By Chrissy Blasinsky and Sara Counihan
CHICAGO—The first in-person NACS State of the Industry Summit in three years revealed impressive 2021 industry numbers: Total in-store sales increased to a record $277.9 billion in 2021, total industry sales reached $705.7 billion, and the average in-store basket size increased 6.3% to $7.59 compared to 2020.
During those three years, “pretty much everything” has changed within the convenience and fuel retailing industry, said NACS Chairman Jared Scheeler, CEO of The Hub Convenience Stores in Dickinson, North Dakota, beginning with the customers.
“Customers have redefined what they want from convenience. They want delivery, they want self-checkout, they want convenience wherever they are—not wherever you are,” he said, adding that customers also want fully stocked stores, “but supply chain disruptions have been a challenge,” and they all want great customer service amid labor challenges.
“All these changes have happened over the past three years, and we have stepped up to answer every challenge. I truly believe that our industry has changed more over the past three years than the previous 10 years combined,” Scheeler said.
Prior to creating The Hub, Scheeler worked at Bobby and Steve’s Auto World in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and attended his first SOI Summit, which he admitted was a bit intimidating. “Would the data and insights be beyond my level of comprehension? Could I make changes based on what I learned that would generate a noticeable ROI in a small company?
The answers came quickly. “I made money for my former company before I had even walked out the door of my first SOI Summit,” he said, noting that his first Summit was where he learned what he should keep doing and implement immediately.
“I can confidently say that the SOI Summit brought a 7-figure return to my former company over a 5-year stretch. Without that knowledge and operational precision, I wouldn't have been in a position to start my own company,” Scheeler said.
In the session, “The Changing Face of the Convenience Shopper,” NACS’ research director Leroy Kelsey said there are four convenience shopper trends that will drive growth in 2022—one of them being digital.
“Digital will continue to influence every stage of the customer journey, and a fully integrated loyalty and digital platform is not optional,” said Kelsey.
Additionally, subscriptions will continue to dominate shopper buying behaviors this year. Kelsey took a quick poll of the audience, asking them to raise their hands if their household has more than four subscriptions. Most of the audience members raised their hands.
Kelsey said that convenience retailers are testing subscription models to skirt shopper resistance to premiums. Subscriptions make upselling, cross-selling and basket-building easier. They also reduce the cost to acquire customers and streamlines sales forecasting, plus they build loyalty and make revenue predictable.
“Prior to the pandemic c-store shopper e-commerce membership was 32% and growing by about 5% each year,” said Kelsey. “The lockdown and busy lifestyles have doubled that type of engagement.”
Convenience retailers are facing inflation and economic certainty, so value is much more important to the shopper, said Kelsey. Assortments need to balance supply chain efficiencies against increased shopper demands for innovation, variety and convenience, he said.
“Customize promos that really speak to [the customer] and reach them where they live in terms of communicating value and relevance,” said Kelsey.
The Wednesday afternoon sessions included deep dives on six major merchandise categories: candy & snacks, foodservice, beer/wine/spirits, packaged beverages, private label and tobacco. A different c-store industry leader spoke on each of the categories, including representatives from 7-Eleven, Circle K, Newcomb Oil, Nouria, Sheetz and RaceTrac.
Tim Young, category manager at Newcomb Oil Co., reported on candy and snacks, saying that chocolate bars continued to drive candy category sales, while new packaging, mixed textures and better-for-you options added excitement to the category.
Kristine Modugno, director of category management, Nouria, said that private labels drive loyalty in convenience stores. Modugno also said the point of entry for private labels is open to all convenience-store sizes. Sometimes smaller c-stores can’t meet the minimum amount of production from manufacturers for their private-label products, so she encouraged retailers to reach out to smaller manufacturers so both companies can grow together.
The SOI Summit wraps up today with a legislative update from NACS’ government relations team and regional breakout sessions that will fill retailers in on data specific to six regional areas of the country.
Chrissy Blasinsky is the NACS content communications strategist; she can be reached at [email protected]. Sara Counihan is contributing editor of NACS Daily and NACS Magazine. She can be reached at [email protected].