NASHVILLE — The 2019 Conexxus Annual Conference in Nashville was the most heavily attended in its history, buzzing with both people and ideas.
Attendees convened as the convenience-store industry is increasingly being surrounded by disruptors, ranging from increasing interchange fees and the growth of dollar stores in the face of a shrinking c-store footprint to the emergence of CBD, cannabis and tech-driven consumer trends.
Click through for notable highlights from the 2019 Conexxus Annual Conference …
1. Monster with your Fortnite
The idea of selling retail and foodservice items on previously untapped digital platforms was discussed at length in Nashville. Gray Taylor, executive director of Conexxus, asked attendees to imagine their children buying Monster energy drinks through the popular computer and mobile game Fortnite. He also indicated that Google and other tech firms want to bring similar online shopping experiences to YouTube and other online platforms.
2. The room where it happens
Kevin Smartt, CEO of Bonham, Texas-based Kwik Chek, urged retailers to make their voices heard when it comes to emerging trends such as cannabis. “We’ve been cut out of that conversation,” he said. He pointed to the 13 states in which cannabis is legal and said c-stores need to be more involved in deciding where and how it is sold.
Smartt also outlined a similar problem with alternative fuels and said he looks at himself as an energy provider. “I don’t care what kind of energy I sell,” he said.
3. Data equals learning
Bobby Cameron, vice president and principal analyst for Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, credits Amazon with duping retailers during its early years. “We all thought they were a bookseller," he said. "Smart people: They were figuring out distribution.”
Cameron said Amazon is practicing the same strategy today with Amazon Go and other brick-and-mortar concepts. “The disruptor is trying to figure out what your customer wants to do,” he said. He also said that while new tech has disrupted retail, the most significant disruption has resulted from changing customer expectations.
4. APIs are the future
An application programming interface (API) is a tool that not only allows different software components to communicate with one another, but also offers a key to c-stores’ ability to compete in retail’s future.
“I think there’s a ton of opportunities for APIs,” said Jason Lobel, CEO of retail analytics software company SwiftIQ, based in Chicago. “All of this data is sitting here between these different parties. With a few APIs, you can all get connected.” Access to more industry data, he said, could fuel anything from smarter point-of-sale systems to a more streamlined supply chain.
5. Tied down by credit cards
America’s payments infrastructure is being held back from innovating because the country is stuck in a payment and banking scheme based on technology that predates the internet, according to Guy Berg, vice president of payments, standards and outreach group for the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
“Venmo is going to be issuing a credit card,” said Berg. “They’re saying that to get into retail, they need to get into the card space. I think there’s something wrong with that. How do [person-to-person payments] get into retail without getting into the card space?”
6. Your fly's open
Contrary to popular belief, most hackers are trying to help business stay secure, said Geoffrey Vaughan, security engineer for Wilmington, Mass.-based Security Innovation. Hackers are generally curious about the stability of security networks, he said, and they actively attempt to break into them to expose weaknesses so that retailers and other businesses can better defend themselves from cyber threats.
“I wish I didn’t have to say this, but please don’t sue me," Vaughan said. "It’s usually the first response: Imagine me telling you your fly was down, and you beating me up for looking. It doesn’t make me want to help you.”
7. Do the chicken dance
How did Tim Lowe, president of Lowe Foods, produce a 122% lift in chicken sales? He made chicken a cultural icon of his grocery stores. First, Lowe saw about a 20% lift in sales after he made and marketed his chicken as locally sourced with no antibiotics. Seeing this, he decided to go further.
Lowe followed up his marketing push by installing a chicken chandelier and invited customers and employees alike to do the chicken dance in stores. Soon the chicken dance became a part of the company’s DNA. “If you want to join our company, you can’t join if you won’t do the chicken dance,” he told new hires at the time.
Customers grew curious when they saw people doing the dance, which gave his associates a chance to tell the story about the store’s chicken, which allowed a previously saturated category to grow.
8. Blockchain revisited
A panel of experts in blockchain explained that blockchain’s true usefulness is not necessarily in cryptocurrency, but in providing an accurate tracking system. “Whether your store has fresh food or not, at some point you’re going to need to know its origin,” said Liz Sertl, director of community engagement for GS1 US, a standards organization based in Ewing, N.J. She said a blockchain-managed supply chain could have potentially averted the romaine lettuce E.coli outbreak in 2018.
9. Honoring a leader
Conexxus inducted Avsha Klachuk, a former Alon executive who now serves as a volunteer consultant in his very active retirement, into the Conexxus Hall of Fame.
Taylor of Conexxus hailed Klachuk as an early innovator and a dear friend to the industry and to Conexxus. Taylor said Klachuk oversaw the installation of fiber optics and mobile pay-at-the-pump capabilities in Israel back in 1999, and that he was the first person to write a check for his Conexxus membership in 2001. He said Klachuk exemplified service to the industry and the organization, and to this day Klachuk does not accept payment for his consulting work. Klachuk and his family moved to Dallas from Israel to work for Alon in 2001, a process Klachuk compared to flying to the moon. He stayed there for 16 years before eventually moving back to Israel, where he continues his work for the industry.
“I know all of you here by name,” Klachuk said after accepting his award. “We became like a family, and I cherish it.” Klachuk is a proud grandfather of three, and he intends to spends the rest of his retirement spending time with them, traveling and learning.