ORLANDO, Fla. — The 300 convenience-store industry executives who attended CSP's Convenience Retailing University (CRU) last week walked away with a varied collection of insights into the future of the industry and how it's being attacked from all sides in the form of disruption.
Here's a look at eight highlights that stood out to our editors ...
1. Disrupting fuel
Is Amazon planning to disrupt fuel? “They are looking at it; it’s not just a rumor. They’ve got people who are studying it and spending great sums of money,” said Tom Kloza, global head of energy analysis for Oil Price Information Service, Gaithersburg, Md., a division of IHS Markit.
Kloza, who spoke on a panel addressing the outlook for fuel, was referring to a research report from investment firm D.A. Davidson, which advised Amazon to target two key final market opportunities: gasoline stations and travel centers. But traditional fuel retailers need not “really worry about it yet,” he said.
“There is a lot of hand-holding that happens in the fuel category and oil distribution,” Kloza said. “It’s a formidable challenge for Amazon. I understand why they like it, but I think that probably to do it, they might have to take out someone the equivalent of two to three Alimentation Couche-Tards and … integrate it into their system."
He suggested that some of the fuel retailers in the room might hear from Amazon, seeking to buy their sites to remove some competition.
2. Staffed up
Embracing frictionless retail shouldn't be all about trimming staff, said Mike Fogerty, founder and CEO of Choice Market in Denver. As his tech-savvy company grows, he expects employee count to remain fairly consistent with other convenience stores.
“It’s about augmenting staff rather than reducing it,” Fogerty said during the Disruption Watch special session at CRU. “I’d rather have my staff creating really high-quality food than working on non-value-adding services” such as something as basic as running the checkout, he said.
3. Taking sides
Digital retailing is no longer a simple us vs. them proposition, said Gaurav Pant, chief insights officer for consumer research company Incisiv, West New York, N.J.
"Digital now touches all aspects of the shopper journey. It's no longer just a channel," Pant said during the Disruption Watch special session at CRU. "Consumers—especially younger consumers—are more likely to shop at retailers that align next-generation technologies to their digital preferences."
4. Convenience redefined
Millennials are not the only demographic eating up delivery. Boomers overindex on current or potential delivery of food, beverages and alcohol from convenience stores, said Donna Hood Crecca, principal for CSP sister data firm Technomic.
“Can we increase engagement with older consumers?” she said. “Does delivery present that opportunity?"
Beyond delivery, in-store tech amenities can also help widen c-stores’ customer base. About 40% of c-store consumers say the availability of frictionless payment would increase their likelihood of visiting that location, Crecca said.
5. Beer here?
Innovation in beer has gone so far afield that some retailers suggest it's difficult to recognize the category anymore.
"Beer isn't beer anymore," said retailer Dana Sump during the Packaged Beverage Key Category Forum. Sump, senior category manager of packaged beverages for Casey’s General Stores, Ankeny, Iowa, referred to the increasingly varied selections of flavored, sweetened and enhanced beers, ciders and flavored malt beverages coming to market.
“There’s so many items being introduced,” he said, “and we’re the proving ground on whether [the manufacturers] are going to carry it.”
6. A tech angle on foodservice
Salt Lake City-based Maverik Inc. uses a color label printer to draw consumers’ eyes to its BonFire-branded foodservice items, such as its Flying Tomatillo Burrito. The machine, a product of Long Beach, Calif.-based Epson America Inc., allows the retailer to print labels featuring color photos, prices, time stamps, ingredients and bar codes at the store level.
“It isn’t just a chicken burrito,” said Andy Scherz, senior product manager for Epson. “You can’t get that at any other convenience store. You want to create products that create a brand loyalty.”
7. Sheetz gets charged up
Sheetz Inc. will become the No. 1 landlord for Tesla’s electric-vehicle (EV) Supercharger stations in the country in 2019, said Mike Lorenz, executive vice president of petroleum supply for the Altoona, Pa.-based retailer.
The chain, which is No. 14 in the Top 40 update to CSP’s2018 Top 202 ranking of c-store chains by number of company-owned retail outlets, has EV charging stations through a variety of partners at about 30 sites. It began partnering with Tesla in 2017.
“How long is this going to take to make a significant impact?" he asked. "I think it’s at least a minimum of 10 years before you see anything significant, and maybe two decades. But we’re still putting in chargers.”
8. Penny for your thoughts
Retail leaders vying for MVP status might want to take notes from former pro basketball player Steve Nash, said Alan Stein Jr., a performance coach, consultant, speaker and author.
In sports, players can forge a connection physically. When Nash was playing for the Phoenix Suns as a point guard in 2009, he handed out an unprecedented number of high fives, fist bumps and pats on the behind to his team members. In one game, he doled out 239 touches of encouragement.
To deliver the same caliber of emotional support as Nash, Stein told retailers to give their employees 10 assists each day. To keep the effort top of mind, Stein recommended managers put 10 pennies in their left pocket. For each assist, Stein said, transfer a penny from the left pocket to the right, and don't leave for the day until all the pennies have been moved.
“Connection isn’t something you do just one time,” Stein said. “For human beings, it takes constant connection.”