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Convenience Store News October 2021

W H AT ’ S N E X T I N C O N V E N I E N C E A N D F U E L R E TA I L I N G

STRATEGIES TO RECRUIT, RETAIN & DO MORE WITH LESS LABOR

CRISIS OVERCOMING THE LABOR

EXPANDED AND EXTENDED UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS,

CHALLENGES AROUND CHILDCARE, AND NEW WORKER PRIORITIES ARE FORCING C-STORE RETAILERS TO ADAPT TO A NEW LABOR MARKET.

Volume 57, Number 10

OCTOBER 2021

CSNEWS.COM


Local, State and Federal tobacco taxes and restrictions on the sale of tobacco products can hurt your business. Governments often pass new laws quickly, so you need to stay informed about what is happening in your area. You and your business matter and making your voice heard is crucial to our success in fighting for fair tobacco policies.

Scan the QR Code with your phone to take a survey and learn more about how to stand up for your business.

Provided on behalf of Philip Morris USA, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., John Middleton, and Helix Innovations. ©2021 Altria Group Distribution Company | For Trade Purposes Only

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VIEWPOINT

Hall of Fame Is Back Is it heaven? No, it’s Iowa AFTER MORE THAN A YEAR of Zooming and online events, the convenience store industry is finally getting back to business the best way it knows how — with face-to-face events for retailers, suppliers and all those associated with the business of convenience retailing.

Online events are fine. We hosted several last year during the worst of the pandemic. Last fall, our Top Women in Convenience (TWIC) awards, Convenience Foodservice Exchange (CFX) and Hall of Fame drew record attendance from executives who participated in front of their computers at their offices or at home. But this month’s NACS Show marks the rebirth of live events in the c-store industry — a return to the networking and collaboration that has made this retail channel stand out from the rest. With proper safety precautions, I expect the NACS Show will be successful this year. With a month to go, attendance for both our Technology Leadership Dinner and TWIC awards (held during the NACS Show) are tracking ahead of the last live events in 2019. Retail attendance for our CFX event in Charlotte, N.C., has already exceeded that of 2019.

c-store industry. I am eagerly looking forward to the 35th annual Hall of Fame banquet on Nov. 11 in Des Moines, Iowa. We have an all-star lineup rivaling the baseball immortals that appeared out of the cornfield in Kevin Costner’s great 1989 movie, “Field of Dreams.” The newest member of the Hall of Fame is Kyle Krause, CEO of Krause Group and chairman of Kum & Go LC. Fifteen years after seeing his father, William A. (Bill) Krause, inducted into the Hall, Kyle will be honored at the aptly named Krause Gateway Center in downtown Des Moines, along with this year’s supplier inductee Vito Maurici of McLane Co. Inc. Also being honored that evening will be this year’s Retailer Executive of the Year Kevin Smartt, CEO of Texas Born (TXB). And Roy Strasburger, CEO of StrasGlobal, will receive a new award for meritorious service to the industry. As an extra special treat, we will also show special recognition for last year’s Hall of Famers, Greg Parker and Dave Onorato, who were feted online last fall. Did I just hear: “If you build it, they will come?”

One of my biggest disappointments last year was not being able to host an in-person Hall of Fame event. For 33 consecutive years, Convenience Store News has feted the pioneers and leaders that have shaped the

For comments, please contact Don Longo, Editorial Director, at (201) 855-7606 or dlongo@ensembleiq.com.

EDITORIAL EXCELLENCE AWARDS (2013-2021)

EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD Brett Atherton Bolla Management

2021 Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award Finalist, Best Infographics, June 2021

2018 Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award Finalist, Best Editorial Use of Data, June 2017

2013 Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award Best Single Issue, October 2012

2013 Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award Finalist, Best Profile, August 2012

2020 Eddie Award, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Series of Articles, September 2019 2018 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Website Business to Business, Retail, Full Issue, October 2017 Business to Business, Editorial Use of Data, June 2017

Rick Crawford Green Valley Grocery

2017 Eddie Award, Folio: magazine Winner, Business to Business, Retail, Single/Series of Articles, May 2017 Honorable Mention, Business to Business, Retail, Single/Series of Articles, June 2016

Edward Davidson ER Davidson & Associates (7-Eleven Inc., retired)

2016 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Full Issue, October 2015 Business to Business, Retail, Single/Series of Articles, August 2015 2016 American Society of Business Press Editors, National Azbee Awards Gold, Best How-To Article, March 2015 Bronze, Best Original Research, June 2015 2016 American Society of Business Press Editors, Midwest Regional Azbee Awards Gold, Best How-To Article, March 2015 Silver, Best Original Research, June 2015

2015 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Single Article, February 2014

2013 American Society of Business Press Editors, Midwest Regional Azbee Awards Bronze, Best Editorial/Commentary, July 2012

Jim Hachtel Eby-Brown Co.

2014 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Full Issue, October 2013 Business to Business, Retail, Single Article, February 2013

Chris Hartman Rutter’s

2013 Eddie Award Honorable Mention, Folio: magazine Business to Business, Retail, Full Issue, October 2012

Ray Johnson Speedee Mart

2015 American Society of Business Press Editors, National Azbee Awards Silver, Best Profile (long form), February 2014 2015 American Society of Business Press Editors, Midwest Regional Azbee Awards Gold, Best Special Supplement, November 2014 Silver, Best Profile (long form), February 2014

Laura Aufleger OnCue Express

Robert Falciani ExtraMile Convenience Stores Ruth Ann Lilly GPM Investments Vito Maurici McLane Co. Inc. Matt Paduano Lakeport Markets Jonathan Polonsky Plaid Pantries Inc. Greg Scriver Kwik Trip Inc. Bill Stein Core-Mark Roy Strasburger StrasGlobal

Jack Lewis GPM Midwest

2020 Trade Association Business Publications Intl. Tabbie Awards Honorable Mention, Best Single Issue, September 2019 2016 Trade Association Business Publications Intl. Tabbie Awards Silver, Front Cover Illustration, June 2015

OCT OBE R

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Convenience Store News 3


CONTENTS OCT 21

VO LUME 57 N UMB ER 10

COVER STORY PAGE 32

CRISIS

26

OVERCOMING THE LABOR

134

FEATURES

DEPARTMENTS

COVER STORY

VIEWPOINT

NEW HORIZONS

3 Hall of Fame Is Back Is it heaven? No, it’s Iowa.

130 Beyond Allies: Building a Network of Support Allyship takes continuous pushing and learning, and a lifetime of listening.

32 Overcoming the Labor Crisis Expanded and extended unemployment benefits, challenges around childcare, and new worker priorities are forcing c-store retailers to adapt to a new labor market. FEATURE

104 Expansion Fever Convenience retailers are growing their footprints at a rapid pace. FEATURE

112 Fueled by Growth Already an active acquirer, Refuel has its sights set on at least tripling its current store count. FEATURE

118 The Building Blocks of Leadership QuikTrip and Harvard Business School come together to strengthen the c-store chain’s leadership pipeline starting at the senior level.

4 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

8 CSNews Online 18 New Products SMALL OPERATOR

26 The Art of the Steal: Part 2 Many customer theft issues can be resolved with good customer service. EXPERT’S VIEW

126 Empowering Pathways to Opportunity Taking a page from The Hershey Co.’s commitment to DEI.

104

STORE SPOTLIGHT

134 Hometown Pride The first TXB new-build store emphasizes the new brand’s Texan roots. INSIDE THE CONSUMER MIND

162 The State of C-store Loyalty Opportunity exists in making rewards easier to achieve and more enticing.


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CONTENTS OCT 21

VO L UME 57 N UMB ER 10

10

8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Ste. 200, Chicago, IL 60631 (773) 992-4450 Fax: (773) 992-4455 www.csnews.com

BRAND MANAGEMENT Vice President/Group Brand Director Paula Lashinsky (917) 446-4117 plashinsky@ensembleiq.com EDITORIAL Editorial Director (201) 855-7606

Don Longo dlongo@ensembleiq.com

Editor-in-Chief (201) 855-7608

Linda Lisanti llisanti@ensembleiq.com

Senior News Editor (201) 855-7618

INDUSTRY ROUNDUP

CATEGORY MANAGEMENT

10 FTC to Put Oil & Gas Mergers Under Closer Review

FOODSERVICE

12 BP Officially Becomes Sole Owner of Thorntons 14 Eye on Growth 14 Fast Facts 16 Retailer Tidbits 16 Supplier Tidbits

TECHNOLOGY 98 Driving Excellence Through Technology Technology Leader of the Year Kum & Go reinforces its commitment to customers and associates through technology.

60 The Changing Face of Health What defines “healthy” today varies widely among consumers.

Senior Editor (201) 855-7619

Angela Hanson ahanson@ensembleiq.com

Managing Editor (201) 855-7604

Danielle Romano dromano@ensembleiq.com

Contributing Editor (303) 741-3377

Renée M. Covino reneek@aol.com

Contributing Editor (201) 280-2614

Tammy Mastroberte tmastroberte@gmail.com

ADVERTISING SALES & BUSINESS

FOODSERVICE

62 Pulling Ahead of the Pack Foodservice competition is getting fiercer for c-stores, pushing them to go beyond good enough in order to differentiate their offer. TOBACCO

68 Mounting Uncertainty Around Tobacco Retailers are contending with macro environmental factors, such as gas prices and unemployment, while facing new and ongoing regulatory issues. ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES

74

Melissa Kress mkress@ensembleiq.com

74 Raising the Bar The c-store industry embraces wine and liquor as sales rise due to the pandemic.

Associate Brand Director & Northeast Sales Manager (774) 212-6455

Rachel McGaffigan rmcgaffigan@ensembleiq.com

Associate Brand Director & Western Sales Manager (330) 840-9557

Ron Lowy rlowy@ensembleiq.com

Associate Publisher & Midwest Sales Manager Kelly Fischer (773) 992-4464 kfischer@ensembleiq.com Account Executive & Classified Advertising Terry Kanganis (201) 855-7615 tkanganis@ensembleiq.com Classified Production Manager Mary Beth Medley (856) 809-0050 marybeth@marybethmedley.com EVENTS Executive Vice President, Events & Conferences Ed Several (860) 830-8321 eseveral@ensembleiq.com AUDIENCE List Rental (914) 309-3378

MeritDirect Marie Briganti

Subscriber Services/Customer Care TOLL-FREE: (877) 687-7321 FAX: (888) 520-3608

contact@csnews.com

PROJECT MANAGEMENT/PRODUCTION/ART Vice President, Production (877) 687-7321 Creative Director (973) 607-1320

Derek Estey destey@ensembleiq.com Colette Magliaro cmagliaro@ensembleiq.com

Advertising/Production Manager (773) 992-4418

Ed Ward eward@ensembleiq.com

Art Director (973) 607-1321

Lauren DiMeo ldimeo@ensembleiq.com

HEALTH & BEAUTY CARE

80 Cultivating the C-store HBC Habit The convenience channel can build on recent momentum with a heightened focus.

CORPORATE OFFICERS Chief Executive Officer Jennifer Litterick Chief Financial Officer Jane Volland Chief Innovation Officer Tanner Van Dusen Chief Human Resources Officer Ann Jadown Executive Vice President, Events & Conferences Ed Several Senior Vice President, Content Joe Territo

SERVICES

88 Driving Store Traffic With Services C-stores are exploring an array of complimentary amenities to attract consumers.

CONVENIENCE STORE NEWS AFFILIATIONS Premier Trade Press Exhibitor

The contents of this publication may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the consent of the publisher. The publisher is not responsible for product claims and representations.

Convenience Store News (ISSN 0194-8733; USPS 515-950) is published 12 times per year, monthly, by EnsembleIQ, 8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Ste. 200, Chicago, IL 60631. Subscription rates: Subscription rate in the United States: $125 one year; $230 two year; $14 single issue copy; Canada and Mexico: $150 one year; $270 two year; $16 single issue copy; Foreign: $170 one year; $325 two year; $16 single issue copy; Digital One year, digital $87; two year, $161. Periodical postage paid at Chicago, IL 60631, and additional mailing addresses. Copyright 2021 by EnsembleIQ. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording, or information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. Reprints, permissions and licensing, please contact Wright’s Media at ensembleiq@wrightsmedia.com or (877) 652-5295. POSTMASTER: send address changes to Convenience Store News, 8550 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Ste. 200, Chicago, IL 60631.

6 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m


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35th ANNUAL

NOVEMBER 11, 2021

PRESENTED BY

DES MOINES, IOWA

ANNOUNCING...

From the most established brand in the convenience store retailer space comes one of the highest honors in the industry: the Convenience Store News Hall of Fame. This is a must-attend gala event with some of the most influential retailers and suppliers in the c-store industry in attendance, honoring some of the industry’s most admired retailer and supplier executives.

4 REASONS TO SPONSOR THE CSNEWS HALL OF FAME EVENT: • • • •

Strengthen and develop industry relationships Be known as a leader in the industry Gain visibility for your brand and products Reach retail and supplier executives and key decision-makers

Hall of Fame is an intimate awards gala reception, dinner and award ceremony celebrating the induction of outstanding men and women who have exhibited exceptional leadership and provided significant contributions to the convenience store industry.

2021 HONOREES

RETAILER HALL OF FAME

Kyle Krause

Founder and CEO Krause Group (Kum & Go)

SUPPLIER HALL OF FAME

Vito Maurici

Senior Vice President of Sales & Trade Relations McLane Co.

RETAILER EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR

Kevin Smartt CEO TXB (formerly Kwik Chek)

2021 SPONSORS

AND FEATURING OUR EXCLUSIVE

Join us as we help nurture and celebrate the exceptional leaders of tomorrow in the convenience store industry. The Convenience Store News Future Leaders in Convenience program celebrates and develops the next generation of convenience retail leaders by providing a forum for talented young business people to hone their leadership talent while recognizing the achievements of an emerging leaders under the age of 35 at the time of nomination. The CSNews Future Leaders in Convenience program provides a comprehensive workshop and networking program that teaches young convenience store managers and executives how to achieve their full potential as leaders in their organizations and the industry at large.

FLIC Founding and Presenting Sponsor

For more sponsorship information please contact

Paula Lashinsky, VP/Publisher, plashinsky@ensembleiq.com


CSNEWS ONLINE

TOP VIEWED STORIES

1

Speedway Puts Former Sites in 22 States on the Market

2

Wawa Goes Back to School With Month-Long Promotion

3

TravelCenters of America Explores New Food Concepts

4

Couche-Tard Announces Pacific Northwest Acquisition

Speedway LLC tapped NRC Realty & Capital Advisors to sell 166 former service stations, retail development sites and undeveloped land sites owned by the convenience store chain and its affiliates. Some of the properties have small buildings on them. All of the sites are being sold individually through a sealed bid auction.

Wawa Inc. held a “Cheers to the Classrooms” celebration during the month of September across its entire operating footprint. It included free coffee for all teachers and administrators; a “Cheers Tour” with its Wawa Community Care Truck; and a partnership with DonorsChoose, an online resource for teachers to submit funding requests for school supplies and/or support.

TravelCenters of America Inc. is rationalizing its current restaurant offer and developing two new food concepts. “We are deep into the work of developing other concepts designed around a studied understanding of our customers’ needs, and look forward to further announcements before year-end,” CEO Jonathan Pertchik said during the company’s second quarter 2021 earnings call.

Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. is picking up 35 convenience store and fuel retail sites from ARS Fresno LLC and certain affiliated companies. The locations are operated under the Porter’s brand and situated predominately in Oregon and western Washington.

5

FDA Issues First Denials of Flavored E-Cigarette Marketing Applications

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) denied the marketing applications for approximately 55,000 flavored electronic cigarette products. According to the agency, the filings — which were submitted by three applicants — failed to provide evidence that the products protect public health. The rejections were the first for electronic nicotine delivery systems.

EXPERT VIEWPOINT

Two Trends Will Change the Look of the C-store Industry by 2030 By 2030, the convenience industry may look very different. A convergence of two industry trends is on a collision course with future sustainability, writes Robert E. Bainbridge, principal at C-Store Valuations. The first trend is the movement to alternative fuels; the second is sale-leaseback financing. With today’s inevitable push toward “green energy,” the current Administration has established a $15 billion investment fund with the goal of installing a nationwide network of 500,000 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. Deloitte Insights forecasts that EVs will account for about 25 percent of all new car sales in the nation by 2030. Meanwhile, sale-leaseback (SLB) financing has had a significant impact on the industry, and SLB locations carry a comparatively high cost of operation created by these leases. According to a new shutdown analysis of a typical c-store using the earnings and operating cost data from the 2021 Convenience Store News Industry Report, the economic situation for these SLB stores will be especially dire due to an emerging trend of fewer customers as EVs gain market share. 8 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE

How C-stores Can Outcompete QSRs Through Digital The convenience store industry has been transitioning away from the old “Cokes and smokes” model and toward a foodservice-focused business model for some time now, with foodservice currently accounting for the secondlargest revenue category after tobacco. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has only hastened that change, shifting the competitive landscape so that c-stores are now regularly competing with quickservice restaurants (QSRs), as well as other convenience retailers. Widespread adoption of mobile and online ordering, curbside pickup and delivery during the pandemic means consumers today view these amenities as standard. C-store operators will quickly find themselves left behind if they don’t offer these options, according to a recent Convenience Store News webinar sponsored by Paytronix Systems Inc. However, c-stores have to deal with unique concerns not shared by restaurants. For example, how many SKUs should their online menu include? How does online ordering for pickup affect staffing levels? C-stores must answer these questions and more to stay competitive with QSRs. For more exclusive content, visit the Special Features section of csnews.com.

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INDUSTRY ROUNDUP

FTC to Put Oil & Gas Mergers Under Closer Review The commission will start an investigation into “abuses” in the franchise market for fuel stations CONCERNS OVER RISING GAS PRICES sparked a conversation between the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the White House, leading the commission to say it will take a closer look at merger-and-acquisition (M&A) activity in the oil and gas industry.

According to the news outlet, the FTC commissioner also said she was concerned that the FTC’s approach to merger reviews in recent years had “enabled” significant consolidation in the industry and created “conditions ripe for price coordination and other collusive practices.”

According to Reuters, FTC Chair Lina Khan told the White House that the commission will seek to deter “unlawful” mergers in the industry. Her comments were contained in a letter to Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council.

She added that the FTC would “identify additional legal theories” to challenge mergers in which dominant players in the industry are buying up family-run businesses.

The letter came after the White House raised concerns about prices at the pump. In a letter to Khan on Aug. 11, Deese questioned why “gas prices tend to rise more quickly to adjust to spikes in oil prices than they fall when the price of oil declines.” Among the steps the FTC intends to take, Khan said the commission will start an investigation of abuses in the franchise market for retail fuel stations.

10 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

According to NACS, roughly 20 percent of the 121,000 U.S. convenience stores that sell gasoline, or 24,900 stores, are owned by a company with 500-plus stores; 69,342 of U.S. c-stores that sell fuel are onestore operators. “The fuels retailing businesses is incredibly diverse and competitive,” Jeff Lenard, NACS’ vice president of strategic initiatives, told NACS Daily. “There are more than 121,000 convenience stores that sell fuel, and these stores are collectively owned by 70,000-plus businesses. If there were actual wrongdoing in any corner of the industry, that should be investigated, and the law should be enforced.”



INDUSTRY ROUNDUP

BP Officially Becomes Sole Owner of Thorntons The company ends its two-year-old joint venture with Arclight Partners LLC BP WRAPPED UP ITS bid to take 100 percent ownership of Louisville, Ky.-based Thorntons. With the acquisition, the company reenters fully owned and operated U.S. convenience stores.

The transaction, which comprised 208 c-stores, comes two years after BP entered into a joint venture with Arclight Partners LLC to acquire Thorntons. BP announced plans to acquire the majority share of Thorntons it did not already own in July 2021. Thorntons stores are located in Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee and Florida. BP plans to keep and build on the Thorntons brand. “We are committed to putting the customer at the heart of what we do to help accelerate the mobility revolution and redefine the convenience experience at service stations,” Greg Franks, senior vice president,

12 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

mobility and convenience, Americas, stated when BP announced the acquisition. “Thorntons has generated long-term customer loyalty over the last 50 years because of its best-in-class operations. We are excited to welcome them into our family.” This move aligns with BP’s strategy for its convenience and mobility business, which seeks to nearly double global earnings by 2030. The company plans to increase the number of strategic convenience sites in its global network from around 2,000 today to more than 3,000 by that date. With its U.S. headquarters based in Chicago, BP plc is a global energy producer with operations in nearly 80 countries. Its goal is to become a net zero company by 2050 or sooner, and to help the world get to net zero.



INDUSTRY ROUNDUP

Eye on Growth

HollyFrontier Corp. reached a pact to acquire Sinclair Oil Corp. The deal includes the operator’s branded marketing business, renewable diesel business, and two refineries. Tri Star Energy is expanding its footprint in Alabama with the acquisition of Herndon Oil Corp. The purchase includes Herndon Oil’s Shell-branded fuel distribution operations and its 13 Southern Traders c-stores. Wills Investment Group, a 7-Eleven Inc. franchisee, purchased six Kyle’s Kwik Stops in East Texas. It will convert the locations to 7-Eleven over the next four to five months. Refuel Operating Co. LLC is acquiring the assets of Action Fuels LP, which operates nine c-stores in the greater San Antonio and south Texas market that carry the Buck’s Food and Fuel banner.

Farm Stores opened its first New Jersey location in Toms River in late July. The retailer is planning two additional New Jersey stores, one in Newton and the other in Brick. Texas Born (TXB) cut the ribbon on its first new-build rebranded location. The Georgetown, Texas, site features electric vehicle rapid charging stations, an expansive food and beverage lineup, and locally sourced products. TravelCenters of America Inc. opened a new TA Express travel center in Edgerton, Kan. The franchised location features a 9,000-square-foot building and 90 truck parking spaces.

The company opened its first Georgia location, in Warner Robins, in November.

Buc-ee’s expansion continues with the opening of its second location in Georgia. Located off Interstate 75 in Calhoun, the latest Buc-ee’s store measures more than 53,200 square feet and includes 120 gas pumps.

FAST FACTS

16% 18% 50% C-store foodservice transactions increased by 9.6 percent in the 21 weeks ending May 30, and increased by 16 percent in the five weeks ending July 4 vs. the prior year. — July 2021 C-store Shopper Trends Report, PDI

14 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

Nearly one in five retail job seekers (18 percent) name health insurance as their most important benefit in the pandemic era. — DirectApply

A survey of 1,448 pet owners found that 50 percent reported using CBD for their cat or dog, frequently based on veterinarian recommendations. — Leafreport



INDUSTRY ROUNDUP

Retailer Tidbits Wawa Inc. and its customers agreed to a settlement in a class-action lawsuit stemming from the retailer’s data security incident in December 2019. The $9-million settlement pact is subject to court approval. Alltown Fresh debuted a new loyalty program, Fresh with Benefits, that combines loyalty, online ordering and a mobile app. The program was launched in conjunction with the Paytronix-designed Alltown Fresh mobile app.

As stores reset, they will transition to Core-Mark International Inc. for delivery of fresh food and centerstore planogram merchandise.

The Spinx Co. is increasing its starting wage to $12 an hour for all full-time employees. The company’s goal is to bring its starting wage to $15 per hour by 2025. Casey’s General Stores Inc. was recognized by 50/50 Women on Boards for its commitment to diversity. Half of its board seats are held by women, making the retailer one of only 6 percent of Russell 3000 companies with a genderbalanced board.

GPM Investments LLC is resetting its Wisconsin stores operating under the R Store, Jetz, and Bread & Butter Shop banners. The planogram reset includes more than 300 new items.

Supplier Tidbits

GetGo is working with Grabango to retrofit four locations in the Pittsburgh market with checkout-free technology. The stores are in Ross Township, Wexford, Cranberry Township and Mars, Pa.

Swisher inked a multiyear data license agreement with National Retail Solutions for certain point-of-sale scanner data. The pact will enable the tobacco company to expand its brand strategies with independent retailers.

The expanded business will continue to operate under Core-Mark and be headquartered in Westlake, Texas, with Eby maintaining operations in Naperville, Ill.

Shell and The Kroger Co. have teamed up to offer Florida customers fuel discounts. Shoppers who order groceries via the Kroger app or Kroger.com can earn up to $1 in Shell Fuel Points.

National Convenience Distributors LLC is partnering with Lula to convert its customers into micro-fulfillment centers. The collaboration will connect each location with delivery partners such as Grubhub, DoorDash and Uber Eats. S. Abraham & Sons Inc. is switching produce sourcing for its Fruit Fridge Farms brand salads to lettuce from Revolution Farms. The hydroponic greenhouse will provide ingredients that go from farm to store in less than two days.

Performance Food Group Co. (PFG) closed on its acquisition of Core-Mark Holding Co. Inc. The transaction unites the Core-Mark and Eby-Brown businesses under PFG’s Vistar segment.

16 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

Zippin closed a $30-million Series B funding round with participation from new and existing investors. This latest round brings Zippin’s total funding to more than $45 million.


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1. Birthday Cake Ooey Gooey Butter Cake Prairie City Bakery is expanding its Ooey Gooey Butter Cakes line by adding Birthday Cake to its slate of indulgent flavors. The new decadent treat features classic layered butter cake flavored with vanilla and white chocolate, and packed with colorful confetti sprinkles throughout. Featuring bright, “eyepopping” packaging and presented in convenient 10-count merchandisers, the product boasts a long 60-day ambient shelf life. Prairie City Bakery Vernon Hills, Ill. (800) 338-5122 customerservice@ pcbakery.com pcbakery.com

2. Frontier XL Cigars 3. Rebel Hard Tea The Frontier XL is an all-natural corona-sized cigar made with premium Nicaragua and Dominican tobacco fillers. The product is initially being offered in two flavors — Russian Cream and Sweet Aromatic — with additional flavors to come early next year. Wrapped in Ecuadorian Connecticut shade wrappers, Frontier XL cigars come packaged in retail friendly stay-fresh pouches of three cigars. Each pouch is resealable to maintain freshness, and has a suggested retail price of $4.99 per pouch. Frontier Brands LLC Sarasota, Fla. (941) 378-3200 Ryan@frontiercigar.com frontiercigars.com

Twelve5 Beverage Co. is making its debut in the hard tea category with the launch of Rebel Hard Tea. Unlike high-sugar hard teas or hard seltzers that only have a hint of tea flavor, Rebel Hard Tea offers a “flavor-packed experience” that is only 100 calories, according to the company. The line includes four refreshing flavors: Sweet Hard Tea with a splash of Lemon, Half & Half Hard Tea with Lemonade, Peach Hard Tea, and Raspberry Hard Tea. The Sweet Hard Tea and Half & Half Hard Tea will be available in four-packs, while all four flavors will be included in a Rebel Hard Tea Variety Pack. Twelve5 Beverage Co. Neenah, Wis. rebelhardtea.com

5. Rich’s Cottage Bakery Breads The new Cottage Bakery portfolio from Rich Products enables convenience store operators to elevate their foodservice menus with high-quality, handcrafted, artisan breads and rolls. Rich’s Cottage Bakery Breads are fully baked on a stone hearth, then flash frozen. C-store operators simply bake them and serve. The portfolio includes baked artisan sandwich carriers, thin-crust bread, dinner rolls, baguettes, batards, flat loaves, sourdough boules, cornbread, bake-at-home bread, and expanded specialty offerings. Rich Products Corp. Buffalo, N.Y. richsconvenience.com

18 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

5

4. PRO2snax to the Max Breakfast Items Reichel Foods added three breakfast items to its PRO2snax to the Max line. The new additions include: Sliced Apples, Petite Belgian Waffles, Red Grapes & Peanut Butter; Hard Boiled Egg, Everything Bagel, Cream Cheese Spread, Blueberry Dip & Everything Bagel Seasoning Packet; and Sweet Apples, Hard Boiled Egg, Red Grapes, Mild Cheddar Cheese & Everything Bagel Seasoning Packet. Ranging in size from 5.2 ounces to 7.8 ounces, the nutritiously versatile snacks provide nine to 13 grams of protein. Reichel Foods Inc. Rochester, Minn. (507) 289-7264 pro2snax.com


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6. Goya Aloe Vera Drinks The Aloe Vera drink category is quickly growing, and consumer demand for plant-based beverages is only strengthening, according to Goya. To meet this demand, the company introduces Goya Aloe Vera Drinks, which provide the benefits of Aloe Vera in four delicious and refreshing varieties: Original, Mango, Coconut and Pineapple. With a suggested retail price of $1.49, the beverages can be enjoyed on their own or used as an ingredient to create a variety of flavorful drinks, such smoothies, teas, mixed fruit juices, and more. Goya Foods Inc. Brookshire, Texas salesinfo@goya.com goya.com

7. Wenzel’s Farm New Beef Jerky Flavors Wenzel’s Farm, a provider of handcrafted, small batch meat snacks, added two new varieties to its beef jerky line: Smoked BBQ and Sweet & Spicy. These products mark the first extensions to the line, which was launched in 2020. Consistent with the company’s other meat snack products, Wenzel’s Farm beef jerky contains no artificial colors, MSG or nitrates, and is gluten free. Each serving delivers 10 grams of protein at just 90 calories. Wenzel’s Farm Marshfield, Wis. (800) 336-6328 wenzelsfarm.com

8. Original Sour Jacks Sour Wedges Original Sour Jacks Sour Wedges are a mouthpuckering, five-flavor mix of luscious cherry, oh-sojuicy orange, lively lime, sweet strawberry, and tangy lemonade. The new combination joins revamped Watermelon, Wildberry and Green Apple Sour Jacks Sour Wedges. All of the soft and chewy candies are offered in 4-ounce and 5-ounce peg bags with suggested retail prices ranging from $1 to $1.79. PIM Brands Inc. Park Ridge, N.J. sourjacks.com

10. Prairie Farms Dairy Snacking Products To address the thriving snacking category, Prairie Farms Dairy is launching 18 new ways to snack with the introduction of Small Batch Cream Cheese Spreads and Small Batch Ice Cream Pints. Made with 100 percent real milk and cream cheese from local farm families, both the cream cheese spreads and ice creams feature one-of-a-kind flavors within their respective categories, according to the company. Prairie Farms Dairy Small Batch Cream Cheese Spreads come packaged in 3.5-ounce cups and are available in six varieties. Prairie Farms Dairy Small Batch Ice Cream comes packaged in pint cartons and is available in 12 flavors. Prairie Farms Dairy Edwardsville, Ill. prairiefarms.com

20 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

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9. Old Bay Hot Sauce Following its 2020 launch as a limited-edition product, McCormick For Chefs has brought back Old Bay Hot Sauce and made it a permanent item in its foodservice portfolio. The condiment is available in three sizes: 5 ounces for customization by customers; 64 ounces for back-of-thehouse preparation; and a 1.5-gallon dispensing pouch. Old Bay Hot Sauce is tangy with just the right amount of heat and seasoned with a distinctive blend of 18 herbs and spices, according to the maker. McCormick For Chefs Hunt Valley, Md. mccormickforchefs.com/ products/old-bay


SPECIAL SERIES ON FRICTIONLESS ADVANCED LOYALTY ENGAGEMENT

Sponsored by

Following Best-in-Class Loyalty Practitioners Can Pay Off for C-stores What restaurants can teach convenience retailers about advanced loyalty programs By Lisa Terry

This is the third and final installment of a special Convenience Store News series on how loyalty programs can drive both sales and customer satisfaction, sponsored by Paytronix. In May, we looked at how to drive membership to your loyalty program. In September, the focus was on building sales by using data intelligently. In this final piece, we look at best-in-class examples of how companies are taking loyalty to an even higher level. that companies constantly refine their loyalty programs to win the devotion and dollars of a choosy public. Restaurants have been doing this for years. Convenience stores serve those same consumers, and those shoppers don’t lower their expectations when moving from one type of business to another. That makes dining an excellent example for c-stores to reveal what’s happening in advanced loyalty programs — and where they are headed.

STIFF COMPETITION REQUIRES

A well-designed loyalty program offers “competitive differentiation to demonstrate and provide new proof points of relevance, and to give both parties — brand and consumer — a meaningful reason to re-engage,” said Aaron D. Allen, founder and CEO of Chicago

restaurant consulting firm Aaron Allen & Associates. They’re also associated with higher revenue and frequency. At Dallas’ 550-plus-unit Dickey’s BBQ Pit, for example, the average guest comes two and a half times a month, but its highest loyalty guests visit once a week. For Scottsdale, Ariz.-based P.F. Chang’s, which operates more than 300 international locations, loyal guests visit more than three times as often as non-rewards members and typically have a higher spend per visit.

STEPPING UP IN LOYALTY Here are five ways restaurants are pushing forward to ensure their programs meet brand goals while

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Convenience Store News 21


SPECIAL SERIES ON ADVANCED LOYALTY

Panera Bread’s newest restaurant design will automatically recognize loyalty members in the drive-thru or as they enter the store.

providing a compelling experience for their loyalty members.

1. Pursuing Next-Level Personalization

Today’s loyalty programs are about understanding the individual customer journey and engaging that guest at every step along the way. Advanced restaurant loyalty programs go beyond segmentation to understand and serve individual preferences and build twoway relationships with their guests. As consumers engage and see personal results from that sharing of data, they feel comfortable sharing even more, deepening the insights that are gained. “All of that guest data that they’re willing to share helps us so much to cater to what our guests really want, understanding their behavior, understanding what helps incentivize our guests to come back more often,” said Laura Rae Dickey, CEO of Dickey’s BBQ Restaurants. “Today’s loyalty programs go beyond rewards,” said Tana Davila, chief marketing officer at P.F. Chang’s. “This is a gateway to better understanding our guests. When we can dig a little deeper than just the surface and look into the details of guests’ preferences, it allows us to deliver a better, more personalized experience, whether that’s dining in or carryout.”

2. Increasing Their Flexibility

One key lesson gleaned from personalization so far is that consumers want loyalty programs that cater to their individual preferences, from rewards to communication styles to preferred channels. A free coffee offer, for example, means nothing to a strict devotee of slushy drinks. Top loyalty programs are giving members more choice both in how they earn points or rewards (social media posts, answering a survey, etc.) as well as how they redeem them.

22 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

P.F. Chang’s Rewards, ranked third among casual dining programs in a 2021 Newsweek consumer survey, recently updated its earned points reward from a free entrée to a $15 credit that can be used across menu categories, excluding alcohol. “We surveyed our most active guests to understand how we could improve the program,” said Davila. “They told us flexibility of earned rewards was important.” Surveys and data mining helped Dickey’s BBQ Pit learn that its members didn’t just want food as a reward option; they also wanted upgraded experiences and exclusive merchandise.

3. Extending Omnichannel Convenience

This might be one of the most important areas for convenience stores to focus upon. Consumers want to interact with brands seamlessly across channels, and avoid barriers such as reentering data or opening a new app. Top restaurant loyalty practitioners are closely integrating their programs with mobile ordering, pickup and delivery, and including lots of payment options, so they can streamline the interface and tailor those experiences to individual habits and preferences. They’re also closely tying the mobile app or website with the in-person experience. An upcoming loyalty program update from Dickey’s BBQ Pit, for example, will include full integration with the point-of-sale. Instead of scanning a QR code to link an in-person transaction to the loyalty program, Dickey’s customers will be able to access their memberships via the keypad. In addition to streamlining the loyalty experience, this also makes membership more appealing for non-smartphone users.


SPECIAL SERIES ON FRICTIONLESS ENGAGEMENT

Boston-based Uno Restaurants, famous for its 100-plus Uno Pizzeria & Grills, replaced separate loyalty, ordering and app software with one solution. “We were paying a lot more because were paying three individual vendors for overlap,” said Regina Jerome, senior vice president of IT. “From a management perspective and being able to support it, it’s amazing. From the guest perspective, all the interfaces look the same. You sign in one place for your order and it automatically gives you the loyalty program as well. Before, they had to sign in twice.”

4. Leveraging AI, Geofencing & Other Advanced Technologies Technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and geofencing are essential enablers of personalized loyalty experiences, and advanced programs continue to refine their use.

Geofencing and other technologies to recognize guests as they near a location are becoming table stakes in loyalty programs. Panera Bread’s newest restaurant design, for example, will automatically recognize loyalty members in the drive-thru or as they enter the store to personalize the experience, according to published reports. At P.F. Chang’s, “all digital marketing is geo-targeted to a specific radius around each of its locations. “This approach absolutely helps drive efficiency in our marketing efforts and ensures guests are getting a localized approach to their dining experience,” said Davila. “Geofencing can open a goldmine of geospatial analytical capabilities for the company while also greatly reducing unnecessary, redundant and cumbersome manual data entry for the loyal member,” added consultant Allen.

5. Taking Data Further

Loyalty programs are an excellent way to collect data that restaurants and convenience stores can use to shape their offers. But they need ways to find meaning in it beyond simple reports. Top programs go farther by investing in resources such as data scientists, and ensuring loyalty data is accessible across the organization. They also maximize their ability to uncover new insights, and use those to drive deeper, two-way relationships with loyalty members. Dickey’s BBQ Pit, for example, discovered that younger guests were not as motivated by free ice cream as their longer-term, more nostalgic customers. Instead, they seek things like free Wi-Fi. But the restaurant chain can also go beyond that level of insight. “We’re always looking at what our guests are willing to share and what they say vs. what their behavior is,” said Dickey. “It’s always an interesting dichotomy. [They say], ‘I like this idea,’ or ‘I would love to see that.’ But if there’s a delta between that ask or that share vs. what the purchase behavior is, we can actually ask the

What Influences a Visit to a Convenience Store? 25%

1. Loyalty program

22%

2. Gas price app

20%

3. Coupon

18%

4. Word of mouth 5. Availability of contactless shopping

15% 14%

6. Mobile app offer

12%

7. Availability of drive-thru

11%

8. Availability of curbside pickup 9. Radio or TV ad

10%

10. Mobile ordering

10%

Source: Convenience Store News 2021 Realities of the Aisle Study

loyalty members those type of insightful questions, which has been really helpful.” As Uno focused on ramping up member acquisition for its newly relaunched loyalty program, it discovered higher-than-expected numbers of new members who had not redeemed their free pizza sign-up reward before expiration. While the team’s first instinct was to extend the length of the offer, deeper analysis revealed many of those same members did redeem a follow-up reward. “We turned to the data analytics to be able to show us, by the patterns, that that wasn’t the case, and that we shouldn’t do that; we should give the program time to take force,” Jerome said, noting that this was an important insight for the company.

LOYALTY AS TABLE STAKES There is a reason Wendy’s, Yum Brands’ Taco Bell and Burger King unveiled new loyalty programs in 2020, and McDonald’s and Jack in the Box are set to join the many other restaurant brands already deep into loyalty programs: Restaurants report that loyalty members visit more and spend more, and provide them critical insights to drive strategy. Convenience stores don’t just serve those same consumers; they also compete with restaurants for share of stomach. That makes understanding what restaurants are doing, and adapting the best ideas, a key to-do list item for c-store executives seeking to invest their dollars wisely. After all, according to Convenience Store News c-store shopper research, loyalty programs are currently the top motivator to visit a convenience store. “A dollar not invested in a loyalty program feels like a dollar wasted for high-frequency and high-margin consumers,” said Allen. CSN

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SPECIAL SERIES ON ADVANCED LOYALTY

Sponsored by

The Future of Loyalty Is Online A RECENT INTERNATIONAL

survey from the business consultancy AlixPartners found that 50 percent of consumers say COVID-19 permanently changed their buying habits, with more of them opting to place orders online. The role of a convenience store has been evolving for some time, and simply By Kiera Blessing, Paytronix having prime real estate on a busy street corner isn’t enough. Customers are looking for faster, easier, and now safer, ways of making purchases — and for many c-stores, that has meant diving headfirst into providing an omnichannel customer experience. As the convenience landscape undergoes dramatic changes, loyalty programs must be able to adapt. Finding an online ordering provider that can seamlessly marry the digital experience with loyalty redemption has become paramount. Online ordering was the critical infrastructure behind most of 2020’s new trends, including curbside pickup and drive-thrus. NACS, the association for convenience and fuel retailing, found that 21 percent of c-store operators have added curbside pickup to their operations since March 2020, while 14 percent of operators said they were focused on adding a drive-thru. To enable curbside pickup and delivery — and to maximize drive-thru efficiency — c-stores are investing in online ordering platforms more than ever before. According to NACS, 38 percent of c-store operators intend to expand their app-based ordering and payment capabilities, 32 percent will expand mobile ordering for in-store pickup, and 14 percent will offer more ordering options at the pump. With these investments come other operational challenges, not the least of which is encouraging customer adoption once the right ordering platform is in

place. The same AlixPartners survey found that 36 percent of convenience customers identified loyalty programs as c-stores’ best means of driving online ordering frequency. That consumer demand is backed up by Paytronix data, which shows that integrating online ordering platforms with loyalty programs increases order frequency by up to 18 percent. In addition to boosting online orders, loyalty programs and the data they collect can pay big dividends in marketing strategy and overall customer retention. Identified as one of 2021’s prominent c-store trends, loyalty programs in the convenience industry are rapidly evolving into robust tools. As opposed to the basic punch cards of the past, these programs are sophisticated and more akin to those of Starbucks and Panera Bread. AlixPartners found that 50 percent of high-frequency c-store customers — those who visit three or more times per week — indicated that loyalty programs are “very” or “extremely” important. The features that make a program appealing to them include flexibility and achievable rewards. Alltown Fresh, an innovative convenience brand based in Massachusetts, provides a perfect example of a c-store that’s using tech savvy to wow its customers. The retailer recently launched an entirely new single-platform customer engagement solution through Paytronix. The online ordering solution, custom mobile app and loyalty programs communicate easily, allowing guests to place orders and earn and redeem points anywhere — in-store, online, and even at the pump. “The ability to custom-order your sandwich, smoothie or salad — and use the same app to fuel your car and pay without touching the PIN pad — is a game changer,” said Joanna Linder, vice president of marketing for Alltown parent company Global Partners LP. “Plus, guests earn points with every food and fuel purchase through our new Fresh with Benefits loyalty program, resulting in valuable rewards that fit our guests’ lifestyles.” As consumer expectations change, leading convenience stores are changing, too. They’re offering more ways to shop, more channels for brand-to-consumer communication, and more options for order fulfillment — whether that’s third-party delivery, curbside pickup, or a drive-thru. To make the most of loyalty moving forward, convenience retailers must be prepared to take it fully digital. That advancement should include enabling customers to earn and redeem points at every touchpoint. CSN

Kiera Blessing is a marketing specialist for Paytronix, a single-platform guest experience tool for convenience stores and restaurants. Before joining Paytronix, Blessing worked in the hospitality industry and for an industry-leading POS provider.

24 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m



C-

S

TO

The Art of the Steal: Part 2

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SMALL OPERATOR

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Many customer theft issues can be resolved with good customer service IN MY PREVIOUS COLUMN, I talked about employee theft. According to the 2020 NACS State of the Industry report, store “shrink” (which includes theft and breakage) averages about $12,700 per store per year. And 33.2 percent of that is due to employee theft, according to the 2018 National Retail Security Survey published by the National Retail Federation.

By Roy Strasburger, CEO, StrasGlobal

Although customers account for about the same percentage of theft as employee theft (33 percent), it is talked about much more because it tends to be more sensational (who hasn’t heard about a grab and run beer heist?), and it gives everyone someone else to blame. Even in a case of an employee stealing the merchandise, they will blame it on the customers. Many customer theft issues can be resolved with good customer service. Unfortunately, you’re not going to be able to stop those individuals who are determined to steal from you because they are desperate, under the influence, or doing it for a dare. Sadly, that’s just part of the cost of being in the convenience store business.

26 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

As with employee theft, it is important to have a good understanding of how bad the problem is. Keeping good records on sales, purchases, deposits, credit cards, etc., remains necessary to stay on top of the situation. Only by knowing the problem can you come up with the answer.

Hello, How Are You? Our most effective tool for shoplifting and theft prevention is good customer service. The more a team member interacts with the customer, the less likely it is that something bad will happen. People will not do bad things if they think they have been identified or can be described to authorities. We encourage our team to greet everyone and look at each person who comes in the front door. Recognizing them as an individual gives you the advantage in this game. Someone with bad intentions doesn’t want the attention and won’t complete the act.

Face the Music Keeping the shelves stocked and fronted allows you to see where a product has been taken. If the product is gone and you


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didn’t see someone pay for it, then you know it has been liberated from your store.

advantage of those opportunities. It becomes a tool for the criminal.

Fronting and facing the shelves should be one of the duties on every shift. It may make a thief think twice before taking the item and, if they do, you can more easily spot it to take precautions in the future.

However, if you have an area in your store that is a complete blind spot, you may want to investigate using a mirror — possibly in combination with a video camera.

Every Picture Tells a Story

Safety Dance

Video cameras can help, though they seem to be more effective with employees than customers. However, they are a great way of investigating product losses and can help you identify repeat offenders. Once you’ve identified the suspect, you can keep a closer eye on them if they return to the store.

Always merchandise your high-value items, and whatever are the most popular things that people like to steal from your store, either behind the counter or in areas that are clearly visible from the checkout counter.

In stores where we have excessive theft, we might do daily inventory counts in the most affected areas, in addition to frequent cigarette counts, to narrow the timeframe when the stealing is taking place. This gives us a better indication as to which shift video we need to watch to try to pinpoint when the actual theft occurred.

I Can See for Miles As with greeting and looking at them when they come into the store, making the customer feel that they are being watched as they walk through the store is a great, and inexpensive, theft deterrent. This means the person on duty needs to be able to see down all the aisles and into all corners of the store. Ways to do this are to keep shelving gondolas low and place promotional signage in such a way that it doesn’t become visual obstacles — limit the number of hanging signs; keep displays and their signage at a height that doesn’t block the view lines; and place all signage, where possible, parallel to the shelving so that it does not clutter the view. In some of the stores we’ve remodeled, we’ve raised the floor behind the counter (as well as the counter itself) to give the person on duty a higher observation point. It’s like having a watch tower in the store. Keeping the store neat and tidy, and removing visual obstacles so that you can see the whole store, is very important.

The Man in the Mirror I’m not a big believer in security mirrors. I think thieves use them to watch the employees, so they can see when the staff is distracted and then take

You don’t want to prevent your customers from accessing the products, but you do want to let them know that the merchandise is being watched. Once again, the more visibility there is of the product, the less of a theft problem there will be.

Let It Go I hope this goes without saying, but if there is a theft at your store, do not try to stop the criminal yourself. It is a matter for law enforcement. You do not want to get yourself, or your employees, hurt. You also do not want to incur any liabilities associated with trying to stop someone who is leaving the store or from chasing them down (assault and battery, false imprisonment, etc.). It is frustrating and feels completely wrong, but you just need to let it go and be prepared for the next time. The most useful prosecution tools, in addition to having recorded clear video, is to have height markers on the doors so that you can tell the authorities how tall someone is, and a good incident reporting system that allows the person on duty to quickly give a description of the offender and the details about what happened as soon after the event as possible — while it is still fresh in their mind. If a large theft of product or cash takes place, we try to prosecute the perpetrator if we can identify them. We all know that police departments are currently overstretched and don’t tend to deal with smaller issues such as shoplifting, but the easier you make the police’s job and the more professional and complete you are in your reporting of the incident, the police may begin to respond if you start reporting multiple incidences. (And don’t forget to give free coffee and fountain drinks to uniformed first responders.) As McGruff used to say: “Only you can take a bite out of crime.” It’s your store. You need to be responsible and do as much as you can to keep your employees, your store and yourself safe. CSN

Roy Strasburger is CEO of StrasGlobal, a privately held retail consulting, operations and management provider serving the small-format retail industry nationwide. StrasGlobal operates retail locations for companies that don’t have the desire, expertise or infrastructure to operate them. Learn more at strasglobal.com. Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News. 28 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m


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COVER STORY

CRISIS OVERCOMING THE LABOR

32 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m


Expanded and extended unemployment benefits, challenges around childcare, and new worker priorities are forcing c-store retailers to adapt to a new labor market BY DON LONGO

WOULD YOU OFFER FREE IPHONES to induce applicants to apply for a job at your stores? That’s what a McDonald’s franchisee in Altamont, Ill., is doing to attract new hires during a labor crisis that is affecting companies in every business across the nation. The labor shortage is being felt particularly hard at the store level in the convenience store industry. It is also affecting businesses all up and down the supply chain, from the distributors of in-store food and merchandise to companies that supply fixtures and equipment for new stores. Employment numbers in August came in far below economists’ expectations. The United States added only 235,000 jobs, way short of the 720,000 jobs that were expected to be added. It was the worst monthly increase since January. And that poor figure was despite high demand for workers. In August, the Labor Department said there were more than 10 million job openings nationwide — the highest ever recorded. The unemployment rate declined by 0.2 percentage points to 5.2 percent in August, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s still far higher than the 50-year low of 3.5 percent in February 2020, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Most retailers would agree that the No. 1 obstacle facing the convenience channel right now is the nationwide labor shortage. C-store operators are upping wages, offering hiring bonuses, and doing more in the way of recruitment to try to attract workers. Signs of desperation, such as the McDonald’s franchisee’s free iPhone offer, are becoming more and more commonplace. “The labor shortage is real,” said Gus Olympidis, president and CEO of Valparaiso, Ind.-based Family Express Corp., a chain of 73 convenience stores in northwest and north central Indiana. “There’s hardly a business without a help wanted sign on the door.” Most retailers blame the federal government’s COVID-19 subsidy, which started at $600 per week and was later reduced to $300 a week, on top of extended state unemployment benefits as the primary reason for the current worker shortage gripping the nation. The length of time a person could receive unemployment benefits was also extended. (As of press time, the federal subsidy had just expired on Labor Day for more than 7 million people.) “I have no doubt the primary reason for this labor shortage is that the government is continuing to pay people not to work,” said Olympidis, echoing comments heard from across the retail industry. “This is essentially moving people out of the workforce and driving them to stay at home.” Retailers are right to ask why an unemployed person would go back to work if he or she could receive almost as much income from the government just by staying home. But that is an oversimplification of the labor crisis, according to Dave Gilbertson, vice president and chief customer officer for UKG, a global provider of payroll, human resources services and workforce management solutions.

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Convenience Store News 33


COVER STORY

Citing the results of a UKG study of 3.5 million hourly employees, Gilbertson noted that in the 26 states that eliminated or reduced the federal benefit early, in June and August, the labor shortage in those states was actually worse than in the states that continued to hand out the subsidy, as measured in the number of shifts worked. “Admittedly, a number of those states didn’t get as hard hit by the pandemic as others,” Gilbertson pointed out, “but the findings imply that the federal stimulus checks didn’t have as big an impact on the shortage as some may believe.” Gilbertson listed some other causes for the retail labor shortage: • The challenge around childcare and elder care: There hasn’t been this much uncertainty around this issue in the past 50 years. If you are unemployed and your childcare is set up around you being out of work, it is very hard to change that. • The health factor: Clearly, store-level jobs dealing with the public can expose workers to the COVID-19 virus and its variants. Sometimes, it’s hard to know how seriously the company where you are applying for a job takes the health and safety of its frontline employees, according to Gilbertson. There’s been a degradation of activity in terms of people clocking in at work over the past several months, the UKG study found. More people are taking pent-up vacation time that had been accrued during the pandemic. “We’ve seen retail and hospitality employment recover more strongly in mid- to late-June, but declining growth since then,” Gilbertson said. Nevertheless, retail is coming back faster than other industries, such as health care, which has really struggled. Skilled jobs, such as truck drivers, are also struggling more than retail.

A Problem Long in the Making In the short term, as school childcare schedules are solidified with the restart of in-person learning, workforce activity should pick up, Gilbertson predicts.

34 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

Help wanted signs, like this one at FriendShip Food Stores, are prevalent throughout the c-store industry right now.

“We’ve recovered about 90 percent of the workforce from pre-pandemic, and should get back to pre-pandemic levels of employment sometime in 2022,” he said. Economists are reported to be split on whether the government subsidy is the main reason businesses cannot hire enough workers. One economist pointed out that only four in 10 workers actually make more in jobless benefits than from a paycheck, according to CNBC. Another factor cited by economists is the acceleration of the mismatch between the skills of current workers and those that employers want. Automation and globalization were changing the way people work even before the pandemic and many employers were having difficulty filling open positions. All that sped up over the past year and half as employers found new ways to continue serving their customers with fewer workers and a greater reliance on technology.


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COVER STORY

What was expected to happen over the next 10 to 20 years instead occurred over just a few months, and the problem doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. “I think the labor shortage was inevitable even without the pandemic,” said Steven Kramer, CEO of WorkJam, a digital workplace provider for organizations with frontline employees. “Before the pandemic, you already started to see that frontline workers were looking for better conditions.” Workers were better informed and wanted to work for companies that communicated better, were easy to work for, and had a good workplace culture and socially responsible policies in place as an organization, Kramer said. “The pandemic accelerated how all this played out,” he continued. “The money from the government gave people the time to evaluate, consider and embrace their alternatives. They asked themselves: ‘Do I still want to work in retail?’ Many thought about pursuing a different career or going back to school.” There’s also a lot of competition for frontline retail employees, both inside and outside the convenience store industry. Look at what McDonald’s is doing in Illinois, giving away iPhones, or Yum Brands’ Taco Bell holding a job fair to hire at least 5,000 workers to support its store expansion plans. To get the best employees, c-store retailers need to reconfigure how they look at and manage their workforce. They need to adapt to the new labor market. “One of the things retailers can do is to embrace technology that makes it easier for their employees to do their jobs,” said Kramer, who added that a company’s values — such as embracing diversity and inclusion, and communicating these values — are also very important to today’s employees. The reasons behind the labor shortage are deep-rooted. “It’s too easy to just blame the stimulus checks,” said Kramer. “The states that stopped the federal stimulus checks early still have the same labor problems as the states that didn’t.”

36 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

“The money from the government gave people the time to evaluate, consider and embrace their alternatives. They asked themselves: ‘Do I still want to work in retail?’” — Steven Kramer, WorkJam

After being home and unemployed for so long, people have a different appreciation for family time, and they want more flexibility in where and when they work. “Some of our clients are doing a fabulous job of meeting the challenge,” he said. “For example, our Open Shift Marketplace allows store employees the flexibility to pick up a shift at a store at a different location from their usual store. Other clients are using technology to communicate better with their workers around subjects like diversity and inclusion.” The labor shortage is not going away anytime soon. “It’s imperative that a retailer become an employer of choice. That means a positive culture, good tech tools, and being a Good Samaritan company, a place where people are proud to work,” said Kramer. This is the first time in at least the past 20 years that there are more job openings than unemployed people, Gilbertson at UKG pointed out. “Outside of increasing pay, the pressure is on retailers to increase benefits, provide more shift flexibility, and train their managers better in people skills,” he said. It’s all about adapting to the workforce of 2021 and beyond. Our cover story explores the labor crisis from all angles: the dynamics behind the labor shortage, what convenience store retailers are doing to attract workers, retention strategies to keep existing workers, and how c-store operators can do more with less labor. Read on.


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ence once, they aren’t likely to do so repeatedly—to the detriment of the bottom line. CSN: What should c-store operators do to bring their a-game each time

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optimize their operations? The high level of employee enablement that has a significant impact on

and at each store. Overcoming this challenge is critical, because the better and more consistent customers’ experience is, the more loyal they will be—and that loyalty drives c-store profitability. Streamlining operations means enabling employees with communication and education on how to perform tasks

open communication, digitized tasks, and the development of an ongoing dialogue with the workforce. Employees need to be able to access the tools they require to do their job and do it right, such as direction on which tasks to perform when as well as how to complete these tasks and what the outcome should look like. Manage-

the customer experience, retention rates, and by extension, profitability, also comes from giving frontline workers a stake in their own schedule and success, recognizing their need for a good work/life balance. Technology can enable employees to communicate their shift preferences and interact with each other to initiate shift swaps—

correctly and consistently across the store. It’s the case whether tasks involve cleanliness, health and safety or product stocking. Staff capabilities need to be maximized through cross-training and

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is met, by enabled associates delivering the service level you and the customer expect. The need to take steps to streamline operations is clear. Time and time again, research has shown that if customers’ expectations for service, product, store environment, aren’t consistently met, they’ll start shopping elsewhere. And if they do forgive a bad customer experi-

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COVER STORY

GETTING EMPLOYEES IN THE DOOR Convenience store operators are utilizing various tactics to incentivize job seekers By Danielle Romano WITH JUST MORE THAN 700 employees, Plaid Pantry, the Beaverton, Ore.-based operator of 108 convenience stores, is about 50 workers shy of the workforce it would like to employ for its business. The retailer, operating primarily in the greater Portland area, faces a myriad of challenges in securing labor in today’s market.

Those challenges include the usual suspects such as benefits and job flexibility, but then there are the intricacies of the COVID-19 pandemic, like finding affordable childcare, higher-than-normal unemployment insurance payments, and the fear of contracting the virus. “We are struggling to find enough associates to work and fill the needed shifts to keep our stores operating efficiently. This means our existing staff are asked to pick up extra shifts and that means high costs and less productivity. We are hearing and seeing the same dynamic from our suppliers and competitors alike,” Jonathan Polonsky, president and CEO of

Plaid Pantry, told Convenience Store News. Compounding the lack of associates has been the state of Oregon’s extension of federal unemployment benefits, which were expected to expire on Sept. 4, 2021. “With Oregon continuing to offer extra federal unemployment benefits, it’s not surprising that entry-level openings are hard to fill,” Polonsky expressed. “If the benefits expire, it will absolutely help, but I’m not expecting a flood of applications the following week. There are still a lot of other programs in place, like eviction moratoriums, that will curb the enthusiasm of potential job seekers.” Similar to Plaid Pantry, Sprint Mart is experiencing difficulties due to a lack of available labor across its footprint. The retailer has had to adjust its operating hours and shuffle its current workforce around to make sure some of its more rural locations are staffed. “The impacts have been broad-reaching and have resulted in some new incentives for us to try and attract new talent, whereas at the beginning of this, we may have been leading the way as far as offering new incentives to join the company,” explained Chris McKinney, director of human resources for Ridgeland, Miss.-based Sprint Mart, which

Plaid Pantry offers time-and-a-half to hourly associates who work extra hours.

38 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m


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COVER STORY

operates 107 c-stores across Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana. “In our neck of the woods, incentives have been the new norm, so if we were to do away with incentives, then we would be behind our competitors.”

Incentivizing Potential & Existing Employees With convenience store associates deemed essential workers during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, Plaid Pantry lost a number of employees at the beginning of 2021 because they were burned out, Polonsky shared. Losing employees quicker than it could replace them, Plaid Pantry decided to increase its investment in hiring. In addition to in-store signage, the Northwest operator has boosted spending with job posting website Indeed, focused its social media efforts more on employment advertisements vs. products and promotions, and occasionally held job fairs. Then, to show appreciation for its current employees, Plaid Pantry has given out small thank-you bonuses, and offers time-anda-half to hourly associates who work extra hours. Salaried managers receive a $125 shift bonus if they have to pick up a shift because of a callout they can’t fill. “We also long have had a ‘buddy program’ that rewards existing associates for recruiting friends or family,” Polonsky said. “If we hire the friend or family member of an associate, the preexisting associate gets $100 if the new hire is still with us after 30 days, $200 if he or she is still with us after 90 days, and $300 at 180 days. This program is outlined in our Employee Handbook and we remind employees about it at P&L meetings and in newsletters.” For Sprint Mart, a purposeful tactic has been highlighting the company’s signing bonus on its website. This move enables the c-store operator to be as vocal as possible in communicating that it is offering enticing incentives to attract employees to the company — above and beyond what they would have gotten in years past. On June 1, 2021, Sprint Mart introduced the signing bonus, in addition to a referral bonus. The $1,000 signing bonus is paid out as $250 quarterly and is designed to encourage an employee to stay with the company, while the referral bonus is paid out at different intervals. If an employee stays 30 days, then the existing employee

40 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

In June, Sprint Mart introduced a $1,000 signing bonus that is paid out as $250 quarterly.

who referred the new hire receives $100. After 90 days, if the new hire stays, the referring employee receives another $100, for a total of $200. And there is no limit on the number of employees that can be referred. “We asked ourselves: What kind of incentives drive the business results that we want to see? We wanted to be able to provide something that feels like it has tangible value to the employee but, at the same time, benefits the company in that it increases longevity and assists in meeting our business goals, like keeping the doors open and having the right labor in the right place at the right time,” McKinney said. Since implementing these measures, Sprint Mart has emerging data points that show the company has increased tenure and reduced turnover marginally, plus it is seeing information reflected in employee surveys that the incentives have a positive impact. Richmond, Va.-based GPM Investments LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Arko Corp., is likewise combatting the labor challenge with new hiring and retention initiatives. They include offering fas REWARDS points to existing associates, overtime hours, companywide “all hands-on-deck hiring events,” virtual job fairs, and substantially increasing its talent acquisition team. Additionally, GPM rolled out a sign-on bonus for all new associates companywide in June. The company has seen a 5-percent increase in associate retention since implementation. “We track our open positions very closely to support our operations and sales teams. Our industry typically has high turnover, so our goal each week is to hire more associates than we lose to ensure a positive gain in head count. By keeping the goal simple, it allows us to quickly and easily measure progress and helps keep our team motivated,” explained Veronica Donchez, senior vice president of human resources at GPM, the sixth largest U.S. convenience store chain with approximately 1,400 company-operated stores and 1,650 dealer sites to which it supplies fuel in 33 states and Washington, D.C.



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COVER STORY

Embracing Technology Despite the physical limitations of the COVID-19 pandemic, c-store operators did not falter in implementing new hiring practices and reaping the benefits of such efforts. For example, Sprint Mart was almost completely digital as far as hiring and onboarding is concerned pre-pandemic, so the company was well-positioned to press on when the spread of the coronavirus kicked into high gear. “The speed with which we reach out to candidates has increased dramatically. Now, we recognize that within the labor market, the attention span is even shorter than it was. It is a blessing and a curse making jobs so easy to apply to,” McKinney told CSNews. “It’s a blessing in attracting new applicants, but then it can present its own challenges because applicants are simply applying to multiple jobs a day because it’s so easy to add their application to. “There’s a lot of noise when it comes to what the applicants are hearing from the many places in which they’re submitting their information,” he continued, “so we have made the conscious effort to be faster in our initial touchpoint when it comes to trying to attract people who are applying to our stores.” During COVID, GPM adapted and embraced new ways of hiring candidates, and changed the way in which it connects and interacts with them. The convenience retailer implemented texting software and has experienced great success in using this platform as an avenue to communicate and engage with more candidates than it could using traditional methods. In addition to the texting, the biggest change GPM has made is the way in which it conducts interviews. Pre-COVID, all interviews were done in-person. In the current environment, the majority of interviews are conducted virtually.

GPM has seen a 5-percent increase in associate retention since implementing a sign-on bonus companywide.

companies implemented tech-driven solutions to help ensure sufficient labor is available. Prior to the pandemic, Sprint Mart employed a robust scheduling platform that includes an advanced scheduler, which it is leveraging with UKG Ready. The key to making the scheduler the most effective and/or the best it can be for the company is leveraging it in a way that seamlessly allows stores to share labor. “We had a situation prior to implementing the scheduler where it was much more difficult to seamlessly cover staffing holes. When we installed the scheduler, we did so in such a way to give every single scheduling manager access to all of those employees who would be available and trained to work right now,” McKinney explained. “So now, the ease in which a manager can reach out to staffing managers at another store to coordinate staffing has allowed us to remain as agile and as efficient and effective throughout the entire pandemic.”

“This has been a shift in culture, but it has been positive for both our candidates and our hiring managers, and significantly improved our speed to hire,” Donchez pointed out.

GPM recently partnered with delaPlex to implement and deploy Blue Yonder’s Workforce Management (WFM). The solution improves budget forecasting, scheduling and time capture accuracy. It delivers a highly accurate activity-based labor model that addresses the challenges associated with varying operating hours, store designs and layouts.

Sprint Mart and GPM laud technology for the capabilities it provides in optimizing its current workforce, too. Namely, both

“It is also equipped with tools and training to adjust to the multiple labor standards for the growth and evolution of GPM’s business,” Donchez said.

44 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m


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COVER STORY

THE CHANGING FORMULA FOR EMPLOYEE RETENTION

To hold onto existing workers, c-store operators must meet employees’ needs and make it easier for them to stay than to look for something better By Angela Hanson

TO SOME, SOLVING THE labor shortage is a simple issue of supply and demand: offer higher wages and prospective employees will show more interest.

It’s true that money is a shortcut to being more attractive as an employer, and non-competitive pay rates will put businesses at a disadvantage no matter what. However, it won’t get convenience store operators all the way to their destination of having a fully staffed business with minimal turnover, as many retailers both in and outside of the c-store industry have reported continued staffing shortages even after boosting wages.

46 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

The COVID-19 pandemic is something of a smokescreen for bigger problems in the retail labor market, according to Steven Kramer, CEO of digital platform WorkJam. “There’s a recalibration happening in the labor market,” Kramer told Convenience Store News. “It started before the pandemic. People understand they have choices.” Some of the choices workers make are tied to the values and culture of an organization. Five or six years ago, a job was a job, according to Kramer; today, people are takinga closer look at where they work. Businesses that demonstrate a sincere commitment to the issues people care about, such as diversity and innovation, are positioning themselves to have a competitive advantage over businesses that offer similar work and pay scales.



COVER STORY

Improving company culture is well worth doing, but it is also a long-term task. C-stores can take a variety of other steps to ease the pain of the labor crunch in the short- and medium-term. While the pandemic may not be the only reason it is harder to hire and keep employees, addressing COVID-related concerns is a must-do. Former retail employees who have expressed hesitation about returning to their former jobs overwhelmingly list fear of contracting COVID-19 and the need to feel safe in their work environment as factors in their decision. Businesses that prioritize safety may find it easier to lure back these experienced workers. Maintaining improved cleaning protocols, mask requirements and physical barriers help fight transmission of the coronavirus and make it clear which businesses recognize it is still a danger. Retailers can also encourage COVID-19 vaccination by offering paid time off for vaccination appointments and recovery from post-vaccination side effects, plus incentives for vaccinated employees. A simple but effective approach is for retailers to simply ask employees whether there is anything else they can do to make them feel safe, and truly listen to the answers. Employees who feel that their concerns are heard and acted upon are more comfortable at work and more likely to stay, according to integrated cash distribution network Loomis. The pandemic has also made employees concerned about health benefits. A recent survey conducted by job search platform DirectApply found that jobseekers are looking for “fundamental” benefits, with health insurance listed as the top desire for nearly one in five people. Other in-demand benefits include dental and vision insurance, paid vacation, and a 401(k) plan. To get more potential employees in the door, some businesses have begun offering cash bonuses for new hires, but Kramer is skeptical regarding the long-term value of such bonuses, especially considering that employee retention is as important as the initial acquisition. “I really don’t think money is the only solution,” he said, instead pointing to the value of creating a productive environment. “The relationship that an employer has with their employee is really important.” One method of improving that relationship is finding new ways of being flexible to meet

48 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

Identifying good employees and scheduling around their obligations makes it easier for them to stay than to go through the process of searching for a new job that will fit their schedules.

employee needs as well as the needs of the business. Workers may struggle to balance their jobs with childcare or other family duties, especially when many children face the prospect of virtual learning during the school year and high-risk individuals may still limit contact with non-family members due to the pandemic. Identifying good employees and scheduling around their obligations makes it easier for them to stay than to go through the process of searching for a new job that will fit their schedules. Retailers may also want to consider scheduling half-shifts for employees who are willing to work but have limited slots of availability, or setting shift changes outside of rush hour to cut down on travel time if they operate in a densely populated area. Chains could also authorize employees who are looking for extra hours to work at multiple locations. Additionally, while it may become more difficult to both be flexible and build a reliable schedule, employees appreciate knowing their hours farther in advance. The retail industry is notorious for schedules being released at the last minute, which means that businesses that offer more advance notice will stand out. Part of the problem on both sides of the scheduling issue comes from the lack of ability to easily input employee availability. Kramer recommends investing in tools, such as WorkJam’s Shift Management, that simplify the process of scheduling while taking into account employee availability, internal regulations and overtime laws. With such tools, employees can also trade shifts without having to go through their managers. Retailers looking to improve the scheduling process should consider how employees must request days off as well. “Time off may not come up a lot during the interview process, but it’s an important part of consideration once you’re in the job — how easy it is to take time off, what the process is around that,” Kramer said. “Time off, particularly in today’s environment, is important for general health.”

The Digital Advantage The use of digital tools to attract and retain workers goes beyond scheduling software. Paytronix Systems Inc.


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recommends c-store operators consider the use of employee dining programs, which have evolved from free meals during a shift to something more dynamic. They are now part expense account, part loyalty, part employee retention and part motivation, according to Scott Walters, head of convenience store sales at Paytronix. “The style of the program is driven by the c-store brand’s needs and goals. These programs are extremely customizable, and the functionality of the program is driven by the retailer’s goals,” Walters explained. “Employee programs can be used to motivate and incentivize employees, to retain staff, to run integrated marketing campaigns, to communicate directly with employees, and to track employees’ purchases.” Retailers can choose to offer different incentives based on their needs and what they want to offer employees. Options include discounts, incentives for overtime, reward dollars, and more. Incentives can be loaded onto employee accounts as redeemable rewards, bankable points or discounts on specific products, and can be capped at certain dollar amounts. “Because they operate like an internal loyalty program, employee programs provide a direct line of communication between brand and staff,” Walters said. “Convenience brands can use this messaging capability to communicate safety protocols, new marketing promotions, and other internal news.” As a side benefit, if a brand offers a customer-facing loyalty program on the same platform, employees become well-versed in the platform’s benefits, allowing them to better communicate the program’s benefits to customers and contribute to its success. “At Paytronix, we look at things through the lens of loyalty and ask: What is going to keep consumers and employees happy and engaged with the brand?” Walters said. “We recommend the same strategies that have long been successful in retaining customers: reward the employee for being loyal to the brand and create a personalized experience.

“We recommend the same strategies that have long been successful in retaining customers: reward the employee for being loyal to the brand and create a personalized experience.” — Scott Walters, Paytronix Systems Inc.

digital tools for employees into a single app if possible. “As a frontline worker, it’s difficult to use many different tools,” he said. Platforms such as WorkJam can combine practical functions such as scheduling and team communication with other features like employee recognition programs and training modules that can help workers advance to higher-up roles, which could cut down on turnover. “It doesn’t have to be a dead-end job,” Kramer said.

“Under an employee program, that might mean allowing employees to earn double or triple points per hour of overtime, which they can then use to fill their gas tank for less,” he added. “It could also mean allowing employees to choose their own rewards, so they have a personal, rewarding experience with the brand. The same strategies that keep customers coming back will encourage employees to stay loyal to the brand as well.” Kramer advises retailers to consolidate their

50 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

Whatever incentives they choose to offer, he believes that c-store operators need to bring together their leaders from operations, human resources, the executive team and other parts of the organization to look at things holistically and develop a unified corporate vision. “This problem started before the pandemic accelerated it, and the need for change and to adapt is, in my opinion, the difference between winners and losers,” he said. “The end of the pandemic won’t make all these problems go away — this is a new reality.”



COVER STORY

THE INTERSECTION OF LABOR & INNOVATION Optimizing operations and leaning on technology help retailers do more with less By Melissa Kress

LIKE MANY CONVENIENCE store retailers,

Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. launched a hiring initiative this past spring. In early May, the parent company of Circle K advertised for 20,000 open positions and filled nearly 19,700 by the end of the first quarter of its fiscal year 2022. Though it has since added to that number, challenges remain. “It remains a difficult market and we still have stores that are affected by the labor disruption, and we can also see the effect of this labor shortage in many areas of our supply chain in North America,” Chief Financial Officer Claude Tessier said during the Laval, Quebec-based company’s earnings call on Sept. 1. “We’re trying to mitigate those impacts in our network.”

grab-and-go and frozen foods where less labor intensity is required,” Arko CEO Arie Kotler explained during the company’s second quarter 2021 earnings call on Aug. 12. “We have the challenges like everybody else, and we continue to work through those challenges.” With some locations more significantly impacted by the labor crunch than others, the company has tweaked operating hours in roughly 75 stores where it made sense from a profitability standpoint. Arko is the parent company of Richmond, Va.-based GPM Investments LLC, which operates and supplies fuel to c-stores in 33 states and Washington, D.C. It has 3,000 locations comprised of approximately 1,400 company-operated stores and 1,650 dealer sites to which it supplies fuel.

The global retailer is navigating labor challenges as it moves full steam ahead with its new foodservice program, “Fresh Food, Fast.” In the first quarter of its fiscal year 2022, the company introduced the program to 500 stores in the United States, as well as in Canada, Denmark, Sweden and Lithuania. In total, Fresh Food, Fast is available at roughly 2,000 of its stores. “As we expand the offering, we continue to gain valuable insights and believe we’re building the right production platform, one that’s taking into account a very tight labor market and supply chain challenges,” Couche-Tard President and CEO Brian Hannasch said during the September earnings call. “We’re preparing additional new initiatives that simplify operation and execution, reduce labor, and allow us to create a full food culture for our team members and our customers.” At Arko Corp., its foodservice model plays in its favor as other operators struggle to fill their rosters. “We were not fully involved in foodservice, and we decided to shift gears toward

52 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

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COVER STORY

“They’re not significant. We’re trying to shave them in the morning and the evening, and we’re even in the process of starting to restore those hours now,” said Arko Chief Financial Officer Don Bassell. “They’re being done strategically where it makes sense, where we’re having problems, but it wasn’t like cutting out massive hours. It was just being done where we had particular issues.”

Enhanced Scheduling Doing more with less labor has been a topic of conversation between Zebra Technologies and its customers not only in convenience but also across retail, banking and healthcare. “It’s been across the board in the last 18 months,” said Suresh Menon, senior vice president and general manager, software solutions at Zebra Technologies. “How can they do more with the staff they are finding hard to keep, staff that is becoming more expensive, and having that same staff do more with less?” According to Menon, convenience store operators can take several steps to deal with this new reality. Step one, he said, starts with more accurately predicting staffing requirements and scheduling the right number of staff for the predicted workload. “Can we avoid overstaffing, which hits the bottom line, and can we avoid understaffing and provide the best customer experience?” he posed.

“It remains a difficult market and we still have stores that are affected by the labor disruption, and we can also see the effect of this labor shortage in many areas of our supply chain in North America.” — Claude Tessier, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.

however, this can be a hurdle itself in a channel that is known to be a slow adopter. “The retail industry is at a crossroads and convenience stores, which were already battling for razor-thin margins, have been hit hard. Thin margins are the main reason the convenience channel has been slow to embrace new technology because in the past, new technology has been expensive and inconvenient to implement,” explained Standard AI CEO Jordan Fisher. “That was changing even pre-COVID, as convenience stores yearned for new customer experiences to battle Amazon and delivery services like DoorDash. Add in the pandemic and in the past year, interest in autonomous checkout has skyrocketed due to the need for low-touch options to bring customers back to stores and keep them safe and labor shortages,” he said.

Traditionally, scheduling has fallen under the responsibilities of the store manager, who has had to juggle spreadsheets and figure out how to staff a store on the average Saturday afternoon over a holiday weekend, for example. This is where technology can play an important role — by providing optimized schedules built on a strong foundation of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, Menon explained.

According to Fisher, AI-powered “retrofits” of existing stores, powered by camera-based computer vision technology, enable retailers to rapidly deploy and deliver new shopping experiences in their existing stores without having to rebuild from the ground up for costly sensor fusion-based shelving and other similar overhauls.

“Some of our customers in this space have seen, on average, store managers save anywhere from four to eight hours a week from the automation that comes with technology,” he said. “That allows the store manager to run a better operation.”

The Post-COVID Era

Artificial intelligence can also be used to ensure the right staffing mix at the right time — which can be difficult when comparing this year to 2020 given the changes in consumer patterns and behaviors during the pandemic. According to Menon, this challenge can be avoided if the tech solution uses AI-based disruptive scheduling, a capability that was developed to take into account the unknown, such as hurricanes and snowstorms.

All signs point to technology playing a critical role in solving staffing woes;

“Disruptions have kind of become the norm. Do we know

54 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

Solutions, similar to Standard AI’s platform, allow associates to focus on other value-added tasks, such as restocking, interacting with customers, and helping shoppers find items.


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COVER STORY

GPM tweaked operating hours in roughly 75 stores where it made sense from a profitability standpoint.

how many people will actually get on the road Memorial Day weekend? How many people will be stopping at these gas stations? There is no comparison to last year or even 2019. This is where the disruptive scheduling AI really made a difference. It was able to get signals in real time and come very close to reality,” he said.

Employee Power Another trend in retail is putting staffing into the hands of the employees.

this option, individual retailers do not have to go through the process of onboarding employees, and they have access to their work availability. “If this trend continues — with the squeeze in labor and the rise of people who want to have autonomy and flexibility in their work schedules and who they work for — solving the gig worker problem for customers is coming,” Menon said. Mobile workforce technology can help managers and employees do more with less as well. As a multitasking tool, it allows c-stores to run more efficiently, according to Rob Klitsch, director of the retail, hospitality and foodservice practice at UKG.

“In the times we are in right now where finding labor is hard and keeping labor is harder, it’s about giving flexibility in terms of shift-swapping, and putting this in the hands of the employees gives them a lot more autonomy, improves the employee experience, and we’ve seen it has reduced attrition,” Menon pointed out.

Among the benefits, manager tasks formerly contained to a backroom computer are now done on the floor, allowing managers to be more present. Employees can keep up with required activities and track completion of daily tasks without retreating to the back office, and they can handle personal activities like clocking in and out from an app on their mobile device.

Zebra Technologies is currently working with a consortium of grocery chains in the United Kingdom to pilot a program aimed at gig economy workers. The consortium is tapping into the same pool of employees who may want to work three days at one place and two days at another place. With

“A lot of applications that sit on some of the largest timekeeping platforms today help streamline everything from employee communications and employee surveys to task management,” Klitsch said. “Mobile access to schedules and employee shifts makes it easier than ever for employees to pick up open shifts, whether at a single location or across numerous stores within a set radius.”

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COVER STORY

This should be particularly appealing to store managers hoping to fill gaps in their schedules in near-real time, he pointed out. “Ultimately, mobile technology creates far less restrictions around what can be accomplished and where, and that’s a critical factor when c-stores are short staffed and looking for ways to optimize all available labor,” said Klitsch.

Optimizing Operations Standard AI’s Fisher agrees that technology is complementary to retail staff, helping supplement available workers and freeing them from behind the cash register to offer service to shoppers, restock items, take inventory — among other tasks — and help retailers operate more efficiently while providing a better shopping experience to customers. “Retail is a hard business to hire for and attract talent, requiring a sizable workforce with substantial turnover. As retailers across the world begin to reopen doors and look to hire workers, technology can help make retail jobs more attractive. Instead of scanning and bagging items, workers can focus on more impactful and rewarding work,” he said. Aside from staffing issues, it is also about what employees are doing when they are on the job. Optimizing labor means being able to give employees a list of tasks that can be adjusted as disruptions pop up during the day. From a productivity standpoint, it’s about making sure every employee is being utilized optimally during a shift. “This has made a huge difference in terms of employee labor savings,” Menon noted, “being able to reduce employee staffing requirements as more gets done in a period of time with the same resources.” In the end, if the question is how to streamline operations, the answer is technology, according to Klitsch. “Just think about the increased demand for mobile ordering and curbside pickup. Curbside requires more staff — not less — but you want to be able to accommodate customers. In order to support this operating model, you need to look at other ways to become more efficient,” he said. Technology provides those ways. Retailers may invest in self-ordering kiosks, apps or alternate payment options that enable mobile checkout or let customers pay for fuel using their E-ZPass transponder. “Technology is enabling c-stores to redirect and optimize their labor — in and out of challenging times — while creating a frictionless or even

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“It doesn’t quite matter where you shift your labor to, the point is that bringing new technology into play is going to allow you to innovate in new areas and continue to optimize on all fronts.” — Rob Klitsch, UKG

contactless shopping experience for those who want it,” Klitsch said. “Staff can focus more on in-demand services like curbside, or behind-the-scenes operations like foodservice and stocking coolers, or they can spend more time interacting with customers and delivering a differentiated shopping experience. “It doesn’t quite matter where you shift your labor to, the point is that bringing new technology into play is going to allow you to innovate in new areas and continue to optimize on all fronts,” he added. “C-stores that invest in technology are in a position to remain agile.”

A Tech-Focused Future Looking ahead, Fisher believes autonomous checkout will be one of the key pillars of the future of retail given the many benefits it brings for retailers, employees and customers. “It’s a way to deliver a transformed customer experience, lower operating costs, manage the labor shortage, and get people back to stores,” he said. “As people spend more time out in the world, technology like autonomous checkout can make shopping fast and enjoyable, offering some of the same benefits of e-commerce, like seamless checkout, with the added benefit of instant access to your goods.” For retailers, this can result in the ability to lower prices and increase convenience at the same time — thus, improving margins and revitalizing physical retail to bring more people into the stores to enjoy shopping again, Fisher added. However, this doesn’t mean we are moving to an associate-free world, according to Zebra Technologies’ Menon. At least, not yet. “Technology is not going to replace the human being at the store. Maybe one day it will,” he said. “Think about technology in our cars — it keeps you in your lane, it tells if there are things in your blind spot, and it will automatically pump the brakes when there is an obstacle ahead. In the driving context, it’s all about making you safer. In the c-store context, technology is really about making you more productive and optimized.” CSN


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FOOD I NSIG HT P O W E R E D B Y DATA S S E N T I A L

The Changing Face of Health What defines “healthy” today varies widely among consumers HEALTHY FOOD AND DRINK have always been a focus of attention for consumers, even if not always in practice. But the term “healthy” can mean many different things to consumers depending on their age, gender and individual health goals.

Gone are the days when people would stock up on grapefruit or cabbage soup as a key to diet success. We’ve also moved past the Zone/South Beach/Atkins diets of more recent years.

Just as male and female consumers think of health differently, so do consumers in different age groups. For instance, Boomers, like women, are less likely to hold to a strict diet or call themselves “foodies,” and they are also more likely to opt for better-for-you options when they dine out, rather than vegan substitutes to which younger generations tend to gravitate.

In fact, many consumers say they’ve moved past diets altogether toward more holistic goals. That leaves foodservice operators scrambling to stay ahead of what consumers want — particularly those focused on convenience foods.

And while Gen Z and millennial consumers have the same level of awareness and interest in functional foods as their older counterparts, younger consumers are more likely to go out of their way to find those items in foodservice or retail. Popular functional foods include pickled vegetables, ginger, chamomile and cayenne. Those in the “adoption” stage of Datassential’s Menu Adoption Cycle include fermented foods, bone broth, turmeric and CBD.

What Healthy Means Today

Plant-Based Innovation

While a large portion set weight goals, more consumers than ever eat with an eye toward managing risk for chronic illness; achieving better sleep, stress or mental health; or targeting specific nutrients and functional benefits, according to the “New Foundations in Health” report from Datassential. Health innovation is now about touting beneficial nutrients, functional attributes and production methods to draw consumers’ eyes.

Consumers are more willing than ever to explore plant-based substitutes as a way to eat healthier. Popular plant-based swaps include jackfruit, which can be used to replace pulled pork or beef; zucchini or other veggie noodles as a swap for pasta; and cauliflower as a go-to substitute for pizza crusts, rice and even chicken wings. And interest is starting to grow in plant-based meat substitutes for charcuterie and jerky. These options may appeal primarily to customers who avoid meat altogether, and more adventurous flexitarians.

Consumers today are most focused on bettering their heart and gut health, building up immunity and lowering blood pressure, cholesterol and inflammation. And in large part, they’re looking for foods to do that, according to Datassential. The hyperfocus on immunity didn’t change after the pandemic, possibly because the move toward immunity-boosting and other functional foods had already begun before the beginning of COVID-19.

When consumers do opt for meat, higher-quality sourcing is of the utmost importance. Many consumers are willing to pay more for it, so it’s important that sustainable or ethical sourcing methods — organic, free-range, pasture raised, non-GMO, antibiotic free, etc. — are featured prominently on packaging.

Immunity Across Genders & Generations

The Keto Diet Wins the Day

What defines “healthy” today varies widely among consumers, and their methods do as well.

Even though consumers today are generally more focused on a holistic pathway to health, there are still diet trends that hold a great deal of attention. After intermittent fasting, which involves restricting food for a certain number of hours in the day, the ketogenic (keto) diet is the fastest growing in terms of awareness or practice since 2019.

Perhaps surprisingly, men are more likely to identify as strict dieters and “foodies,” which correlates with an openness to new eating styles or diets, consumption of “next-level” health foods, and an interest in cell cultured proteins or fortified foods and drinks. Women’s diets don’t tend to involve the same kind of intense monitoring, Datassential revealed. Women are most often omnivores or flexitarians, and are significantly less likely to pursue other specific diets or eating styles. Still, women are more likely to gravitate toward specific functional benefits in foods compared to men. So, touting the functional benefits of a food may be the key to attracting a wide swath of both male and female consumers.

The keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet similar to Atkins, and foodservice has been responding by offering protein-rich pizza crusts (i.e., Blaze Pizza’s Protein Pizza) and more vitamin-packed veggies and salad mixes (i.e., Chipotle’s Supergreens mix, replacing romaine). The term “keto” grew a whopping 63 percent on menus this year, and it’s poised for further growth across foodservice as consumers begin to refocus on healthier eating. CSN

Datassential, a Chicago-based food and beverage industry research and consulting firm, brings clients real-world insights on flavor trends, foodservice and consumer packaged goods, globally. Learn more at datassential.com.

60 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m


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Pulling Ahead of the Pack Foodservice competition is getting fiercer for c-stores, pushing them to go beyond good enough in order to differentiate their offer By Angela Hanson

convenience store operators is that consumers are increasingly likely to consider c-store foodservice programs when they want an away-from-home meal or snack. The bad news is that c-stores are being considered in the same competitive pool as quick-service restaurants, fast-casual eateries and other c-store chains — all of which are continually upping their prepared food game: the larger the number of competitors, the more difficult it is to stand out from the crowd.

THE GOOD NEWS FOR

To gain greater share of the stomach, it is critical that food-forward convenience stores carefully examine their menu, their market and their competitors as they seek to differentiate their offer and make a name for themselves as a food destination. One option is to identify a menu item that can serve as the program's tentpole. The “convenient” part of convenience stores comes from providing customers easy access to a wide variety of food and merchandise they want and need, but the best-known c-store foodservice programs are recognized for something specific. For example, Casey's

62 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

General Stores Inc. is a market leader in pizza, while Stewart's Shops is strongly associated with its ice cream, and 7-Eleven Inc.'s Slurpee frozen drinks have been iconic for decades. C-store operators can also stand out by focusing on a class of menu items that are unique and targeted to the tastes of their customers. Baltimore-based High's, which operates 54 locations across the Mid-Atlantic, specializes in craveable fare that is unique to its area, such as Chesapeake Bay rockfish sandwiches, Maryland jumbo lump crab cakes, scrapple egg and cheese sandwiches, Maryland smoke house pit beef sandwiches, and more. “We've even partnered with a local specialty restaurant supplier to ensure we buy local; serve unique and regional; and provide quality food, not 'entry level' food,” said Dallas Wells, vice president of foodservice at High's.

Building a Bolder Menu Differentiating a brand from the competition starts early, going all the way back to menu development. C-stores that incorporate a guiding philosophy as they move through the process of creating new items have a stronger sense of identity.



FOODSERVICE

At High's, the foodservice team's menu innovation filters include: • Flavor and spice; • Better-than-fast-food quality; • Exclusivity/being the only brand to offer something; • Ease of assembly and speed in the kitchen; • Packaging for on-the-go or “dashboard dining”; and • Below 35 percent food cost. C-store chains can approach menu development in significantly different ways and still do well, but it’s crucial that each retailer has a plan that includes benchmarks for a successful product. “When developing a new item for one of our restaurant concepts, we are guided by a combination of different factors — customer testing and feedback, marketplace trends and regionality, and our overarching restaurant menu strategy,” said Kelly Buckley, vice president of 7-Eleven Restaurants. In recent years, 7-Eleven has done well with its Evolution Store format. These lab stores serve as experiential testing grounds for new product innovation and restaurant formats, including proprietary platforms such as Laredo Taco Co. and Raise the Roost Chicken & Biscuits. Restaurants have since become a key part of 7-Eleven's growth strategy. Mid-Atlantic chain High’s specializes in craveable fare that is unique to its region.

“We regularly conduct consumer interviews and research to stay connected to what is resonating and what our opportunities are,” Buckley said. “Additionally, we hold sensory testing and test markets before we roll out items to all restaurants.” Of course, the corporate team members responsible for menu development have a strong hand in building a distinct foodservice program. As such, Wells believes his background and oversight of High’s recruitment and training programs give the company a unique advantage. “I have HR, restaurant and training experience and it allows us to hire and properly train and implement programs for ‘foodies,’” he said. “This has helped us to change a gas station culture into a great food destination quickly.” Store-level employees are likewise key as they serve as the face of the brand and can strongly affect customer impressions. The current labor shortage means that identifying promising workers and training them well is more important than ever. “I firmly believe the retailers who can attract and retain good people will [be able] to provide continuity in their operations,” said Kirk Matthews, who was recently promoted from vice president of foodservice at Fremont, Ohio-based FriendShip Food Stores to vice president of retail operations.

Overcoming Supply Chain Challenges While the COVID-19 pandemic has created major supply chain disruptions that are not expected to resolve by the end of 2021, experts agree that using local products in c-store prepared food programs can not only help operators overcome these disruptions, but also emphasize freshness, keep offerings relevant to the market, and deepen a brand's connection with its community. “I want my menu to reflect the seasons and, when possible, we want to use local ingredients with local companies,” Matthews said. He acknowledges that while the current climate does not make it easy, FriendShip makes a point of looking at local items first. Even large operators with a multi-state footprint and a standard menu can think locally when it comes to certain ingredients.

64 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m



FOODSERVICE

Proprietary restaurants, such as Raise the Roost Chicken & Biscuits, have become a key part of 7-Eleven’s growth strategy.

same basic offer. Maybe a different bread or cheese or protein on the same type of product,” Matthews said. “It can be boring, and some folks like the boring filler food. To develop a menu offer that stands out from others, we look at: Is there a need for the product we want to offer? What is the need and why? Do we have a similar offer already? Will this offer work in all stores?”

“Our goal is to produce high-quality food products that are differentiated, authentic and come at a great value,” said Robin Murphy, senior director of fresh foods at 7-Eleven. “One of the best ways to achieve this is by introducing items with local flair and utilizing regional partners.” Case in point: In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, 7-Eleven’s sandwiches are made with bread from Village Baking Co., a well-known local chain. “The supply chain is certainly experiencing unprecedented and unique challenges. Regardless of those challenges, we are determined to get customers what they want, when and where they want it,” Murphy added.

An Eye on Quality To a certain degree, c-store menus will inevitably have strong similarities. Items like chicken fingers and pizza are continually popular regardless of emerging food trends, which means most retailers will offer them. But a c-store operator can still stand out if it offers these common products at a high level of quality, according to Wells. “Sell what sells first, then seek to innovate,” he said. “Sales is the engine that drives profitability. Before you develop your menu, master the quality and look of the best-sellers.” Getting the right “look” goes beyond the product itself; presentation can enhance or sabotage the appeal of even the best items. “There is nothing worse than looking at a hot display case full of cardboard boxes and aluminum foil wrap,” Wells cautioned. Small changes to standard items can also enhance them without changing the product into something consumers no longer recognize as a favorite. “Everyone wants to be different serving the

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Once a solid foundation is established, c-stores can branch out with new flavors and varieties that their competitors don't have. 7-Eleven, long known for its taquitos and chicken wings, has recently added options such as a Korean barbecue taquito and hot honey wings, which are glazed with a honey chili sauce made with real honey, roasted garlic and chili pepper. 7-Eleven also rolled out a Shrimp Diabla Taco during the Lenten season at its Laredo Taco Co. stores. “It is critical to maintain a solid core offering of products to solidify our position as a destination for high-quality, craveable and convenient food,” Murphy said. “The combination of continuous improvements to core offerings, strategically launching limited-time offerings to surprise and delight customers, and keeping quality and value top of mind sets us apart.” Experimenting with new products based on existing offerings is also a safer way to test the waters without venturing too far from what a brand is already known for. “We want to utilize our current items as much as we can,” Matthews said. “We have found that new items that complement some existing offers do better for us. I want to stay true to what we do — make the best, tastiest chicken in Ohio served in a great environment.” Customers will also remember attributes such as speed and easy ordering. “Install a customer ordering screen and kitchen display screen,” Wells advises. “Allow customization even if you have a limited budget. Non-integrated systems are available at a low cost. You will never drive sales maximization taking and preparing one order at a time!” Matthews cites speed of service, mobile ordering and self-service checkout as three of the major touchpoints for c-stores in today’s environment. “What we are seeing at the moment is people want to go back into stores, but not linger. They want an easy-to-navigate store, well stocked, that they can get in and get back out,” he said. “People want to be in the public, but not linger.” CSN


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TOBACCO

Mounting Uncertainty Around Tobacco Retailers are contending with macro environmental factors, such as gas prices and unemployment, while facing new and ongoing regulatory issues By Danielle Romano

IF THERE IS ONE COMMON thread within the macro environment that is impacting today’s nicotine consumer, it is uncertainty. Not only is there mounting pressure on the consumer as stimulus payments come to an end, but unemployment is also still relatively high despite labor shortages. And the onset of the Delta variant of COVID-19 is beginning to overshadow everything that consumers are trying to do in terms of getting back to their so-called “normal” lives.

all characterizing flavors — including menthol — in cigars within the next year.

Then, there are gas prices. As is typical during the summer, gas prices rise sharply. To some extent, this could be putting extra pressure on the nicotine category as a Goldman Sachs analysis found that gas prices historically are correlated with an impact on cigarette volume.

According to Goldman Sachs’ July 2021 Nicotine Nuggets survey, retailers said their view on the U.S. adult nicotine consumer is the same today as it was last year. Yet, the quarterly survey shows that over time, retailers’ outlook is skewing more negative. From the April 2021 Nicotine Nuggets survey to the July 2021 survey, retailers’ outlook on the nicotine consumer showed a greater decline — going from 17 percent to 28 percent having a negative outlook.

“We’ve seen when gas prices are low, cigarette prices trend more favorably, and the reverse is true as well. We are seeing cigarette volume tending to decelerate right now,” Goldman Sachs Managing Director Bonnie Herzog said during a recent webinar hosted by Convenience Store News entitled “Retailer Roundtable: What’s Next in C-store Tobacco.” Herzog, a senior consumer analyst at Goldman Sachs covering the beverage and tobacco sectors, pointed to the potential federal menthol ban as another area of concern for retailers. On April 29, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it is taking steps to ban menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes, and ban

68 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

However, Goldman Sachs estimates that a process like this is a multi-year endeavor given its complexity, and could take anywhere from five to seven years. “I’m not expecting any changes any time soon, but retailers should certainly be aware of which brands could win a litigation if in fact this ban goes into effect,” Herzog advised.

Retailers’ Outlook

What retailers say they are most concerned about is: • More regulation — potential FDA menthol ban and nicotine cap; • Broad-based excise tax increases — potential hikes at the state and federal levels; and • Uncertainty — delays in FDA premarket tobacco product application (PMTA) approvals raise concerns about the viability of the e-vapor market. “In some of the comments we’re hearing from retailers, they are also concerned about usage occasions, which are down as work-from-home



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eases and consumers head back into the office. Maybe consumers are going back to their pre-pandemic behaviors,” Herzog pointed out. “There are also overarching concerns about more legislation on the horizon, and certainly the potential for excise taxes continues to be an overhang.” Another trend impacting the nicotine market is pricing. Price increases from manufacturers have become more frequent and higher. Annual increases on packs each year have risen from 13 cents in 2013 to 25 cents in 2019 to, most recently, 45 cents in 2021. “We have seen cigarette prices go up. As a result of that, when you look at the relative price gap between a Marlboro and the lowest price brand on the market, you see that price gap widen,” Herzog noted. “This relative price gap is widening potential downtrading pressure.”

Cigarettes on the Decline In Goldman Sachs’ April Nicotine Nuggets survey, nearly 70 percent of retailers said they expected cigarette volume declines to accelerate in 2021. Fast forward to July and retailers said they expect cigarette volumes to decline slightly this year and decelerate further next year. One Retailer Roundtable participant — Tim Greene, category director of general merchandise and tobacco for Boulder, Colo.-based The Cigarette Store LLC, Smoker Friendly’s largest authorized dealer with 182 stores — is seeing a decline of about 2 percent this year vs. 2020. “In Q1 2021, we were down significantly due to a large tax increase in Colorado where 30 percent of our stores reside. When you look at that vs. Q4 2020, we were down about 13 percent,” Greene said of the company’s volumes. “We rebounded a little bit in Q2. Looking at Q2 2021 vs. Q4 2020, we’re down about 3 percent in cigarettes.” The COVID-19 pandemic has introduced more volatility and greater uncertainty as it relates to current trends and retailers’ outlook. Cigarette volume spiked during 2020, but since then, it has reverted as consumer behavior returns to pre-pandemic levels. “We have seen some deceleration in volume, but we historically have been and are still well under that deceleration percentage for overall volume. When rolling over heavy COVID-19 comps, we’ve maintained a lot of that volume,” said Chris Dillard,

tobacco category manager at The Spinx Co., operator of 82 convenience stores across South Carolina. According to Dillard, consumers traditionally have pulled away from premium, branded or discount cigarettes and moved to third- or fourth-tier brands, which retailers are starting to carry. However, in Spinx’s market, the retailer has not witnessed that pull-away. “We’ve seen the opposite where those branded or discount buyers have traded up to the premium segment. I think it’s interesting to see how customers are moving between those cigarette categories,” Dillard expressed.

PMTA: A Year in the Making Now more than a year since the deadline for premarket applications for newly deemed tobacco products passed, the FDA has moved on the lion’s share of the submissions. On Sept. 9, exactly one year post deadline, the agency announced that it has taken action on 93 percent of the PMTAs that manufacturers submitted for more than 6.5 million tobacco products. Of those submissions, the FDA issued Marketing Denial Orders (MDOs) for nearly 1 million flavored electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). A majority of the PMTAs submitted by the court-ordered deadline of Sept. 9, 2020 were for ENDS products, including electronic cigarettes and e-liquids. Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock and Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, said the agency issued the MDOs because the product applications “lacked sufficient evidence that they have a benefit to adult smokers sufficient to overcome the public health threat posed by the well-documented, alarming levels of youth use of such products.” Like many convenience store operators, as the PMTA deadline approached last year, Smoker Friendly identified as many products as possible that weren’t going to be submitted and worked with its suppliers and manufacturers to discount those products for a quick sell. Some suppliers even took back product for credit or replacement. “In the end, we had to write off quite a bit of inventory as well that we know wasn’t submitted for PMTAs,” Greene explained. “Post-PMTA, we took a very conservative approach to adding new products mainly from the big manufacturers, and took a conservative approach to disposables by not introducing anything new until the first of the year, which has been a value added to the vapor category since then.” Similarly, Spinx carefully examined the products across its backbar that were being submitted for PMTAs. One area in particular that the c-store chain took a hard stance on was not carrying pop-up disposables that offered different flavors and “that slid under the radar of the PMTA,” Dillard shared during the CSNews webinar. “I didn’t want to position myself that once the PMTA process is complete, we have one-off brands that are taking up space for items that have been accepted and now, I have no space for them,” he said. “I am cautiously optimistic about coming out of the other side of the PMTA.” CSN

72 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m


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ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES

Raising the Bar The c-store industry embraces wine and liquor as sales rise due to the pandemic By Kathleen Furore

IT’S BEEN A SPIRITED YEAR for

wine and liquor

in the convenience channel. In February, Savannah, Ga.-based Parker’s debuted Parker’s Spirits, the company’s first-ever liquor-focused banner. The new store, adjacent to an existing Parker’s convenience store in Pooler, Ga., stocks premier wines, craft beers, collectible bourbons, and other packaged beverages. In April, Casey’s General Stores Inc., headquartered in Ankeny, Iowa, developed a single barrel bourbon in partnership with Buffalo Trace Distillery. Available in 375-milliliter bottles, it is part of the retailer’s plan to innovate around its beer, wine and spirits offerings. In mid-June, Irving, Texas-based 7 Eleven Inc. added to its private brands portfolio with the launch of Plot + Point chardonnay and pinot grigio, packaged in Tetra Pak

containers. And just two months later, the company teamed up with Minibar Delivery to deliver beer and wine — national brands, as well as 7-Eleven’s own portfolio. The collaboration kicked off in Florida, Texas and Virginia, with plans to expand to additional markets later this year. “Over the past year, wine and liquor have been strong categories for 7-Eleven stores,” reports Julie Trapp-Clark, director of alcohol for 7-Eleven. “Ready-to-drink (RTD) beverages and innovative alcohol flavors are driving growth in the category and bringing new customers into our stores.”

A Dive Into the Data While hard seltzers, beer and RTD malt beverages have been getting much buzz during the pandemic, wine and liquor have proven resilient in the convenience channel. According to the 2021 Convenience Store News Industry Report, average sales per store in the category increased by 32 percent last year. Wine and liquor’s share of overall in-store sales at U.S. convenience stores rose from 1.55 percent in 2019 to 1.97 percent in 2020.

Single-serve wine products are up more than 20 percent at 7-Eleven Inc.

74 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m



ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES

Online alcohol marketplace Drizly, a company that partners with retailers (including c-stores), has seen an uptick in wine sales as well. Wine accounts for 37-percent share on Drizly. Within the wine category, champagne and sparkling wine have seen significant gains, now making up 23-percent share of the wine category compared to 17 percent during the same time period in 2020, reports Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights. The liquor category has fared even better, Drizly’s data shows. “This year, liquor accounts for 44-percent share, up from 41 percent during the same time period in 2020,” says Paquette, who notes that tequila, in particular, has gained share over the past year. In the Drizly marketplace, tequila share grew from 13 percent in the first quarter of 2021 to 16 percent in the second quarter. “Spirits in c-stores have fared extremely well over the past year, with dollar sales growth over 20 percent,” echoes Jay Hornback, national account manager and convenience retail lead at Beam Suntory, producer of premium liquor brands such as Jim Bean. “Some of the trends we have noticed were how the tequila and cognac segments both grew dollar sales much faster than the total spirits category in c-stores,” noted Hornback. “Despite losing some traditional foot traffic during the pandemic, c-stores were able to pick up customers who opted for a faster shopper experience vs. traditional big-box retailers.” From the start of the pandemic, in-store traffic at c-stores was down about 25 percent since there was no need for consumers to purchase gas on a frequent basis, according to Herb Smith, vice president of customer development for E. & J. Gallo Winery. Overall sales were impacted, but once mandates were eased by cities, in-store traffic began increasing, followed by an uptick in sales. “The spirit category in the channel continues to outpace the rest of the market with double-digit growth trends,” Smith told Convenience Store News.

through signage, their mobile app, or even a menu-type poster at the register.” Operators also should not forget to fine-tune their wine and liquor displays. “I have been in many stores where the product is partially hidden, hard to locate, or not well-lit from a distance,” said Hornback, pointing out that this can inhibit the kind of cross-shopping that will boost sales. Case in point: A customer might come in for a 12-pack of beer, but could be tempted by a 200-milliliter bottle of a spirit if they see it. “Those are extra sales retailers should try to pursue to increase their gross sales,” Hornback advises. A wide selection of products also can help c-stores capture purchases, Paquette notes. “Typically, we see customers order from one retailer that has all the products they are looking for, rather than split their order across retailers,” she said. “By stocking top-sellers across all categories, convenience stores can become more competitive with other retailers in their area.” A convenience store’s product mix should depend on the size of the store overall, and the space it has to promote wine and liquor specifically, according to Hornback. “For traditional bottled spirits, leading with core selling brands is always the safest bet, as c-stores don’t have the space to satisfy the demand that large-format grocery and liquor stores have,” he explained. With spirit-based RTDs trending, he suggests also adding an associated branded spirit — a move that could mean a larger sale. The tight, competitive cooler space resulting from the popularity of RTDs is another consideration. “I would look at creating dedicated space based on the size of the cooler to start promoting singles, four-packs and eight-packs,” he said. “Typically, the price is higher. But as we are currently seeing in the data, consumers are showing strong trial and repeat purchase, especially those who are loyal to the master spirit.”

How to Drive Sales With wine and liquor sales on the rise, just how should c-store operators eager to profit approach this business? It might seem obvious, but for those already committed to wine and liquor, communication is key, according to industry insiders. “I realize beer sales may represent 65 to 85 percent of total alcohol sales in the store, but letting consumers know that you actually carry spirits is the first step,” Hornback stressed. “Retailers also should do a better job of letting consumers know what they offer — whether

76 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

“We do not anticipate the customer demand for wine and liquor to decrease soon.” — Julie Trapp-Clark, 7-Eleven Inc.


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On the wine side, Smith recommends making space for a 3-foot to 4-foot ambient wine department in a high-traffic location within the store, plus a full door of cold wine to capture “wine dollars” while customers are inside the store. Like Hornback, Smith points to the popularity of RTD products and how that can inform a retailer’s decision on what to carry. “While better-for-you wines are becoming more popular, the ready-to-drink category has really penetrated the c-store channel by offering consumers multiple formats,” Smith said. “Consumers often want to enjoy a single glass of wine, so the 750-milliliter package can sometimes be a barrier. Single-serve packaging formats — such as cans, 375-milliliter half-bottles, 3-liter boxes, and RTD — are incredibly important as we look to win new friends for wine and provide consumers with more dynamic options.” At 7-Eleven, single-serve wine products are up more than 20 percent, and they continue to grow in popularity, according to Trapp-Clark.

A Promising Future 2021 has been good to liquor and wine sales so far. But are those sales, like much of what’s happened since the pandemic’s onset, an anomaly? Industry pros don’t think so. “The future is bright,” Smith predicts. “This channel is only one of two channels where wine is outpacing grocery. The other is the dollar channel.” Trapp-Clark has an equally positive outlook. “We do not anticipate the customer demand for wine and liquor to decrease soon,” she says. “These continue to be extremely strong categories for us, and we are constantly working to expand our product assortment, with vendor partners and through our private brand portfolio.” That’s a smart approach, according to Hornback, who believes the future is brightest for those c-stores that ultimately won’t rely on gas sales to thrive. “The future of convenience will be much different than a lot of us grew up with. Many retailers have mentioned they want to be a destination for consumers who are shopping at the store and by chance need gas,” he explained. “If you drive a Tesla, what will it take for you to stop at a c-store on your way home from work?” Wine and liquor might be the answer. “As c-stores evolve and become more competitive with traditional liquor or grocery stores, planning ahead and providing drink solutions — especially for key holidays and events — could help increase impulse sales and gross dollars,” Hornback concluded. CSN 78 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

Rewarding Wine & Liquor Customers When the COVID-19 pandemic began, 7-Eleven Inc. saw growth in wine and liquor as its customers were enjoying their favorite alcoholic beverages at home instead of at a restaurant or bar. Julie Trapp-Clark, the chain’s director of alcohol, said the company wanted to reward its loyal customers for shopping with 7-Eleven. So, in select states, the retailer added promotions and bonus offers on wine and liquor through its 7Rewards loyalty program in the 7-Eleven app. This initiative is ongoing, and is producing positive results. “Giving customers the opportunity to rack up loyalty points or score discounts on their favorite wine and liquor products continues to drive brand loyalty and repeat trips,” Trapp-Clark said.



HEALTH & BEAUTY CARE

Cultivating the C-store HBC Habit The convenience channel can build on recent momentum with a heightened focus By Renée M. Covino

has newfound respect in the convenience channel. Once overlooked, the category has garnered more attention since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led consumers to look at c-stores differently.

HEALTH AND BEAUTY CARE (HBC)

“When c-stores were deemed as essential businesses during the pandemic, they were often some of the only places for consumers to turn to meet their everyday needs,” said Michelle Ridder, director of category management for Lil’ Drug Store Products Inc., based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “Now that consumers know [health and beauty care] can be found in c-stores, we believe some will keep this habit.” The initial hook was need-based products, according to Katherine Policelli, business analyst with Cadent Consulting Group, based in Wilton, Conn. Consumers who have a need and require an immediate solution, such as an OTC medication, skin care product or shampoo, are the logical

80 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

target for c-store HBC, she told Convenience Store News. “These products offer the best opportunity to increase category margin for c-stores.” Last year, average sales per store of HBC were up 4.2 percent, compared to 1.3 percent category growth in 2019, according to the latest Convenience Store News Industry Report. The HBC segments with the largest sales growth included grooming aids, vitamins/supplements, and cough/cold remedies. But that only tells part of the story, especially now that convenience retailers have embraced more widespread HBC category trends. And industry experts have ideas for how they can build on the recent momentum and keep the sales growth going.

Performers With Staying Power HBC items with staying power include both core and non-traditional segments. First off, there’s been an “increased reliance on the basic, core HBC items,” according to Policelli. Cadent Consulting gives high marks to key areas


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such as analgesics, lip balm, antacids, cough/cold medications, and family planning, she noted. “Some of these are just an impulse purchase/basket builder, such as lip balm, and some can be very price-competitive, such as family planning items, but still offer a significant margin trade-up,” the analyst explained. Throughout much of last year, personal protective equipment (PPE) products, such as masks and hand sanitizer, accounted for approximately 30 percent of HBC dollar sales “and kept HBC dollar and unit trends in the black,” according to Ridder. “As we anniversary PPE sales in 2021, masks and sanitizers have created a major headwind for HBC. Premium placement on an endcap or front counter, specialty displays, promotions, signage and media attention helped to make c-store consumers aware these types of products were initially available,” she said. “Awareness of these items should continue through signage, promotions, loyalty and placement.” Ridder also noted that allergy-related sales continue to see double-digit growth as consumers “are more proactively treating allergy symptoms to avoid the stigma of coughing or sneezing in public during the pandemic.” In the vitamins and supplements segment, Mason Vitamins has benefitted from a “great convenience-store relationship in Hawaii,” according to Chuck Tacl, senior vice president of sales for the Miami Lakes, Fla.-based company. The desire for more SKUs in that partnership evolved into the company’s Wellness to Go supplement program.

The Best Care for the HBC Category Industry experts offer their top ideas for c-stores to garner more HBC sales • Increase awareness. Let consumers know HBC is “in the house” through signage, promotions, loyalty and placement. Understand and convey a heightened interest in health, driven by the pandemic. • Be well-rounded. Carry the best-selling HBC SKUs in immediate consumption sizes, and allow customers to trade up to larger-size SKUs to increase market basket. Offer private label SKUs where it makes sense. • Manage the category. Assign an HBC category manager at the retail level to work with supplier category managers to ensure the best products are included in sets. Utilize vendors for category insights. • Sprinkle in relevant terminology. Create a wellness destination section, planogram or endcap in the store. Use loyalty programs to bolster “Wellness” and “Better-for-You” offers.

Tacl pointed to several segments that are evolving post-COVID: Immunity, Calm (Relax/Sleep), Digestive Support, and Hair & Nails.

• Manage the message. Category messaging in-store, on social media, at the pump, etc., should be simple and educational without making any health claims.

“Hair supplements are usually associated with female consumers; however, there are huge opportunities now with men’s grooming/beard grooming, too,” he said.

• Embrace the new normal. Yes, there’s been increased reliance on basic, core HBC items, such as analgesics, antacids, cough/cold, and lip balm. But there’s also a greater understanding now that some HBC “fads” are proving to be modern solutions to classic problems. Offer both sides of the spectrum.

For product placement, he says “counter and pegging next to the energy products can be sufficient,” but creating a wellness destination center is most effective. At the very least, “the word ‘wellness’ needs to be relevant in planogramming,” he stressed. Multipacks and larger volume products recently became a go-to in HBC and across the center store. “The consumer’s heightened awareness of value points to this trend continuing,” notes Jim Beghtol, senior category manager for Lil’ Drug Store Products. As far as in-store placement goes, Beghtol believes HBC belongs in a centralized location, but also in secondary locations that feature consumer values and new-item launches. “This will continue to drive category awareness and profits,” he said.

82 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

Tacl echoes the trend of larger pack sizes and advises that in the vitamins segment, larger-count packages of 18 to 30 capsules should be available to transition the packet consumer into a permanent supplement consumer. Don Stuart, managing director at Cadent Consulting, also views CBD as an important HBC category trend that c-stores should pay attention to, particularly in the areas of infused drinks, food and balms. The entire CBD category faced unexpected challenges in the convenience channel in 2020 thanks to pandemic


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are learning to portray a more reputable image in OTC medications and other health-related items. This can be helped along by stocking both a leading brand in each segment and a private label offering, according to Cadent Consulting’s Policelli. This approach offers a range of quality and value, covering the spectrum for most health-oriented categories, she said, adding that this “one plus one” strategy is especially important in more rural environments where c-stores often become the local one-stop shop. Lil’ Drug Store Products’ Ridder agrees that c-stores should offer the best-selling HBC items in a variety of sizes and prices, as well as private label where it makes sense.

The Latest Buzz Around HBC A rundown of today’s most influential trends in health and beauty care Category experts say these trends and product attributes should be on the radar of convenience store retailers if they’re serious about boosting HBC sales: • Personal protective equipment (PPE) • Immune health • Long-term wellness • Self-care & home self-care • Relaxation aids • Digestive support • Family planning • At-home test kits • Localized beauty care • CBD-infused tinctures & balms • Essential oils • OTC basics • Sun care as skin care • Better-for-you • Educational content/tutorials/demonstrations

disruptions, but that is predicted to change soon. One industry expert recently pegged 2022 as “the year of growth for the CBD category.” The way Stuart sees it, CBD category growth will “ultimately be heavily dependent on FDA approval of the supplement and perceived efficacy.”

Competitive Tactics While convenience stores are not drugstores, they 84 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

She also pointed out that with COVID-19 variants very much a concern these days, maintaining in-store pandemic safety precautions and touting them to customers is another way c-stores can better compete with the drugstore channel. In terms of marketing, social media is proving to be a growing part of the evolving HBC equation. “The pandemic made retailers find new ways to connect with consumers to inform, educate and award shoppers,” said Ridder. Some of these new connection points include mobile apps, curbside options, delivery capabilities, and loyalty programs — all enhanced through the use of social media. “Recommendations and word of mouth are still the most effective way to encourage trial, but we also believe bolstering loyalty programs and leveraging apps and messaging can accelerate the health positioning and private label HBC presence in c-stores,” said Stuart. Convenience stores have the opportunity to make brand impressions to local audiences through personalized promotions and materials that are hyper-relevant to each community, offered Eli Chapman, chief marketing officer for creative automation technology company Celtra. He explained to CSNews that this might take shape as social media postings that reference the county fair and are tied to selling more sunscreen. Recent Celtra data found that localization is key to sustaining loyalty with beauty care shoppers. More specifically, roughly half of beauty care shoppers (51 percent) indicated that they have a stronger sense of loyalty to beauty brands/retailers that localize creative content to a region, community, and/or current events. Moving forward, Beghtol of Lil’ Drug Store Products encourages c-stores to embrace “the new normal” and expect many of the new habits created during the pandemic to stay post-crisis. He offered some examples of HBC items that are already demonstrating staying power: Orajel, pregnancy test kits, and personal care items. “Despite experiencing pandemic-related growth in 2020, these items have continued to show dollar and unit growth in 2021,” he said. The key point to remember is that c-store consumers have become a captive HBC audience — and they’re not likely to retreat if retailers keep up the momentum. CSN


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SERVICES

Family Express reports that its app-based car wash subscriptions are doing “phenomenally well.”

Driving Store Traffic With Services C-stores are exploring an array of complimentary amenities to attract consumers By Debby Garbato CONVENIENCE STORE GROWTH strategies

have typically revolved around renovating stores and upgrading foodservice. But the COVID-19 pandemic changed that, bringing digital services to the forefront. In addition to addressing safety concerns, mobile ordering, delivery and other app-based digital initiatives proved just how pivotal the combination of convenience and technology is to the young adults frequenting c-stores. Now, convenience channel retailers are exploring additional tech-forward services. They include bitcoin ATMs, electric vehicle (EV) charging stations, digital lottery, and car wash subscriptions. These amenities are not major profit centers. Rather, the emphasis is on using these services to further differentiate c-store brands, drive traffic, and increase dwell times.

looking at things that will be a draw and impact overall margins and revenue,” said Thomas McElroy, principal of the retail and consumer practice at Deloitte Consulting in Charlotte, N.C. “They were hit pretty hard. High-revenue generators like fountain drinks and self-service were often shut down. They’re trying to adjust.”

Electric Vehicle Charging EV charging is the most popular new service. Its future seems certain, with President Biden calling for half of new vehicles to be electric by 2030. This year, EVs will represent about 3.4 percent of new car sales, according to EVAdoption, but the number of charging stations is already rising. In 2018, there were 64,000 in the United States. By 2020, there were roughly 90,000, according to figures from the Alternative Fuels Data Center and consultancy InsideEVs. “Top of line with everyone is EV,” noted Dzwonczyk. “It’s going to happen.”

“For years, c-stores invested in foodservice to get people into stores. Now, they’re looking at the next generation of ‘stuff’ to pull shoppers in,” said Eric Dzwonczyk, a global co-leader of the restaurants, hospitality and leisure practice at AlixPartners in New York. “There’s much convergence of different themes, with formats changing quickly.”

The nation’s largest c-store operator, Irving, Texas-based 7-Eleven Inc., is being aggressive about EVs. By the end of 2022, it will install 500 direct-current, fast-charging EV ports at 250 U.S. and Canada locations. Currently, it has 22 stores that offer EV charging. All of these locations are adjacent to major roads and highways.

The new traffic drivers require little or no labor. They could help c-stores recoup some of the revenue lost during the pandemic. “They’re

“EV is evolving quickly,” said Kevin Kelly, senior vice president of hospitality at Westlake, Ohio-based TravelCenters of America Inc. (TA), which will soon have

88 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

Other retailers are optimistic but proceeding cautiously.


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charging at nine of its 275 locations. “Good dwell times spell opportunity. We want to drive people to non-fuel transactions. But it’s emerging technology. We don’t want to invest in the wrong infrastructure. How do you balance the cost and monetize it? Do you build a battery facility or a solar field to supply it? We’re hoping government will supplement.” In the Midwest, Des Moines, Iowa-based Kum & Go LC has been offering EV charging since 2018, but only 22 locations have it. Competitor Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey’s General Stores Inc. offers charging at about two dozen stores. On the East Coast, Pennsylvania-based Wawa Inc. has EV charging at 50 locations. Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz Inc. also offers EV charging, as do some smaller chains in the region. According to AlixPartners, 80 percent of charging is done at home, 13 percent is done at highway c-stores, and just 3 percent is done at other c-stores, where dwell time is often short. Hence, not all convenience stores will make for successful EV destinations. Many c-store operators are concerned about losing fuel volume revenue and customer traffic to EV charging. Fuel can represent 50-60 percent of a site’s earnings. “People buy fuel, then come into stores,” said Dzwonczyk. “How do I offset profits and margins?” Truck stops and travel centers are well positioned for EV charging. They have interstate locations, with myriad amenities already driving up dwell time. “We’re not the corner store,” said TA’s Kelly. “Dwell time is long. We have quick- and full-service restaurants and c-stores. You can walk your pet. It’s like a miniature community. Our large sites are a competitive advantage.” TA also serves truck drivers with 29 on-site Verizon stores, 27 barber shops, 26 medical centers, basketball hoops, and fitness centers.

Digital Lottery Technology, the pandemic and consumers’ desire for convenience are propelling the growth of digital lottery. In 2020, sales increased 25.7 percent, according to Global Industry Analysts Inc. For 2021, digital lottery sales are projected to reach $2.3 billion. In July of this year, Laval, Quebec-based Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., the parent company of Circle K, partnered with Jackpocket to begin offering digital lottery through 1,300 locations across Arkansas, Colorado, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio and Texas. Jackpocket is a licensed third-party lottery app that lets users order official state lottery tickets fulfilled by a licensed lottery retail partner. Digital lottery is not currently legal in all states. According to Jackpocket, 67.8 percent of digital lottery players were under the age of 45 during the second quarter of 2021. Consumers aged 55-plus have also increased their usage.

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Couche-Tard is partnering with Jackpocket to offer digital lottery through 1,300 of its locations.

At Circle K, customers receive exclusive deals via the Jackpocket app and by email, including “surprise alerts to drive foot traffic,” said Jackpocket CEO Pete Sullivan. Circle K is promoting the lottery app in its stores, at fuel pumps, in digital ads, via emails, and via a team member incentive program. This fall, the app will be rolled out to sister brand, Holiday. “We’re seeing demand for digital options in every industry,” noted Sullivan. “We want to meet people where they are. We don’t anticipate lottery moving away from convenience stores completely. We’re here to offer an option for those who find it easier to play from their smartphone.” Not all digital lotteries are app-based. In June, Whitehouse Station, N.J.-based QuickChek Corp. (which is owned by Murphy USA Inc.) launched a web-based platform with Lotto.com that lets New Jersey shoppers purchase lottery tickets on any device without having to download an app or deposit money into an account. Payment is managed by PCI-compliant payment providers. Don Leech, QuickChek’s vice president of marketing and operations, said the partnership complements the chain’s other digital services. “We’ve been providing convenience through mobile ordering, our mobile rewards app, and the ability to order delivery online. Our [Lotto.com] partnership lets us further meet the needs of consumers who prefer shopping and paying online.”

Bitcoin ATMs Historically, c-stores have served unbanked and underbanked consumers with services such as check-cashing, MoneyGram, Western Union, and money orders. Unbanked consumers lack a checking or savings account; the underbanked have one but not both. According to published reports, 25 percent of consumers overall fit into one of these two categories. And among just the millennial generation, 33 percent are underbanked. These groups are seen as viable customers for bitcoin ATMs, a new, emerging service in the convenience



SERVICES

channel. Bitcoin ATMs let users pay cash to buy and sell virtual cryptocurrencies. Bitcoin can be stored in a digital wallet, sent to others, and used as payment with certain retailers. It is decentralized, meaning it is not controlled by a banking system. There are no remittance fees for international transactions and no currency exchange rates. Transactions are stored on the blockchain. Worldwide, the bitcoin market grew from around $100 billion in 2016 to $2.1 trillion today, according to CoinMarketCap. Roughly 3 percent of c-stores currently offer bitcoin ATMs, said Brandon Mitz, CEO and president of Atlanta-based Bitcoin Depot. With c-stores’ complementary demographics and the need to drive traffic, he believes that number will climb. “When you bring customers into stores, it creates many opportunities for impulse buys and to learn about products. The largest category of bitcoin users are millennials. Millennials — and Gen Z — value convenience,” Mitz explained. Bitcoin ATMs occupy an 18- by 22-inch footprint. Retailers receive rent regardless of performance. If machines perform well, the compensation is higher. Early entrant Circle K is optimistic about bitcoin, with machines in 1,000 stores. Plans call for expansion to 10,000 stores. “Our Bitcoin Depot partnership gives our brand an important, early presence in the fast-growing cryptocurrency marketplace as a convenient destination where customers can buy bitcoin,” Denny Tewell, senior vice president of global merchandise and procurement for Circle K, said in a prepared statement. Other retailers are unsure about how bitcoin will fit in and are proceeding more slowly. TravelCenters of America, for instance, is piloting 20 deposit-only bitcoin locations. “It’s in the early stages and not very transactional from a consumer standpoint,” said TA’s Kelly. “Digital interfaces are becoming more important. But there’s uncertainty about how bitcoin will evolve as a consumer tool.” C-stores are giving more attention to the car wash business, adding digital subscriptions and more add-on wash options.

Bitcoin ATMs let users pay cash to buy and sell virtual cryptocurrencies.

Car Wash C-stores have had car washes for years, but innovation in equipment and marketing has been limited. That is now changing, with some c-stores adding more wash options and digital subscriptions. Add-ons include higher-end waxes, tire shiners, and undercarriage sprays. These can move prices from around $6 for a basic wash to a $26 package at the extreme high end. App-based monthly subscriptions drive repeat traffic and can link to other business segments. “Car wash is a nice revenue stream,” said Ken Underhill, director of marketing at St. Louis-based car wash supplier D&S Car Wash, which offers a modeling tool that lets c-store operators “plug in” numbers to make revenue and profit projections following investment costs. Underhill acknowledges, however, that car wash doesn’t seem to have a high profile compared to the in-store aspect of convenience retailing. “It’s kind of an add-on, and most equipment has been fairly utilitarian. Historically, c-stores haven’t marketed it. I’m not sure why,” he said. Miami-based Sunshine Gasoline Distributors is one chain bucking the trend. It has invested in better equipment, including rollover and tunnel car washes, and added perks to many of its 100 South Florida car washes, including ceiling LEDs that “create visual stimulation,” said Eddy Alvarez, senior operations manager. “It’s a bit of a Miami light show.” Last year, Sunshine launched app-based monthly subscriptions at 45 of its locations. “You don’t leave your car. You open the app, request a code, punch it in, and the wash activates,” said Alvarez, noting that Sunshine promotes its car wash offerings via

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“For years, c-stores invested in foodservice to get people into stores. Now, they’re looking at the next generation of ‘stuff’ to pull shoppers in.” — Eric Dzwonczyk, AlixPartners

screens at the gas pumps, car wash QR codes, local radio, and in-store associates. These changes have made Sunshine a destination. Alvarez said the retailer plans to expand the subscription program, continue upgrading its washes, and will add standalone car washes. Valparaiso, Ind.-based Family Express Corp. launched app-based car wash subscriptions two years ago. Subscriptions are sold at all of the chain’s stores and redeemable at all of its car washes. Car wash same-store sales have increased 30 percent in the last two years. “They’re doing phenomenally well,” said Family Express President and CEO Gus Olympidis, noting that the subscriptions are “constantly promoted” via social media and alongside its other business segments. The retailer continues adding car washes to more locations. “The innovation in car washes is how you engage consumers with payments, loyalty and subscriptions to provide value,” Olympidis explained. “It’s bundling car washes with the overall store experience.” Under a partnership with NCR Corp., Family Express is also letting customers place digital food orders at its gas pumps and have the order brought to their vehicle. This initiative was about 90 percent deployed as of press time. “They pay at the pump with their existing fuel purchase,” said Olympidis. “Without the technology, these would be separate transactions.” When it comes to these new services, it still remains to be seen how well they will perform long term and how they will impact c-stores’ other business segments. The jury is also out on which c-store business models they will complement best. But one thing is certain: tech-forward innovations will continue and are here to stay in the convenience store industry. CSN 96 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

Family Express is adding freestanding pet wash kiosks to every location that can handle it.

Serving the Furriest C-store Shoppers When it comes to traffic-driving destination services, convenience stores have not forgotten about consumers’ furry friends, with dog parks and pet washes becoming an important part of some retailers’ operations. According to published reports, 78 percent of Americans who own pets travel with them, and many of their decisions are made around the availability of pet amenities. Hence, a convenience store with a pet walking or exercise area becomes a planned stop, with those pet owners also fueling up and purchasing food and beverages while they’re there. Among professional truck drivers, 35 percent travel with pets — and they are always on the road, said Kevin Kelly, senior vice president of hospitality at TravelCenters of America Inc. The travel center chain has had pet walking areas for 10 years. Today, they are at 238 locations, with the retailer constantly upgrading them. “Usually, it’s a nice green space with shade,” said Kelly. “You can grab a bag for the animal’s waste. We’ve been adding fences, benches and water.” The retailer is considering adding dog washes to some locations as well. Edmonton, Okla.-based OnCue Express goes all out with its 8,000-square-foot dog parks. Oversized dog statues make them highly visible from nearby interstates. Fenced-in parks have separate areas for large and small breeds, along with watering troughs, shady areas, fake fire hydrants, and an agility course with ramps and other toys for dogs to climb on and jump through. Along with walking areas and full-scale dog parks, pet washes can serve as a destination — and provide incremental income with minimal labor requirements. These washes benefit pet owners by eliminating the need to clean a messy bathtub at home. Convenience store operator Family Express Corp., based in Valparaiso, Ind., is adding freestanding pet wash kiosks to “every location that can handle it,” said President and CEO Gus Olympidis. The turnkey, temperature-controlled kiosks come pre-assembled. Plumbing and electricity are connected in about 90 minutes. The kiosks are decorated with faux fire hydrants and a custom “FE Pet Wash” sign. They provide 12 minutes of washing for $10. Soap, conditioner, flea/tick treatment, pet deodorizer and disinfectant are dispensed through a water sprayer. The washes are monitored via video camera. Family Express is using digital promotions to tout the service. Olympidis believes these pet washes send “a subliminal signal” about Family Express being what its name implies, since “pets are part of the family.”


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TECHNOLOGY

Driving Excellence Through Technology Technology Leader of the Year Kum & Go reinforces its commitment to customers and associates through technology By Melissa Kress

has been accused of being slow to innovate and embrace new technologies. Often, c-store retailers take a wait-and-see approach and follow cues from competitors — quick-service restaurants and Amazon Go, to name a few.

THE CONVENIENCE CHANNEL

However, not all c-store operators are tech hesitant. Kum & Go LC stands among this group, and it is the Des Moines, Iowa-based retailer's commitment to its customers and associates reinforced through technology that especially makes the company stand out, earning it the Convenience Store News 2021 Technology Leader of the Year award. “We have a real commitment to use technology as an enabler to drive efficiencies in our stores, and to enable our customers to come in with greater access,” said Chief Information Officer Levon Hooks. “If you visited our stores over the past 12 to 18 months with COVID, we looked for opportunities to have a more touchless environment. That's our commitment not only to our store associates, but also to our customers to drive excellence through technology.”

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Inspiring Innovation When it comes to innovation, Kum & Go is always looking for opportunities to drive efficiency, and drive improved or increased customer engagement and experience, according to Hooks. “As we look at innovative technologies and how we can use them to better enable the experiences across our organization, that is the driver of our long-term strategy,” he explained. While some retailers take cues from outside forces, Kum & Go looks internally for innovation inspiration. As Hooks noted, the company pairs its drivers for success with innovations that will help Kum & Go execute its short and long-term strategies. “I don't think we necessarily look at one industry, like a big-box, to drive our thought process. It is more internally,” he said. “For example, we are revamping our food program. With that, we will need to engage our customers in a different way with our new food model. We are now looking at how we can use technology to enable that engagement.” Currently, Kum & Go is piloting the new food model


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“We have a real commitment to use technology as an enabler to drive efficiencies in our stores, and to enable our customers to come in with greater access.” — Levon Hooks, Kum & Go LC

at stores in Omaha, Neb., Little Rock, Ark., as well as in its hometown. By the middle of next year, it hopes to have 100 stores with the program in place, along with significant technological support to drive success.

Employee Solutions Among the tech initiatives Kum & Go has rolled out recently are employee-focused platforms, including Branch, a mobile app scheduling tool, and Crew, a digital communication platform. Both have received high marks from the chain’s associates. “There has been a fantastic response to these programs because they allow for greater communication. This is an example of our ability to use technology to increase our communication across our store ecosystem and provide consistency in the communication channels that are being used,” Hooks said. With these tools in place, there’s no limit to the amount of communication that can be spread throughout the organization very quickly, the CIO noted, adding that while Branch and Crew are its most recent solutions, Kum & Go continues to evaluate other programs.

In the Customers’ Hands As for improving guest experience, the company rolled out a mobile app this spring, with several enhancements still to come. Through the app, customers can order curbside and view the products Kum & Go has available in-store. They will also be able to order items from its new made-to-order food program through the app. “You have access to our products — not only food, but in-store items. [You] make a selection and actually move very quickly through the process of ordering,” Hooks said. Mobile fuel pay is another example of Kum & Go's

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ability to innovate around guest experience and provide innovations to its customers in a very quick timeframe. “When you think about COVID — or you are in an area with cold climates, like we are — the ability to pay for fuel from your phone and all you have to do is go outside to pump it, it’s a greater convenience for our customers and that is what we are looking to provide,” he pointed out. “We have received very positive feedback about the app. Our customers are enjoying the convenience. It creates greater efficiencies for our store associates. It's all gone very well.”

Emerging Technologies As evidenced by the already-planned future enhancements to its mobile app, Kum & Go is not ready to slow down when it comes to moving the technology needle. Looking forward, grab-and-go technology similar to Amazon Go's “just walk out” frictionless platform is something to keep an eye on, according to Hooks. Customers would use a mobile app to enter the store, shop, and pay for items all from their phones — avoiding the checkout line and speeding up the trip. It's something Hooks is excited to see come to the channel. “It allows for us to continue to provide efficiencies to our in-store associates, as well as creates a significant customer experience in terms of your ability to come in quickly and get back out, as everyone is in that time crunch,” he explained. “And when you start to talk environmental things around with COVID, [there’s] the ability to go in and get your products and not necessarily have human intervention to proceed.” Kum & Go is also making moves around utilizing data, according to the tech executive. “Kum & Go has become a much more data-driven organization; how we provide data to our user base to provide greater insights to the decisions we make across the organization,” he said. Data, along with its mobile app and new food program, are top on the retailer's to-do list. “Those are at the top of our initial tech agenda, as well as whatever we can do at the fuel dispenser to provide greater convenience to our customer. There are a couple of different technologies we are looking at … that will allow you to — whether you use the app or potentially at the dispenser — place an order for in-store items for curbside pickup,” Hooks shared.



TECHNOLOGY

Kum & Go recently added mobile ordering to its app, and more enhancements are still to come.

New to the Industry Hooks joined Kum & Go in August 2020, marking his first year with the company this summer. One of the things that drew him to the organization was its collaborative culture. “Everyone chips in and works together,” he said. That collaborative culture led to a smooth transition for the executive, as he joined the team during a period when people were working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The chance to work with a leader in the convenience store industry — a company with a commitment to technology and innovation to drive future success — also appealed to Hooks. “We have a top-flight technology organization,” he said. “The opportunity to partner with this great group of technologists was very appealing.” He pointed out that this industry is more customer and associate-focused than other industries he’s worked in previously. And the commitment to continue to evolve is also significant. “We view technology as a revenue generator as opposed to a cost center. That gives us great flexibility to tie technology back to our business strategy, as opposed to just keeping

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the lights on,” he said. “We look at technology as how we can grow our organization. As a technologist, that is really exciting; to know you have a seat at the table and you are driving value for the organization, instead of being in a support role.” With tech-savvy people in leadership roles, Kum & Go's technology curiosity continues to grow. “We are looking to use technology to stand out in our industry,” said Hooks. “Technology enablement is an important part of what we do going forward.” That includes tech playing a key role as Kum & Go expands its footprint. With stores planned for Grand Rapids, Mich., and Salt Lake City, the retailer will use technology to reach customers in these new markets. “It's really exciting to be in an organization that values technology and continues to grow,” Hooks said. “All of this work is really driven by an excellent technology organization, and the members of our organization work tirelessly to come up with really innovative ideas to drive our success as well. “Although we provide strategic direction from a leadership perspective, we have a ton of collaboration [between] our business partners and our technology organization that drives the success we have had so far,” he added. CSN


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FEATURE

EXPANSION FEVER Convenience retailers are growing their footprints at a rapid pace By Tammy Mastroberte

marketplace, chains are expanding their footprints at a rapid pace, and many are entering into brand-new markets to extend their reach.

IN TODAY’S CONVENIENCE STORE

In the past six months alone, Sheetz Inc. opened its first store in Columbus, Ohio; Kwik Trip Inc. announced plans to move into both North Dakota and South Dakota with new construction; Kum & Go LC announced plans to open stores in Utah and Michigan for the first time; and both QuikTrip Corp. and Buc-ee’s reported moves into Tennessee, along with Buc-ee’s first store in Mississippi to be completed in the next two years. “There are not a lot of big acquisitions left because so many of them happened in the last couple of years, and the companies left standing are not going anywhere soon. We are not seeing big deals on the horizon, so companies are buying smaller chains or growing organically through new construction now,” said Dennis Ruben, executive managing director of NRC Realty & Capital Advisors LLC, based in Chicago.

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The larger chains with bigger bank accounts are less restricted in terms of where they expand, especially those run by private equity. Many are in a push to expand their total number of units across the country, according to Chris Kehl, vice president of SRS Real Estate Partners, based in Dallas. “This is why we saw 7-Eleven’s acquisition of Speedway. The fastest way these major operators are going to become leaders in total unit counts is through acquisition,” Kehl explained. However, in today’s market, there are more buyers than there are sellers, so acquiring stores is much more competitive. Instead, many chains are choosing to build stores from the ground up in new markets to increase their total number of units. “There are two groups of c-store operators — the builders like Kwik Trip, Kum & Go, RaceTrac, Buc-ee’s and Casey’s. They are all building new big-box stores,” noted Terry Monroe, president of American Business Brokers, based in Fort Myers Beach, Fla. “Then, you have those like EG Group, GPM, 7-Eleven and Circle K, who build a



FEATURE

little, but they are the acquirers. They are looking at the 18-store, 19-store or 40-store deals.” QuikTrip is another c-store chain in growth mode right now, through building. As of press time, the Tulsa, Okla.-based company had 46 stores under construction, Aisha Jefferson-Smith, spokeswomen for QuikTrip, told Convenience Store News. Since late last year, QuikTrip entered the San Antonio and Austin, Texas markets, as well as Tennessee and Louisiana. The chain currently operates 900 stores and travel centers. “In Austin and San Antonio, we currently have 54 stores, and one remote location in Tennessee,” said Jefferson-Smith. “We also plan to add a few travel centers in the greater Nashville area to complement our overall network of stores that serve the trucking industry and traveling public. Greater Nashville’s strong economy and proximity to other markets in which QuikTrip operates made it a clear choice for the expansion of our travel center business.” Ruben observed that the majority of c-store chains building new stores from the ground up right now are those that are larger with more spending power and the ability to wait 18 to 24 months for a store to build up sales. The bigger players do their research and have the time to wait, whereas smaller chains don’t have the balance sheet to do that, he said.

Site Selection In terms of market selection, many convenience retail chains are expanding into new markets that not only make sense for their store models, but also for their distribution networks.

Those who have already saturated the markets they are operating in need to expand to other related markets in order to grow, Ruben pointed out. “They are looking at markets with a close enough radius to where they have the distribution and efficiencies in economies of scale, like RaceTrac which is expanding into adjacent states,” he noted. In January 2021, RaceTrac reentered the Alabama market after 15 years with a new store in Gardendale, with plans to add more stores in the area. This is also true for QuikTrip’s first location in Louisiana, where the company opened a travel center in April 2021 in Shreveport. The site features a complete selection of grab-and-go items and an expanded QT Kitchens serving up fresh, made-to-order food, premium specialty drinks and frozen treats, as well as QuikTrip Snackles, which are part meal and part snack. “QuikTrip’s new store model is created specifically for

The Biggest Movers In the past year, convenience store chains have been acquiring and building new stores at a rapid pace. Below is a roundup of some of the biggest moves:

JANUARY 2021 RaceTrac Petroleum Inc. opened a new store in Gardendale, Ala., marking the chain’s reentry into the state after 15 years — with plans to open more locations there.

QuikTrip Corp. opened its first location in Louisiana, after announcing additional plans for new stores in Tennessee and San Antonio, Texas, in late 2020 — all new markets for the chain.

APRIL 2021

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APRIL 2021 Sheetz Inc. began its expansion into the Columbus, Ohio, market, with plans to open more than a dozen locations in the area.

Kum & Go LC announced multiple stores planned for the state of Utah in 2022.

MAY 2021


®


FEATURE

highly traveled areas of the country that are also within a reasonable proximity to a QT Distribution Center for access to fresh food,” explained Jefferson-Smith. When selecting areas in which to purchase or build, Ruben noted that chains will look at what markets are underserved, and what is adjacent to states where they already have distribution centers and facilities that can serve those markets. One state that falls into the underserved category is Denver, which is where Kum & Go moved into recently. QuikTrip also has plans to move into the Denver area with new stores over the next six to 12 months, according to Jefferson-Smith. “Florida is still a red-hot market, although some parts have been challenging,” added Ruben. “Wawa went there in a big way and they have been growing pretty rapidly.” On the flip side, there are major markets that might be underserved, but present more barriers to entry. In New York and New Jersey, for instance, it is very difficult to get permits and licenses to open c-stores, Ruben said, which is why many retailers choose to buy existing stores and remodel, rather than build new stores in these states. California is another difficult state due to the price of entry and environmental laws that bring challenges. “In Southern California, there has been a massive push for c-stores in conjunction with a gas station,” said Kehl. “It seems the users like 7-Eleven and Circle K have abandoned the c-store only concept for corporate expansion and are finding it much easier to land the locations they want and justify the rents they are paying by adding the gas component.”

JUNE 2021 Buc-ee’s opened its first Tennessee location, and announced plans for an investment of $50 million in its first-ever Mississippi store.

Kum & Go shared plans to enter Michigan for the first time with a set of new stores.

JULY 2021

108 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

Kum and Go recently announced plans to open stores in Utah and Michigan for the first time.

Following the Population In addition to logistic considerations, c-store operators also look at the demographics of an area and how their store models and products might fit in. Many chains are also analyzing population data, trying to figure out where people are moving across the country. For example, there have been a lot of people leaving the Northeast and Midwest and moving to the Southeast, including North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and even Texas, said Monroe. In fact, 7-Eleven announced three new stores under construction for its entry into the South Carolina market in July 2021, in addition to 20 stores it acquired from Speedway. “It’s about following the people, and the demographics

JULY 2021 Kwik Trip Inc. announced plans to expand into North Dakota and South Dakota.

7-Eleven Inc. shared plans to build three new stores in South Carolina, following its acquisition of 20 stores in the state as part of its Speedway purchase.

JULY 2021


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Since late last year, QuikTrip entered the San Antonio and Austin, Texas markets, as well as Tennessee and Louisiana.

have really shifted in the last several years,” Monroe stated. “Looking at population, competition and who are the customers in the market, to see if the model and offerings are a fit, is key.” This is one of the reasons RaceTrac decided to reenter the state of Alabama after 15 years, according to Brian Thornton, vice president of construction, real estate, engineering and special projects. The region has been showing “an influx of new residents and businesses that provide an exciting opportunity,” he said in a news release. “We believe the region’s population and business growth, specifically the technology, aerospace and auto-manufacturing sectors, provide a foundation for continued growth for many years to come across the state.” With so many people migrating south, NRC’s Ruben said whenever there is a sale for stores in Florida or Texas, there is always a ton of interest, and there’s also a low barrier of entry. Another aspect of site selection that c-store chains should be aware of when choosing to expand is that in certain municipalities, restrictions may come with the development of a gas station, Kehl pointed out. This may include limited hours of operation, limited hours on the sale of alcohol, as well as limits on the amount of gas gallons that can be pumped.

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“We are not seeing big deals on the horizon, so companies are buying smaller chains or growing organically through new construction now.” — Dennis Ruben, NRC Realty & Capital Advisors LLC “Some ordinances in California limit the amount of gallons that can be pumped in certain residential areas,” he explained. It’s expected that the c-store market will continue to grow and expand at a rapid pace, and in many ways, the pandemic helped because it brought a lot of new people into c-stores since so many restaurants and other businesses were shut down, said Monroe. “The pandemic last year was a tremendous boost for the c-store industry and gave it a lot of credibility, where people started visiting and eating the food,” he said. “The food products and presentation from the c-stores really got enhanced and discovered by customers who didn’t know about them before.” CSN


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FEATURE

FUELED BY GROWTH Already an active acquirer, Refuel has its sights set on at least tripling its current store count By Danielle Romano REFUEL OPERATING CO. LLC is making a name for itself as one of the fastest-growing convenience store retailers in the United States. What began as a single-store operation in 2010 has grown into a network of 172 c-stores spread out across a five-state footprint. The Charleston, S.C.-based operator secured the No. 50 spot on the 2021 Convenience Store News Top 100 ranking.

“We love what we do. This is a great business to be in. Our mission is to continue to enjoy the industry and continue to grow,” Refuel CEO Mark Jordan told Convenience Store News. Jordan isn't a stranger to the convenience retailing industry. After working for Road Ranger, a Rockford, Ill.-based travel center chain, he opened his first c-store in his native Charleston, S.C., in 1998, and subsequently four more. In 2005, he sold the five sites to The Pantry Inc. Five years later, Jordan founded Refuel with a focus on high-quality, high-traffic, strategic locations. The company had expanded to five locations when, in 2016, Jordan met Travis Smith, who today is Refuel's chief development officer.

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®

Together, the duo found complementary and synergistic ideas for how to drive innovation and growth. Refuel's acquisition-based strategy is designed to roll smaller c-store properties into a larger entity, achieving the advantages of enhanced operational efficiency, scale and brand-building across a wider geographic footprint. Armed with this strategic vision and approach to the business, Refuel entered into a partnership with First Reserve, a global private equity investment firm focused exclusively on energy, in May 2019. Coming together as FR Refuel, the combined entity absorbed Jordan's original Refuel operation and brought enhanced capitalization to support an aggressive, acquisition-based growth strategy.


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FEATURE

Refuel began as a single-store operation in 2010 and has since grown into a network of more than 170 c-stores.

“When Mark and I started talking about growing Refuel, the plan was to do it rapidly, so the shortterm goals included finding a capital partner that was aligned with our mission,” Refuel Chief Development Officer Travis Smith explained. “Our partnership with First Reserve was mutually beneficial from the start. Understanding our industry is in their DNA, and they get as excited about the c-store business as we do and know what it takes to grow. We move extremely fast and we found a partner that can move at a rapid pace with us.”

“Our mission is to grow three to four times our current store count size and be a best-in-class convenience store chain.”

An Acquisition Timeline

opened four of these new sites in 2020, with the remaining six sites slated for 2021.

Today, Refuel is nearing the completion of its nineth acquisition since partnering with First Reserve. Upon closing, the retailer will operate 172 convenience stores.

— Mark Jordan, Refuel Operating Co. LLC

Here’s how the company built its portfolio:

“I was born in Charleston and know the market. It is unlike anywhere else and is an exciting place to be. Because it is a hot market, we want to dominate as much as we can,” Jordan said.

2019

2020

Just one year after forming FR Refuel, the entity was gearing up for rapid expansion. Its first deal grew the company's network sixfold with the acquisition of Hartsville, S.C.-based West Oil Inc., operator of 26 c-stores in northeastern South Carolina. The sites, which operated under the Markette and West Oil labels, were rebranded and upgraded to Refuel, bringing the company's total store count to 31.

Refuel kicked off 2020 with the addition of two locations to its portfolio through the acquisition of Myrtle Beach, S.C.-based Turtle Market. On the day of the closing, the company began construction on a third location, bringing its reach to 35 c-stores.

The following month, in June 2019, Refuel closed on its second acquisition, picking up Bishopville Petroleum Co. in Pee Dee, S.C., and adding two high-volume, high-trafficked stores to its portfolio. This deal — which also included wholesale distribution and added approximately 20 wholesale fuel customers in the Palmetto State — brought the company's store count to 33 locations. In July, Refuel announced that it would beef up its presence in the Charleston market through 10 new store builds via a $50 million investment. The retailer

114 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

A month later, in February 2020, Refuel entered into its fifth acquisition deal, whereby it picked up Indianola, Miss.-based DoubleQuick Inc. This transaction expanded the company's footprint into Mississippi and Arkansas. The move scaled the company dramatically with the addition of 48 c-stores and five standalone quick-service restaurants. The acquisition also added significant brand value to Refuel's portfolio because of the high-profile and loyal customer base of DoubleQuick stores in the regional market. It also added an impactful new offering to its foodservice lineup thanks to DoubleQuick's proprietary fried chicken concept, Hot N' Crispy Chicken.


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FEATURE

Refuel's acquisition-based growth strategy targets high-quality, high-traffic locations.

“DoubleQuick was attractive because of its best-in-class foodservice program. Convenience foodservice is not something that is easy to break into, but DoubleQuick figured it out a long time ago and we were fortunate to meet them when we did,” Jordan told CSNews, adding that it is the only chain Refuel has acquired that the company does not intend on rebranding. With the DoubleQuick transaction in the books in April 2020, FR Refuel's total store count reached 113, and the retailer was ready to grow again. The company was approached by an advisor for Holmes Oil Co./Cruizers founder Edward Holmes about purchasing the 26-store chain. Refuel recognized immediately that the companies were synergistic, and the transaction closed less than a month from the time it was under contract. “From my perspective, Edward was like a lot of sellers: he wanted to know his business was going into the right hands that could take the business in the direction he ultimately wanted it to go, and we made him feel comfortable in his decision,” Smith recalled.

2021 This year, Refuel started its growth spurt in May when the retailer announced it would acquire Wag-A-Bag LLC. Headquartered in Round Rock, Texas, Wag-A-Bag was founded in 1964 by the Rabb family and operated 16 c-stores in the greater Austin market. The transaction’s closing on June 22 marked Refuel’s entry into the Lone Star State.

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“The Rabb family has built a great company over the years and has established a reputation of providing incredible customer service and a superb shopping experience to its customers,” said Jordan. “We look forward to welcoming their employees to the Refuel family. In addition, we are excited about expanding Refuel's network of stores into the very attractive and rapidly growing central Texas market. We are thrilled to add such an exceptional business to the Refuel platform.” As of press time, the retailer was awaiting the closing of two additional acquisitions. On Aug. 2, Refuel announced it would pick up another 28 locations, this time from Albemarle, N.C.-based Albemarle Oil Co., which operates under the ALCO brand. Founded in 1939, the company’s sites are situated in North Carolina and South Carolina. Less than a month later, on Sept. 1, Refuel reported that it would be extending its presence in Texas by acquiring the assets of Action Fuels LP, a San Antonio-based wholesale and retail fuel distributor and convenience store operator. The deal, which is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2021, includes nine stores in the greater San Antonio and south Texas market operating under the Buck's Food and Fuel brand. Upon closing, Refuel’s store count will hit 172. Looking ahead, the company has even more aggressive growth plans for the future. “Our mission is to grow three to four times our current store count size and be a best-in-class convenience store chain,” Jordan told CSNews. CSN


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FEATURE

THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF LEADERSHIP QuikTrip and Harvard Business School come together to strengthen the c-store chain’s leadership pipeline starting at the senior level By Danielle Romano

SINCE ITS FOUNDING IN 1958, Tulsa, Okla.-based QuikTrip Corp. (QT) has been a key player in transforming the convenience retailing landscape. Today, the 900-store chain has grown to a more than $11 billion company with operations across 12 states and is consistently listed among Forbes' largest privately held companies.

But at the core of QT’s longevity and success is its more than 24,000 employees, who have contributed to the operator being named one of the Best Companies to Work For for 14 years. That comes as no surprise to those who work for QT, according to Lindsay Bennefield, corporate training manager. After all, QT prides itself on being “a company created to provide opportunities for others.” “This commitment to providing employee

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opportunities for growth is the foundation of everything we do and is at the heart of our leadership development initiatives,” she said. With its leaders dispersed over multiple locations and with diverse responsibilities, QT was driven to create a common leadership language that could be used universally throughout the company and directly correlated to its mission to help employees grow and succeed. With this goal in mind, QT partnered with Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning (HBP) in 2014 to explore new leadership development initiatives. Harvard Business Publishing is an affiliate of Harvard Business School. “QuikTrip has a very powerful culture and is growing, which is why it needed a common leadership language. One of the most common constraints to a company that is looking to grow is that you have to have leaders who will perpetuate that culture,” Marcia Dolby, principal learning partner, global solutions at HBP, told Convenience Store News. “Having a common



FEATURE

leadership language helps to develop a talent pipeline that will help the company grow.” Joining forces to craft and define what “leadership” is and what it means to the company, QT and HBP created the Advanced Leadership Program (ALP) in 2015, aimed at high-potential leaders. Then, they added the Master Leadership Program (MLP) to expand upon the ALP. “We believe in growing from within, and in creating rapid development paths for those with a strong work ethic and drive who share the company’s core values and philosophy,” Bennefield expressed. “These paths are varied. They can take employees from operations to corporate roles, leadership roles in different functional areas, or straight ‘up the ladder’ in store operations. I like to think of our approach as ‘the sky's the limit,’ and for a [learning and development] professional, there's no better feeling than working for an organization where this is the case.”

“Having a common leadership language helps to develop a talent pipeline that will help the company grow.” — Marcia Dolby, Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning

Both the ALP and MLP share a common curriculum that includes managing yourself, managing your relationship with others, and managing the business. The programs cover a gamut of lessons, such as decision making, effective communication, strategy, delivering impact and value, and managing and developing people. Courses consist of case studies, application and simulations, and lessons taught by Harvard faculty and authors. Considered executive leadership programs, associates are required to reach certain levels within the company and meet certain

120 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

QuikTrip prides itself on being "a company created to provide opportunities for others."

criteria set by QT's leadership and development team to be considered for the ALP and MLP. Participants are nominated by senior managers and chosen by CEO Chet Cadieux and his direct reports. “It is a very exclusive program that associates are proud to be a part of and is a way for us to truly invest in our senior leaders,” Bennefield told CSNews.

Reassessment & Finetuning The ALP and MLP have been highly successful from the start, consistently receiving remarkable reviews and feedback from participants, according to Bennefield. However, when she took over training and development in 2019, she looked at the overall leadership development program with fresh eyes and saw opportunities to revamp it.


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FEATURE

When she and the team at HBP began its deep dive into the programs' landscape, there were a few certainties: • It would continue to work on improving the critical leadership capabilities needed to support QT’s growth and evolution; • It would still focus on creating a common understanding and common language among leaders from across the organization; and • It would remain committed to helping the corporate organization develop a stronger leadership pipeline. In terms of changes to be made, there was the cohort’s makeup, for starters. Previous cohort participants were primarily from corporate roles, but it was decided that the makeup of the incoming group would include more than half from store operations leadership. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic broke out and made Bennefield and HBP reexamine how to engage leaders who were accustomed to traveling to QT's corporate office in Tulsa and learning together. Now, the platform would have to become fully virtual while still providing the same experience they expect from connecting with their peers.

Together, QT and HBP came up with a number of new elements based on its goals and findings. Firstly, they replaced moderator-led case study debriefs with relevant Harvard Business Review brief cases that cohorts could discuss together in study groups with integrated discussion guides. Secondly, they changed the sequence of the program, moving the financial module up so that it could end with a more people-oriented session, “Managing and Developing People.” To promote engagement, a Leaderboard was set up so that participants could gauge where they stood with respect to their peers in terms of work completion. “QuikTrip is an organization with a healthy competitive atmosphere, so this was a big hit with our participants,” Bennefield noted. Then, they optimized context-setting sessions to make them QT-centric. Instead of having a HBP employee moderate the executive conversation, Bennefield conducted the discussion, which she said turned it into a “homier, fireside chat."

Continuing the Path to Success Because of the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of their preparation, QT and HBP

The pandemic drove the companies to move the platform to fully virtual.

122 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m


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FEATURE

QuikTrip is now examining how it can apply the same approach to provide more opportunities for leaders at the middle level to develop and grow.

received tremendous evaluations that exceeded the already-stellar ratings the leadership programs had received in the past, Bennefield said. To date, nearly 130 leaders have completed the ALP and MLP. “This is a continued refinement — just like QT grows its people, this is a growing experience. We have Harvard thought leadership, but it is a pure QT program,” Dolby added. “One of the principles that make the program successful is the peer-to-peer component. It is contextualized, so those who attend and complete the program can say, ‘I know how to make better decisions than I used to’; ‘I know better how to create value at QT than I used to’; ‘I have more ownership and tools to grow my people.’ At the end of the day, these are the things that they want.” Based on the success QT has had in strengthening its pipeline at the senior level, the company is now examining how it can apply the same approach to provide more opportunities for leaders at the middle level to develop and grow. “One of the great things about the partnership with QT and Harvard is how

124 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

“We believe in growing from within, and in creating rapid development paths for those with a strong work ethic and drive who share the company's core values and philosophy.” — Lindsay Bennefield, QuikTrip Corp.

genuine it is. It has given us the ability to build something special and pushed what a partnership is beyond the status quo,” Bennefield said. In the meantime, as QT prepares for its next round of leadership programs in the spring, learners have on-demand access to the Harvard ManageMentor Spark and Harvard ManageMentor. The prior provides a highly personalized experience, fueled by the latest and best leadership and management content, and empowers learners to develop critical business skills when and how it works best for their schedules. The latter is a trusted standard for on-demand leadership development with deep skill-building and application on the most essential topics in leadership and management. CSN


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EXPERT'S VIEW

Empowering Pathways to Opportunity Taking a page from The Hershey Co.’s commitment to DEI By Don Longo FOR THIS MONTH’S DIVERSITY & INCLUSION COLUMN,

Convenience Store News interviews Alicia Petross, chief diversity officer for The Hershey Co. and a charter member of CSNews’ new, industrywide Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Board. CSNews: Can you describe Hershey’s historical commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and what changed these last 18 months? Petross: At Hershey, DEI is a priority — it’s part of what makes us a leader in the industry, a great place to work, and a company people want to do business with. Prior to 2020, DEI was always on our radar and top of mind, but following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, we doubled down on our DEI priorities and realized how much more we could and should be doing. In the wake of these tragic events, we accelerated our commitments and shifted our lens internally to take a hard look in the mirror. Our call to action became clear — we needed to pause, engage with our employees, and refresh and strengthen our inclusion strategy to put DEI at the forefront of all that we do across our company and supply chain. Over the last 18 months, it’s been clearer than ever before that action must be made with intentionality. As such, our executive team has embraced the mindset of “leading with bold transparency” to be allies to our employees and the greater community. We have placed a clear focus on engaging the hearts and minds of our people, asking the difficult questions to define the next steps needed to embark on an ambitious pathway to equity, and have doubled down on the areas where we’re already leading the way. CSNews: When did Hershey launch The Pathways Project and why? Who was involved? Petross: We identified core areas across the enterprise through honest, candid discussions with a variety of stakeholders to determine where to focus our DEI initiatives. The effort is truly an example of co-creation alongside our employees, including members of our Business Resource Groups (BRGs) — Abilities First, African American, Asian & Pacific Islander, GenH (Generations), Latino, Prism (LGBTQ+), Veterans, and Women. We specifically identified areas that needed attention such as training and education, hiring and career development, supplier diversity, consumer, and corporate social responsibility strategies. These interwoven initiatives became The Pathways Project, our five-year plan to make Hershey even more inclusive. CSNews: What changes have been implemented with The Pathways Project, and what are the goals of the project? Petross: We first realized that we must ensure all recruitment efforts reflect our path forward. As such, we assessed how we attract and recruit top talent. It became clear that we needed to reconsider how candidates are discovered, assessed and ultimately join our company and

126 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

Alicia Petross, The Hershey Co.

corporate culture. In collaboration with our employees, we set ambitious goals to ensure: • Interview slates are 50 percent diverse; • Interview teams consist of at least 50 percent diverse employees; and • 50 percent of total search volume is conducted by diverse-owned firms. Our employees also shared that a lack of access to educational opportunities for underrepresented communities creates a huge barrier to success. Listening to this feedback, we committed to a historic $1.5 million investment in the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), establishing a scholarship endowment that will reach $3 million over the next 10 years to subsidize students pursuing degrees in food science — the first time a company has ever committed to endow a TMCF scholarship for a specific area of study. We also assessed how we identify budding talent at the entry level and made the decision to prioritize 15 historically black colleges and universities, as well as 15 historically Hispanic-serving colleges and universities for recruitment; and achieve a college recruiting portfolio that is at least 50 percent diverse. In the past, as a company, nurturing diverse talent was not a priority. However, through The Pathways Project, we are committed to changing this. We are improving access to training and educational resources on leadership,


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EXPERT'S VIEW

racism, unconscious bias and well-being to ensure our workplace is regularly incorporating the learnings into behavior. We are also continuing to invest in early-incareer and mid-career development and training to develop commercial skills and career-building for people of color and women. Looking ahead, our long-term goals through The Pathways Project include: • Evaluating global pay equity for salaried employees worldwide by 2025; • Increase representation of our employee population based on aspirational ranges so that 47-50 percent of our employees are women and 30-40 percent are people of color; and • Increase representation of leadership roles based on aspirational ranges so that 15-22 percent of People Leader roles are occupied by people of color and 40-42 percent by women. CSNews: How do you keep these long-term commitments front of mind in the short term? Petross: Given the size of these commitments, each is paired with internal short-term goals that seek to pace our progress in targeted areas, including better representation of Black and Latinx employees among our salaried and hourly workforces, improving the representation of women, Black and Latinx talent among our People Leader positions, and ensuring that DEI topics are a regular agenda item for Executive Committee meetings with metrics to reflect our progress. We are continuing to expand conversations with employees during #ListenAndLearnMoments, which

provide a constructive, open platform to discuss personal experiences, current headlines, and areas of self-betterment. CSNews: You’ve previously discussed Hershey’s commitment to equal pay. Can you tell me about your progress there? Petross: Hershey is proud to have achieved 1:1 aggregate pay equity amongst salaried employees for gender and for people of color. And we’re not stopping there. We are continuously looking to advance pay equity across all jobs and geographies of our organization. CSNews: Any advice for other leaders looking to create similar change across their organizations? Petross: For us at Hershey, in listening to our employees and establishing The Pathways Project, it became clear that this progress was made possible through the conscious decision of many — making the choice to speak up and be vulnerable. While this journey is not unique to Hershey, if you take one thing away from reading this post, I hope that as leaders you join me in helping to create safe environments for your employees that provide opportunities (both structured and unstructured) to share feedback about their experiences at your organization. And as a leader, it is also crucial to be vulnerable with your teams. This will require a change in mindset but, in return. you’ll be able to see through the eyes of the people you lead. Being vulnerable does not mean you have to share your deepest personal secrets. It means letting your guard down, putting judgement aside, and bringing your full self to work. CSN

Convenience Store News has launched a new industrywide initiative to discuss the business case for diversity and inclusion in the convenience channel. Altria is the founding sponsor of this effort, along with supporting firms The Hershey Co. and WorkJam as partners to help spark this movement. CSNews also appreciates the support of our newly formed D&I Industry Advisory Board: • Treasa Bowers, 7-Eleven Inc. • Rahim Budhwani, Encore Stores • Emil Cantrell, Imperial Trading Co. • Derek Gaskins, Yesway • Elisa Goria, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc./Circle K

128 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

• Danielle Holloway, Altria Group Distribution Co. • Steven Kramer, WorkJam • Alicia Petross, The Hershey Co. • Tonya Robinson, Thorntons • Heather Schott, Kum & Go LC



NEW HORIZONS

Beyond Allies: Building a Network of Support Allyship takes continuous pushing and learning, and a lifetime of listening common things we hear at NEW, particularly from men, is that they just don’t know where to begin supporting women — or how to go about it in ways that really make a tangible difference.

Men often remain on the sidelines, rather than being true advocates and allies. Situational awareness is key, and demands training and preparedness.”

There’s always more to learn about allyship, and the conversation is changing all the time.

NEW piloted Beyond Allies in 2020 and early 2021 with 276 men and women of all seniority levels and across many organizations. To say it “hit the spot” for participants is an understatement. One vice president-level participant told us that it “gave [them] as a veteran leader the inspiration to coach and develop the next generation.”

ONE OF THE MOST

By Karen Jones Head of Learning, Development & DEI Network of Executive Women

What we do know is how important allies are to advancing women’s equity. Allies can become sponsors and mentors, and create change in policy and culture that have vast ripple effects on the lives of working women. We developed our own allyship program, Beyond Allies, to meet this key need. “Research reveals that men often struggle to recognize gender discrimination and harassment in real time,” noted Beyond Allies Facilitator Tom Foley. “While 77 percent of men report doing ‘everything they can’ to support gender equality at work, only 41 percent of women agree. ...

130 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

Our Pilot

A human resources partner stated that “the content and small group discussions were valuable in gaining insight into how I can effectively be an ally. ... It also gave me great perspective on how my male colleagues could be thinking about allyship and how I can support them.” Participants consistently mentioned how immediately actionable the program


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To build a network of strong allies at your organization, start with education, but make sure that education is backed up with real conversations and ongoing learning. content was — that they could take what they learned into the workplace and start making tangible change immediately! One manager stated that immediately following the program, it “already has helped give me the language for a pay equity issue and [I am] looking forward to helping others in the future.”

Convenience Store News is pleased to continue this series of educational columns by the Network of Executive Women (NEW), coinciding with the annual CSNews Top Women in Convenience awards given out each fall. Seventy-four female managers, executives and directors who work in the convenience store industry are being honored in our 2021 program. In addition to being a presentation sponsor for the Top Women in Convenience program, NEW and CSNews have partnered to develop this series of columns directed at helping corporate leaders drive more inclusive company cultures. 2021 SPONSORS Founding & Presenting Sponsor:

The Key to Allyship Creating strong allies takes more than a single conversation. Our programming has been built to support men and women who want to do what they can at every step of their journey to taking real action. To build a network of strong allies at your organization, start with education, but make sure that education is backed up with real conversations and ongoing learning. One DEIB session won’t be enough to create momentum. It takes continuous pushing and learning, and a lifetime of listening.

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For more information about NEW’s Beyond Allies program, keep an eye on newonline.org/beyondallies for news on our next cohort, and follow us on social media at @newnational. CSN Karen Jones currently serves as head of Learning, Development & DEI at the Network of Executive Women. She has more than 15 years of experience in organization effectiveness, leadership development, talent management, inclusion strategy design and execution, change leadership, and organizational process improvement. Jones also has extensive experience designing and implementing DEI strategies. She’s worked closely with leaders and employees of all levels to gain buy-in and active support for DEI activities and trainings. Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News. 132 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

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STORE SPOTLIGHT

Hometown Pride The first TXB new-build store emphasizes the new brand’s Texan roots By Danielle Romano

At a Glance TXB Location: 1402 Williams Dr., Georgetown, Texas Size: 6,000 square feet Unique features: A sleek and clean store design demonstrating the company’s modern take on Texas style; a variety of fresh, restaurant-quality food items prepared on-site for breakfast, lunch and dinner; locally sourced products; premium electric vehicle rapid charging stations

THERE IS SOMETHING

to be said about hometown pride — especially in the convenience channel.

or hospitable employees,” said Smartt. “It all reflects the TXB mission to ‘Leave ‘Em Better.’”

As part of a companywide rebranding initiative by Kwik Chek Food Stores, the first new-build Texas Born (TXB) store recently made its debut, emphasizing the Texan roots and values the new brand was built upon, including authenticity, hospitality and integrity.

The idea for TXB dates all the way back to 2001. As the brainchild of Smartt and his partner, the concept for TXB was born from a conversation and an idea. About six years later, they conceptualized elements of a model before halting its production. Conversations picked back up again in 2019 and the pair decided it was the right time to bring TXB to fruition.

“The opening of the first TXB location is a monumental moment for the company following our rebrand,” said Kevin Smartt, CEO of TXB. “This rebrand is more than just a different logo or name; this is a true reflection of who we are as a company.” Located in Georgetown, Texas, the new TXB market is far from a typical convenience store, with industry-leading features such as premium electric vehicle (EV) rapid charging stations, an expansive food and beverage lineup, locally sourced products, and more. “We want our guests to have the absolute best experience, whether it’s our fresh foods; versatile, eco-friendly packaging; convenient technology; clean environment;

134 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

“Texas Born is who we are. We were both born and raised in Texas and wanted something that captured the spirit of what we wanted to represent to our customers,” Smartt told Convenience Store News. “After [nearly two decades], we really felt like it was time to examine our company, our values and the things that drive us, and we came up with a rebrand that is truly in line with who we are. We value hospitality, authenticity and integrity. “This company was born and raised in the great state of Texas and, quite simply, there’s nothing that could capture our message and our roots better than the TXB brand,” he continued.


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STORE SPOTLIGHT

Over the next few years, all existing Kwik Chek stores will fully transition to TXB markets, with several of these rebrands already underway.

There are also culinary creations consumers wouldn’t expect from a c-store operator, such as Texas Scorpion Bites made with spicy jalapeños, perfectly fried shrimp tacos, and TXB Habanero Queso. Guests can even watch the TXB team freshly press tortillas in-store daily. Another key tenant for TXB in its rebranding initiative — and one that is keenly highlighted at the Georgetown location — is a product lineup of carefully selected items to provide guests with on-the-go, nonGMO snacks and beverages that are sourced from local vendors.

Big & Bold Offers On Aug. 24, TXB held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the 6,000-square-foot Georgetown location. Working with VLK Architects and 360 Marketing, the new-build store boasts a sleek and clean look. In-store artwork demonstrates the company’s modern take on Texas style, showcasing that it is big city, open country and everything in between, Smartt expressed. “Our signage is all designed to welcome guests to our home. It’s not every day you walk into a convenience store and it feels inviting and clean with a local element. That was very intentional on our part, and critical as we establish these new stores,” he said. TXB offers a variety of fresh, restaurant-quality food items prepared on-site for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Signature items include fresh-made tacos and tenders.

Quality, locally sourced private label products are also available and include bottled water, tea, beef jerky, hand-pressed tortillas, sliced fajita veggies, and meats like beef skirt steak and chicken breast fajitas. TXB also offers indulgent artisan products such as fine chocolates, gourmet cheeses, salamis and wine. And on the other end of the spectrum, the retailer carries healthy choices like take-home salad kits, fresh sushi, vegetables, and fresh fruit including blueberries, raspberries, grapes and oranges. The first new-build TXB store features an extensive dispensed-beverage offering as well. Options include bean-to-cup hot coffee, nitro coffee, cold brew coffee, frozen coffee, smoothies, frozen drinks, milkshakes, and TXB craft fountain flavors made with sugar cane. Guests can watch the TXB team freshly press tortillas in-store daily.

“This company was born and raised in the great state of Texas and, quite simply, there’s nothing that could capture our message and our roots better than the TXB brand.” — Kevin Smartt, Texas Born (TXB) 137 Convenience Store News C S N E W S . c o m

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Among the Georgetown store’s amenities are: • Mobile checkout options, both at the pumps and point-of-sale, that enable guests to pay quickly using the secure TXB mobile app while earning fuel discounts and in-store savings through the retailer’s loyalty program; • Ample outdoor seating outfitted with misting systems and fans to fend off the Texas heat; • A handwashing area separate from the restrooms, allowing guests to wash their hands before eating without having to enter the bathroom; • Two 75-inch, state-of-the-art digital lottery ticket screens that are voice-activated; and • Two EV fast-charging stations.

Pockets of Growth Over the next few years, all existing Kwik Chek stores will fully transition to TXB markets, with several of these rebrands already underway. The Spicewood, Texas-based company currently operates 46 locations throughout Texas and Oklahoma.

Every one of the operator’s stores, however, has some element of TXB today — branded cups, uniforms, marketing, etc. — but none are fully TXB-branded except the Georgetown site. “We’ve started converting a few stores to TXB branding completely and will finish this transition process over the next year and a half,” Smartt told CSNews. “We are tackling conversions in ‘pockets.’ Since our stores are so spread out, the first three markets that we’re transitioning will be a large format, medium format and small format. Then, we will go by region and knock out all the stores in that region or ‘pocket.’” At the same time, additional new-build TXB sites will expand across the Lone Star State, starting in Bee Cave and followed by Cottonwood Shores. From there, the company intends to build about seven new-to-industry stores per year. “We are currently focused on the central Texas/Austin market as our primary market, with a goal of opening 25 new TXB stores in the Austin market within the next five years,” said Smartt, who served as the 2020-2021 NACS chairman. “From there, we will expand across the state, focusing on markets where there is notable demand.” CSN

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ADINDEX Altria Group Distribution.................2 APAX Group, Inc................................113 Autofry/MTI, Inc.................................57 Black Buffalo.......................................103 Calico Brands......................................57 Cash Cloud Inc....................................99 CB Distributors Inc............................101 CForce Bottling Co............................ Front Cover Chester’s International.....................107 Chevron Corporation........................29 Cheyenne International....................119 Convenience Distribution Assoc....135 CoreMark International.....................77 DMF Bait Company...........................111 E-Alternative Solutions....................45 E&J Gallo Winery...............................75 Essentia Water....................................9 Flair Products.....................................7 Forte Products....................................139 Furmano Foods..................................51 GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Health Care..........................................13, 79, .............................................................81, 83, .............................................................85 Godfather’s Pizza...............................89 Goya Foods Inc..................................91 Hunt Brothers Pizza LLC..................93 Imageworks Display & Marketing Group................................129 Island Lifestyle Importers Frontier Cigar.....................................131 Invenco.................................................49, 125 ITG Brands...........................................30–31

J&J Snack Foods Corp.....................65 Johnsonville........................................67 JTM Foods...........................................115 Kooler Ice Inc......................................117 Krispy Krunchy Chicken...................63 Liggett Vector Brands......................69, 133 Lindt & Sprüngli USA, Inc................109 Living Essentials LLC........................19 Mars Wrigley Confectionery...........15 McLane Company..............................164 Nestle Professional............................41 Paytronix Systems Inc.......................25 Perfetti Van Melle USA Inc...............163 Premier Manufacturing.....................53, 94–95 Procter & Gamble..............................39 Republic Tobacco..............................70–71 Smokey Mountain Chew Inc............121 Swedish Match North America LLC 11, 17, 55, 73, 123 Swisher International, Inc................5, 27, .............................................................42–43, 59 The Coca-Cola Company.................35 The Hershey Company.....................47 Tyson Foods........................................127 Uline......................................................139 Vandemoortele...................................86–87 Visual Marketing, Inc.........................105 Vita Coco Water.................................51, 97 Universal Merchants..........................Outsert WorkJam..............................................37

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INSIDE THE CONSUMER MIND

The State of C-store Loyalty Opportunity exists in making rewards easier to achieve and more enticing Today’s “convenience” game brings a crowded field of players. With the coronavirus pandemic prompting the widespread rollout of mobile/online ordering, curbside pickup, delivery and drive-thru across retail channels, the importance of building brand loyalty has perhaps never been stronger. According to the findings of the 2021 Convenience Store News Realities of the Aisle Study, which surveyed 1,500-plus consumers who shop a c-store at least once a month, two in five shoppers say they are currently enrolled in a convenience store loyalty program and actively use it, while 8 percent are enrolled but do not use their membership. Other findings include:

Among shoppers who say their preferred convenience store does not offer a loyalty program, 22% indicate they would enroll if a program was made available.

64%

13%

35

%

41%

22%

No, convenience store shopped most often does not have a loyalty program If they did I would enroll Would not enroll even if they did

15%

Yes, convenience store shopped most often has a loyalty program I am enrolled and actively use I am enrolled but do not use I am not enrolled

8%

83%

More than THREE-QUARTERS of those shoppers who actively use a c-store loyalty program say they are EXTREMELY/ VERY SATISFIED with the program. Just 3% are dissatisfied.

76%

22%

of c-store loyalty program participants say their program has a mobile app

66%

3%

indicate they have used it — a gap of 17 percentage points

Extremely/very satisfied Somewhat satisfied Not very/not at all satisfied

REASONS AGAINST ENROLLING IN CONVENIENCE STORE LOYALTY PROGRAMS Among the 13% of shoppers who say they would not enroll in a loyalty program even if their preferred c-store had one, their chief reasons why not are primarily an issue of the rewards being too onerous to achieve, or not valuable enough.

34%

Requires too many purchases to earn rewards

31%

Rewards/points are not valuable to me

25%

Asks for too much information

18%

Belong to too many loyalty programs

16%

Enrollment process takes too long Cost associated with joining Belonged to similar program and didn’t like it

162 Convenience Store News CSNEWS.com

10% 9%


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CHECK OUT WHAT WE HAVE IN STORE FOR YOU AT NACS SHOW

Visit our booth at NACS Show and check out our latest technology innovations, enjoy samples of our tasty new foodservice offerings from McLane Kitchen, and try candy and snack samples from our private label line, Consumer Value Products (CVP). We will also be launching exciting new programs! Don’t miss it! Stop by to access show-only deals and see firsthand how McLane’s products and solutions can help you buy better, sell smarter, and profit more. NACS Show Booth #5713 For more information on McLane, go to mclanegrocery.com © 2021 McLane Company, Inc. All rights reserved.