Because of space constraints and better-equipped competitors, the health and beauty aids (HBA) category in 2017 will fill a role that it has for years in convenience stores: an essential, but unspectacular part of the in-store mix.
From pain relief, cough/cold/allergy, skin medications, vitamins and personal care to smoking cessation, supplements and cosmetics, HBA is a wide-ranging category of items consumers need—often when away from home. Hence, convenient trial sizes, careful pricing and well-stocked shelves will continue to translate into sales dollars.
John Montoya, vice president of store operations for eight-unit JR’s Country Stores, based in Pueblo, Colo., acknowledged that c-stores will never be a destination location for HBA.
“We are at a total disadvantage (competing against chain drug stores, supermarkets and dollar stores),” Montoya said. “People look at us for just the little things they need. If you’ve got a headache, you need some aspirin, you stop at our store. If you have a cold and you’re close by, you will drop by and grab a small container of cough medicine. We just fit the pocket.”
This is borne out by retail trends. As Euromonitor International recently reported, mass-market retailers such as supermarkets and drug stores are expanding their health-and-wellness offerings, including vitamins and dietary supplements, and reorganizing their stores to position these products together. They are also leveraging impulse purchases.
“Customers who come to the store to pick up a prescription or buy an over-the-counter product augment their purchase with vitamins and dietary supplements,” Montoya said.
The drug store channel might have the most selection, but c-stores still offer expediency, even when it comes to cosmetics. Information Resources Inc. (IRI) total All Scan Convenience Store figures for the 52 weeks ending Dec. 25, 2016 show nails (artificial nails, polish, polish remover, nail treatments and more) at $6.1 million, and accessories (eyelash adhesives and curlers, false eyelashes, makeup applicators, makeup remover) at $4.1 million, among the top-selling items.
Sam Odeh, founder and CEO of Power Buying Dealers (PBD) USA Inc., of greater Chicago, which includes 25 owned and franchised locations in Illinois, Georgia and Florida, said smaller sizes do best at his locations. “Specifically, it’s the travel size and the convenience two-pack, which is the best alternative for consumers at our convenience stores. I love it; it keeps our customers out of drug store chains.”
Odeh emphasized that stocking the essentials and top brands is what consumers insist on. At the same time, convenience remains a potent force at retail. “The innovation in small, one-time use is my favorite.”
To be relevant HBA providers, c-stores need to be sure to remain in stock with innovative items, since consumers who don’t see them regularly will stop looking for them, studies indicate. Cosmetics have never been strong in his stores, Odeh said, but there’s always reason to stock general items.
In looking at his HBA program for 2017, Odeh said he plans to get a bit more aggressive with many items, merchandising them in higher-traffic locations and, notably, on end caps. “Candidly, it’s a better category (for endcap placement) than the salty snacks,” Odeh said.