Circle K, Sheetz and Nouria’s Approach to Technology in the C-Store

Convenience-store chain leaders talk priorities in the systems they invest in
Circle K
Photograph courtesy of Frank Beard, Rovertown

Maintaining effective technology in a convenience store is not about “chasing the next new shiny object,” said Ryan Uphouse (second from right), lead business analyst with the Sheetz c-store chain at the Conexxus conference in Arlington, Texas. Until that technology has matured and is understood to have value, Sheetz doesn’t pursue it.

Uphouse sat on a panel with Christine Loukota (second from left), director of emerging technologies, Alimentation Couche-Tard/Circle K, Laval, Quebec, and Abhi Patel (left), director of information technology at Nouria Energy, Worcester, Massachusetts. The discussion was moderated by Ed Collupy (right), innovation facilitator at Conexxus.

  • Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. is No. 2 on CSP’s 2024 Top 40 Update to the 2023 Top 202 ranking of U.S. c-store chains by store count. Sheetz is No. 13. Watch for the full 2024 Top 202 ranking in the June issue of CSP magazine and in CSP Daily News. Nouria is No. 48 onCSP’s 2023 Top 202 list.

The retailers talked about their approaches to technology at their respective chains. Loukota shared details about Circle K’s technology platform.

In 2019, Circle K’s technology was working well, but it was struggling to meet customer demands, and technology was evolving rapidly, Loukota said. Circle K developed an integration layer that pilots and launches new solutions without having to rip out the legacy technologies and avoid building pint solutions. It allowed the chain to test things out and fail fast.

Circle K’s API-based cloud services platform, Information Superhighway, leverages mesh application service architecture to power the chain’s digital experiences. “We enable speed to market, innovation and easy integrations through the Information Superhighway, all while creating a unified system that’s consistent,” she said.

By having one unified platform, the chain avoids duplicative application programming interfaces (APIs) and divisions operating independently.

It was built on six principles:

  1. Adapting and scaling to what’s next to enable the future.
  2. Optimizing investments by being selective about partners.
  3. Flexibility from everything being service-driven.
  4. Empowering stores to access real-time data.
  5. Limiting vendor lock-in; not having just one vendor for everything.
  6. Building a highly efficient and engaged team.

“We can also test something out, and if it doesn’t work, it’s still reusable enough that it’s not just throw-away work. We’re still going to use those APIs again for future experiences.”

Including the chain’s smart checkout program, its global mobile app and its inner circle loyalty program.

Sheetz receives 1.81 million transactions per day, has 60 connected devices in each store and uses 500 integrated systems.

It established an architecture team and leverages automation and robotics to enhance consumer experience while helping out store employees with reduced efforts.

“The whole objective for being data driven is to back your decisions,” said Uphouse. “We’ve historically called it our ‘golden gut,’ making sure that our gut is accurate and backing it up with the data.”

Recruiting and retaining talent in the tech field is a focus for Nouria. 

Patel suggested partnering with the right recruiting firm, implementing a standardized process to attain prompt onboarding of new talent and taking advantage of round-the-clock support by considering offshore services situated in other time zones.

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