The 2019 National Advisory Group conference wrapped up with an hour-long Ideas Boot Camp, an open discussion format with industry leaders and conference attendees able to hash out the ins and outs of challenges facing the c-store industry, as well as topics presented in NAG’s “Burning Issues” sessions.
NAG Executive Director John Lofstock guided the discussion along with Brian Unrue, director of operations for Clarks Pump-N-Shop, which operates 68 stores in Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and Florida.
Unrue seemed most impressed with the morning’s previous session on artificial intelligence and how it’s rapidly changing the way retail outlets across the board do business. He pointed out how AI technology is being utilized more than people may realize.
“You sit back and talk about (things powered by) AI and I didn’t know it was AI,” said Unrue. “My car will park itself.”
There was some discussion about the largest retailers’ frictionless checkout systems and how those company’s use of AI in transactions may take business away from c-stores unless the industry begins to embrace it.
“I see that potential,” Unrue said. “I’m an Amazon shopper; I’m a Wal-Mart shopper. And I just feel that’s the way it’s going to go.”
Those stores are two of the nation’s largest retailers with the wherewithal to adopt the technology. Lofstock asked, “How can a small chain afford this?”
OWN YOUR DATA
A spirited give-and-take continued about the topic and using shopper data to leverage partners in the use of AI and frictionless retail systems. The answer to that question depends on what a chain does with its data. Attendees commented that the costs are negligible if you find the right partners.
The room reached a consensus on the need for c-store operators to retain ownership of their sales data, because that’s where the value is. It’s okay to let a partner have a portion of that data, one said, but not all of it. Another attendee voiced the caveat that some partners will use your data to promote sales that are relevant to them – and possibly to your harm.
Other topics the session touched on were the value of unmanned satellite c-stores; the wisdom of selling CBD, hemp and marijuana products – or refraining from doing so if you’re store is seen as a family-owned and family-centered operation; and the effectiveness of “limited time only” or LTO items and how long before non-performers should be replaced with a new product on special.
The interactive dynamic of the Ideas Boot Camp session allowed for more of a casual, friendly conversation about the business, with retailers from c-store chains of all sizes sharing ideas and collaborating in discussing solutions.