By John Lofstock, Editor-in-Chief
When discussing some future opportunities recently with human resources consultant Mel Kleiman, a good friend and confidant, he cautioned that opportunities to expand your business are constant. It’s knowing when to pounce that really matters. “Never let a good idea get in the way of a great idea,” he said. It’s sound advice.
What Kleiman unwittingly did, or at least I think it was unintentional, was got me thinking about what convenience stores will be like in the future. It’s a question that is certainly relevant to our readers, but it’s also something that is extremely important to Convenience Store Decisions and the National Advisory Group (NAG). The truth is, that while no one can predict the future, the expectation of convenience stores promises to be different tomorrow than it is today. How radical these changes will be depends on whom you ask.
Among the key questions convenience store retailers need to be asking themselves are, “What do we want to be in 10 years? In 20 years?” And, “How are we going to get there?” Planning for changes requires a keen understanding of customer trends, can take years to execute and requires quite a bit of capital. Will you be ready to meet the needs of your customers as their needs change? If you aren’t, you can bet there will be someone who is.
“Convenience is going to be completely redefined,” Doug Stephens, futurist, consultant and founder of the Retail Prophet in Toronto, told CSD. “Soon our appliances will be placing replenishment orders for the things we use most often. Services like Amazon Fresh, InstaCart and other shopping options will do the legwork for us. Not long from now, the idea of running down to the corner store for what you need will seem conspicuously inconvenient by comparison.”
Tastes and preferences are also changing significantly as one part of the population—baby boomers—ages and another part—Generation Y, also known as Millennials—comes into their prime spending years.
Embrace the Challenge
Thomas Frey, founder, executive director and senior futurist of the DaVinci Institute in Louisville, Colo., had some much bolder retail predictions. He told CSD that he sees technology having profound effects on the way convenience stores conduct their business, many of which would dramatically change the way retailers operate their businesses. They include:
* 24-hour machine-stores without employees: “As we continue down the path of automation,” said Frey, “virtually every city will have 24-hour convenience stores, 24-hour libraries, 24-hour banks, 24-hour churches, 24-hour schools, 24-hour movie theaters, 24-hour bars and restaurants, and even 24-hour shopping centers. The side effect of a worker-less business is that it can operate 24 hours a day for roughly the same cost as a 12-hour operation.”
- 10-minute drone delivery, 24 hours a day: Fully-automated convenience stores, said Frey, will offer front-door drone delivery of any products in stock within 10 minutes.
- Marijuana shops: “Within the next decade, marijuana will become legal in virtually every state,” Frey said, “and marijuana products will become a major income stream for convenience stores.”
- Shift to driverless cars: “As we move into the driverless car era, fewer people will own their own cars,” Frey said. “Convenience stores will stop focusing on ‘driver products’ such as oil, windshield fluid, wipers and motor oil, and place more emphasis on ‘rider products’ such as games, movies, music and other forms of entertainment.”
So as you run your business in 2016 don’t be afraid to take a hard look at what you want your business to be in 2026 and beyond. If it’s much different than what you are now, make today the day you begin planning just how you want to get there. Most of all, don’t let your good ideas get in the way of your great ones.