuels offered in the future, and electric will be one option, Armour said. EV sales are expected to be fastest growing on the coast, he said. But for a midwestern retailer like Scheeler, he said he doesn’t make a lot of the EV market now.
Being in a sparsely populated area, Scheeler said they don’t face the same needs as consumers on the coast. He’s keeping his eye on it, though.
“Are we in North Dakota going to lead when it comes to EVs? Absolutely not. But we need to put ourselves in the position to be a fast second place,” Scheeler said.
For Smartt, he said c-stores need to sell what customers want to buy. And while there’s not a high demand in his market for EV chargers now, now is the time to learn about them.
“We have some EV chargers out there. We’re experimenting, we’re learning from it,” Smartt said.