Tuesday’s education sessions ran from 12 p.m. through 3:30 p.m., followed by the Opening General Session featuring Jennifer Powers.
Meeting Consumers Where They Are — Everywhere
In one of the first sessions of the day, Matt Miller, global solutions manager at NCR, and Sammy Gupta, product manager at La Plate. Md.-based Wills Group’s Dash-In Food Stores, spoke about technological changes in the industry. Today’s consumers expect to purchase and receive products in a variety of ways, they said, making i-store, curbside, app availability and delivery options a must.
“The one consistent thing right now in the space is change,” said Miller. “Our consumers are really changing the way that they interact with us, and we need to address that.”
This includes self-checkout, which, according to NCR, 62% of c-store operators plan to invest in in because of anticipated increase in family road trips. And three out of four consumers (75%) say they’re more likely to use self-checkout at stores today than ever before.
Dash In is currently piloting self-checkout at some of its stores, which, among its benefits, has led to a drastic reduction in wait times, Gupta said. “Everything became seamless.”
Fortunately, the vast majority of Dash In’s customers are loving the change, too. “I would say 99% of customers love self-checkout,” Gupta added.
Miller stressed that self-checkout is not a replacement for labor. Rather, it’s an addition.
“We’re looking to add to the workforce,” Gupta agreed. “We’re not looking for this to take over the workforce.”
Private Label Trends
In the NACS session “Private Label Trends,” Todd Maute, partner at CBX, and Jaime Daley, VP of strategy at CBX, spoke about the ways convenience retailers can grow their private brand program in 2021 and beyond.
Retailers must look to target existing and potential customers in a much more strategic way, they said. The three key, core items in this strategy include knowing your customer, building a brand and innovating and promoting that brand.
“It really starts with a foundation of understanding who your customer is,” Maute stressed.
He spoke about some c-store chains and grocers that are doing a stand-out job, including Kum & Go, with its newly announced, upgraded proprietary foodservice program, as well as Wawa, which does a “phenomenal job” with its overall brand personality, as well as its foodservice options and seasonal items, he said.
One key factor for retailers is understanding trends and “sometimes leading those trends,” he added, pointing to plant-based foods and seasonal offers. Whole Foods’ 365 brand, for example, saw a market for health-conscious, private-label options like dairy- or gluten-free before it became more mainstream.
Other times, success in private-label means solving an unmet need — for example, take-home dinners during the pandemic.
“What’s important to the customer, and what needs do they have?” Maute asked the audience. “Implement private label strategies today for greater resilience tomorrow.”
4 Ways to Stand Out as a Small Operator: Tips From the Gas Station Gourmet
In this foodservice-focused session moderated by Kim Stewart, editorial director at NACS, Al Hebert, better known as the Gas Station Gourmet, shared some memorable meals from his culinary journeys exploring small convenience store operators around the country.
Hebert’s keys to standing out as a small retailer — whether competing against the quick-serve restaurant down the street or a big chain — start with being a community hub.
And what creates the community hub?
- Customers look forward to coming in.
- It feels like their place.
- Take an active role in community projects.
- You’re there when needed.
“A lot of this is your staff and you making people feel like this is a great place to be,” he said.
Hebert pointed to Latitudes c-store in Rio Rancho, N.M., as prime example. A focus group of women revealed that 80% did not want to go to a convenience store, so the owner set out to determine how to improve his space — starting by simply asking customers what they want from their neighborhood convenience store.
“(The owner) turned it into a little lounge,” Hebert said. “He put sofas, televisions and a fireplace in there. … Next thing you know, local politicians are coming in and saying, ‘Hey, can I meet with constituents here?'”
Ultimately, the surrounding community wanted somewhere comfortable to gather.
“People connect in the store, and that’s what you want,” Hebert said. “It can happen in your store, too.”
Marketing calls and hosting events are a few strategies to bring customers in, he added. The Corn Crib in Shelby, Iowa, for example, does an open mic night, which has become popular with musicians in the area. Events like these creates a domino effect among customers — old and new.
“They’re in your store, they’re buying your stuff, they’re trying your food. And their families come in.” Hebert said. “You may not want to hear them play, but their families do.”
And, of course, social media is a vital marketing tool, too. Herbert advised retailers to create a presence across all the major social channels — even TikTok. He provided a few examples of c-store utilizing the channel to attact — and entertain — customers.
“Your customers are on TikTok,” Hebert said. “You should be, too.”
Regional or specialty food are another way to create demand and attract customers — from chili dogs to Kool-Aid pickles.
At The Czech Stop in West, Texas, kolaches are the big draw. “They sell 104,000 kolaches every seven days, 620 kolaches every hour,” Hebert said. “You can go there at 2 in the morning and buy a fresh kolache.”
Hebert also stressed the important of clean restrooms — and provided a few cautionary examples he’s run into over the years. Ultimately, he said, it’s all about making your store a place where your customers — your community — want to be.
Opening General Session Featuring Jennifer Powers
Tuesday wrapped up a with generals session from coach, speaker and best-selling author, Jennifer Powers, who shared tools to react to changes and shifts better and to view all in a more positive light.
“One simple truth,” she said. “Things don’t happen to you or against you. Things just happen. It’s how you react to those things that gives you control. … Your reactions equal your reality.”
The NACS Show will run through Friday, Oct. 8, at McCormick Place Convention Center in Chicago.