NAG attendees get an insider look on what the future holds for c-stores in 5-10 years and how they can best prepare.
By Erin Rigik Del Conte, Senior Editor
During Tuesday’s National Advisory Group (NAG) Conference, attendees learned about Burning Issue No. 4: “The future of convenience retailing,” the changes set to impact the industry from social trends to technology and how other retailers are positioning themselves for the future.
Ben Ball, senior vice president, Dechert-Hampe & Co. began the session by explaining that today, consumers’ path to purchase has become a maze. Customers today have so many different ways to place an order, receive an order, pay for their order, and now they also want ways to become part of the community.
“Billions of dollars are being invested in ‘convenience commerce’ today—that’s the code word for ‘come get the c-store business,’” he warned.
Today, already numerous businesses are competing on convenience from meal solutions and delivery services that bring gourmet meals to customers homes to subscriptions like Amazon Prime to companies offering dash buttons that with the press of a button can deliver anything—such as an energy drink and chips—right to a customer’s door. Today, printer ink can show up automatically when your printer senses you are running low without the need for a phone call. Drive-through robotic grocery stores with a pay station and delivery door are helping in food desserts. McDonald’s and Papa Johns in select markets allow people to pay with Google Express via facial and voice recognition. And Starbucks is offering menu boards at the drive-through with two-way cameras so that ordering resembles a Skype experience. These are just a few of the many ways companies from every direction are experimenting with convenience commerce, Ball warned. Drones might seem far off, but already businesses are testing what they can do. C-stores need to think outside the box to remain competitive in the years to come.
Brad Call, vice president of adventure culture at Maverik, and partner for Colour Dujour, is no stranger to thinking outside the box to grow a business.
“You have to always be relevant to your customers. If you’re not innovating you’ll go away. Emotionally connecting with your customers is as important as the products you sell in your stores. Stop thinking only in terms of technology. This new generation of customers want to interact with you,” he advised.
Call practices what he preaches. He talked about the evolution of Maverik stores, which used to resemble ‘Old West’ country stores. “In my dad’s time, everyone watched Westerns, but now that’s not relevant, so we changed it to ‘Adventure’s First Stop—high energy outdoor adventure. People in the West love camping, boating and the outdoors. The emotional connection is important. Every single thing we do goes through our adventure lens,” he said.
Call compared the advantages and disadvantages of rolling out a new store image and concept for a multi-store chain compared to at a single store.
Today, Call is partnering on a new one-off store called Colour Dujour that will target an upscale area, offer self-checkout, only accept debit and credit cards—no cash—carry a fraction of usual SKUs focusing on best sellers, and maximize the customer experience.
Lights that change color will alter the look of the store daily. Other features will include digital wallpaper, a 3D hologram in the middle of the store that changes daily, cameras that follow customers and create a light path as they walk the store, a DJ in the store and high-end food options.
Old Is New Again
Derek Gaskins, chief customer officer at Rutter’s, talked about the history of Rutter’s from the chain’s first store in 1968 through to the changes that made it the chain it is today and how it is adapting to evolving customers needs.
Rutter’s is focused on customer engagement loyalty. Its ‘vote with your dollars’ loyalty program allows customers to link to one of 20 charities. “The charities market for us. Red Cross is saying ‘Go to Rutter’s and buy food and link your card because every dollar counts,’” Gaskins said
On the foodservice front, Rutter’s is always innovating. Its ultimate burgers, for example, allow customers to select new and innovative and ‘crazy’ toppings like cheese sticks for their burgers.
“The currency is rewards, not price. This burger might cost $8-$9, but as a VIP you’ll get three cents per gallon for everything you buy,” Gaskins said.
When it comes to the future, Gaskin’s noted that what is old is new again. “Customers want personal, custom, fresh, local, authentic, organic. When you go back to when Rutter’s first started—that’s what it was.”
“We try to make customization part of our difference,” he said. “Everyone wants what they want when they want it, which is the definition of convenience.”
There’s no one way to prepare for the future “Many of us in this room, we’re successful in different strategies,” he said.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with innovations that may help carry your chain into the future.