The convenience store and petroleum industry is as dynamic and diverse as it has ever been. I have been fortunate to have a front row view of the industry’s evolution through the years, first as a young child learning the automotive and fuel industry at my father’s stations in Mt. Vernon, N.Y., then as an associate category manager for Dairy Mart in New York’s Hudson Valley.
I was proud to be in the industry then, and I’m proud of the work the industry does today. This issue marks the 30th anniversary of Convenience Store Decisions, and it’s hard to believe that I have been at CSD for almost half of its existence, joining in 2005.
The transformation from two-bay garages to convenience stores was impressive, if not a complete leap of faith for traditional mechanics like my father, who would have rather taken a jackhammer to his building than ponder the true cost of foodservice on a P&L.
Even after I entered the trade magazine business in 1996, the budding c-store industry was still finding its way, heavily dependent on tobacco sales and packaged snacks, which offered limited margin potential. The cold vault was predictable, the roller grill was the butt of jokes, innovation was nonexistent and safety for customers and employees was a genuine concern.
Today, the c-store industry is an employer of choice for thousands of Americans. Hiring practices, state-of-the-art buildings and cost-efficiencies have evolved beyond expectations making this industry a lean, well-oiled machine of innovation and precise vision. Yet, nowhere is the transformation more profound than in foodservice.
Capturing Future Customers
While we should all be proud of the c-store industry’s evolution, as CStore Decisions looks toward the next 30 years, significant challenges lie ahead. Specifically, the challenge to attract customers. Competition from brick-and-mortar stores, while fierce, is just one piece of the puzzle. Amazon is changing the way customers shop, delivery companies are taking away from store trips and electric vehicles and cars with more efficient engines are reducing fuel purchases. Combined, it’s a serious threat.
But, as they always have, I have no doubt c-stores will evolve and flourish. Fifteen years ago, all trades were warning about Walmart and how it would overtake c-stores by stealing the fuel business. It never materialized, and the Walmart threat fizzled as c-stores soared to new heights.
The industry will remain strong for decades to come for two reasons: your people and your relationships. Today’s companies must be nimble, more innovative and more entrepreneurial. This industry will continue to be nurtured by strong relationships and fortified by family-owned businesses with deep ties to their communities.
These strong relationships bring a unique sharing of information that has elevated the industry, friend and foe. Never underestimate how special that is. It doesn’t happen in other retail channels. At conferences, such as the National Advisory Group (NAG), it’s not uncommon to have competitors discuss what it takes to drive new business.
I learned this at an early age, spending my summer months pumping gas, checking oil and cleaning windows at my father’s stations. He always told me, “If you’re going to be lazy, stay home.” While the industry has evolved, the work ethic driving the industry persists at family businesses across the country, and as long as it remains, convenience stores will take a back seat to no one. Here’s to the next 30 years.
For any questions about this issue or suggestions for future issues, please contact me at [email protected]