CHICAGO — Despite convenience stores’ designation as an essential business during government-imposed shutdowns earlier this year, keeping business afloat has been challenging. What’s more, it’s still unclear how the world will change after a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19 is widely distributed.
Three c-store retailers, each with different types of stores, came together for a panel on The New Rules of Retail After Coronavirus as part of Winsight Media's virtual Outlook Leadership Conference to discuss today’s coronavirus issues and how they might evolve over time. The panel included Chris Hartman, director of fuels, forecourt and advertising for York, Pa.-based Rutter’s; Ray Huff, president of Lakewood, Colo.-based HJB Convenience, doing business as Russell’s Express; and Mark Samuels, vice president of retail operations for La Plata, Md.-based Dash In. CSP Editor Jackson Lewis moderated the panel.
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The pandemic has already changed the way many retailers interact with their state and local governments. “In Colorado the governor put out an emergency notice, and he ends it, but then the mayor continues it,” said Huff.
The state and city both stepped up to provide aid for his business. Huff reached out to his local representatives, who helped HJB Convenience receive PPP loans. But even with the government assistance, he is eager to hear how governments plan to handle economic fallout from the virus moving forward. “What’s the next step? How do we get to the next point?”
Many stores have had to change their approach to foodservice in the wake of the coronavirus, including Rutter’s. “Coffee, fountain are certainly under attack, as is breakfast in general,” said Hartman. Rutter’s breakfast was “decimated” without as many customers commuting to work. Rutter’s stores also have 20% of their self-checkout kiosks closed in their stores due to local mandates, making customers wait inside longer than they would prefer. “People didn’t want to wait before. They want to wait less now,” said Hartman.
The virus has also forced retailers to juggle the solvency of their business with the health and safety of their employees and customers. Samuels said Dash In stores have signage on the doors and walls reminding people to wear masks and stickers on the floor to help separate people. Samuels said Dash In informs customers about the mask requirement, but will not enforce the rule so as not to put employees in a situation where they could get into a physical altercation with a customer.
Each panelist agreed that contactless payment, mobile ordering, curbside pickup and other tech that allows customers to come into contact with fewer people and surfaces will be here to stay. Immediate consumption products will cede sales to more take-home items and cleanliness will be an ever-present factor in where consumers choose to shop.
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