10 Highlights From the 2018 NACS Show®

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LAS VEGAS -- The 2018 NACS Show opened its general sessions with lessons in modern marketing from a sweaty and yelling Bonin Bough and ended with TV host Mike Rowe cracking up the audience with the tale of flying "poop" in the sewer (long story). From Rowe, the message was: Find that moment in your life (or the life of your business) that can change everything moving forward. For Bough, it was about embracing a new way of thinking. "We have to break what we have today to reinvent ourselves for tomorrow," he said.

Here are 10 other insightful ideas, trends and products that stood out during the NACS Show ...

1. Stepping up private label

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The Yesway convenience-store chain is taking a tiered approach to private-label products. Having seen success with a bottled-water brand it launched in June, the two-year-old company will roll out self-branded lines of salty snacks, packaged bakery items and bagged candy in November. And in a future third phase of the private-label strategy, the chain will consider which types of products are performing best. Those will get a “category enhancement” line extension that raises the new products up to premium positioning.

2. Ahead of the disruptors

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It's difficult to be innovative. It requires creativity and abstract thinking coupled with an aptitude for business that keeps ideas from going off the rails. To help get beyond those challenges, retailer Sheetz is creating an incubator team charged with developing innovation and even reinventing the Sheetz business model. "We're aiming to empower a small team to be accountable for creating disruption," said Emily Sheetz, associate vice president of strategy development and execution for Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz. "That doesn't stop the rest of the company to move Sheetz forward in small steps. But it creates the process through which we support both the core business and innovation."

3. Learning curve ball

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Maverik Inc. believes its employee training should be fun, referring to it as “edutainment.” The Salt Lake City-based c-store chain facilitates a combination of web-based and instructor-led training. Once team members have received their initial training and certification, their schooling continues with “learning bites,” 15-minute training touchpoints managers can quickly push out to their teams.

4. Cool, dude!

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Retailer Pilot Flying J has redesigned its stores to make life a little easier for its employees. “Kitchens don’t necessarily have to be hot and uncomfortable anymore,” said Shannon Johnson, vice president of food innovation for the Knoxville, Tenn.-based retailer. The travel-center chain has been working with suppliers to replace its heat-generating equipment with induction units to help keep the kitchens cool.

5. The pressure's on

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Core-Mark, South San Francisco, Calif., is investing in high-pressure processing for some of its meal solutions, such as its Perfect Fit Meals. The method cold pasteurizes packaged products using intense pressure to kill microbes, ultimately extending shelf life by several weeks.

6. Training wheels

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Since convenience-store and foodservice operations are two very different business models, a c-store chain's move into foodservice can be a major adjustment for retail employees, specifically the additional workload that comes with a kitchen. Before c-stores launch their own programs, they can gradually prepare managers and associates, according to Courtney Williams, vice president of food and beverage for Valparaiso, Ind.-based Family Express. “Do little improvements here and there, so when you’re ready to roll out your program it's less of a leap,” she said. Williams recommends retailers start by creating more diligent protocols around first-in, first-out management of inventory and cleaning shelves. “Your shelves are pretty much your kitchen today, so make sure they’re clean” and stocked, she said.

7. Waste not, want not

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One chain's waste product is another's menu innovation. To wit, the Parker Cos. Recently began using leftover pulled chicken from its chicken salad sandwiches to make hot grab-and-go barbecue chicken sandwiches, according to Heather Davis, director of foodservice for Savannah, Ga.-based Parker Cos. “We’re three weeks in, and it's already generated an extra $140,000 in annual revenue,” Davis said.

8. Multiples peaking?

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One thought floating around the NACS Show floor suggests that because several leading economic indicators are turning soft, convenience-store acquisition multiples are about to fall. This could be a good thing for smaller retailers. "Perhaps M&A won't just be for the big boys," said Jeff Kramer, managing director for NRC Capital Advisors, Chicago.

Photograph: Shutterstock

9. To be or not to be?

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RaceTrac Petroleum Inc. has started testing third-party delivery in some of its locations. For a long time, the chain said it did not feel ready to move forward with mobile ordering and delivery, said Steven Turner, director of food programs for Atlanta-based RaceTrac. However, its c-store executives decided to jump in when they realized the chain's market share would be a guaranteed zero without it. “It’s: Do I order on my phone from RaceTrac? Or do I order on my phone from somewhere else?”

10. Embracing impulse

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In 2019, the Hershey Co. will focus its attention on the blurring digital and physical retail environments with one goal in mind: how to effectively capture consumers in each area, said Laura Renaud, corporate communications manager for the Hershey, Pa.-based company. Hershey will also dive into impulse purchases and what these truly mean. Nowadays, consumers have impulse occasions at home, when they simply head to the kitchen pantry on a whim. What separates these occasions from the impulse purchases made in stores, and why should c-stores focus on them? This is what the Hershey team is looking at.