C-Stores Generate Heat

Convenience channel holds its own on STORES "Hot 100" list

Mational Retail Federation NRF STORES (CSP Daily news / Convenience Stores)

WASHINGTON -- "Hot retailers do things better than their competitors. They've cleverly carved out a proposition for the consumer," said Bryan Gildenberg, chief knowledge officer with Kantar Retail, which provides the data for the National Retail Federation (NRF) STORES magazine Hot 100 report and ranking by sales growth 2013 vs. 2012. "Part of that is being at the right place at the right time with the right products."

Convenience store retailers that embodied this retail philosophy for 2014 included:

37. RaceTrac, Atlanta (10%).

45. 7-Eleven, Dallas (8.7%).

62. Cumberland Farms, Framingham, Mass. (7.1%).

76. Wawa, Wawa, Pa. (6%)

81. Pilot Flying J, Knoxville, Tenn. (5.7%).

83. Casey's General Stores, Ankeny, Iowa (5.7%).

92. QuikTrip, Tulsa, Okla. (5.1%).

Supermarket company Albertsons, Boise, Idaho, took the No. 1 position at 432.7%; grocery distributor and retailer SpartanNash, Grand Rapids, Mich., came in at No. 5 at 36.6%. Both companies also operate convenience stores or fuel centers.

"Hot retailers find a way to align with a shopper base that might not be very well organized or had not been effectively addressed previously," Gildenberg said.

The right place, right time, right product help the nation's fastest-growing retailers succeed, NRF said.

This is a good time to be a small-footprint or specialty grocery chain, whether national in scope or one with stores clustered in regional markets, said the report.

The rise of small and specialty grocery chains has been enabled by the squeeze put on traditional supermarkets by discounters, drug stores and online purveyors of food and other consumables. "Contraction" is the word of the day, evidenced by the appearance of Albertsons at the top of the Hot 100 chart and that of SpartanNash--the tie-up of Spartan Stores and Nash-Finch--just a few rungs below. The mergers and acquisitions coursing through the supermarket industry indicate there are plenty of growth opportunities for smaller, regional and specialty grocers.

To survive and prosper, retailers have to know their customers--and those customers' preferences--all the way down to the individual-store level, said Gildenberg. This means localizing store design, the marketing approach and the merchandise itself.

"Stores have to be much more connected to their trade area--know their trade area, know the market better," he said. "This includes more than geography. It's knowing lifestyles and homing in on that. This is particularly important in urban markets."

Meanwhile, Spartan Stores, an aggressively expanding group of traditional supermarkets centered in and around Michigan, moved from gobbling up local grocers to taking over Nash Finch, a major grocery wholesaler and retailer. The acquisition boosted SpartanNash into the No. 5 spot.

"There is still an enormous opportunity to bring organization in food retailing mostly because the grocery market in this country has been very, very fragmented," said Gildenberg. "Selling fresh food is hard and the successful supermarkets are those that identify with their shopper base."

Click here to view the full Hot 100 list.

Part of CSP's 2014 Convenience Top 101 retailers