Mutual Goals

Data-driven intelligence—and a strong partner—is critical to c-store success.

August 15, 2022

This interview is brought to you by Advantage Solutions, a NACS Hunter Club Gold member.

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—NACS Magazine recently interviewed Mark Larrabee, senior vice president, sales, Convenience Advantage Sales, about how convenience retailers can grow sales, lower costs and solve problems.

Retailers are navigating so many challenges right now. How can a strong sales and marketing partner help?

Nurturing value-add relationships and helping manufacturers and retailers make data-driven decisions that advance their mutual goals are the keys to a good partnership. Because we have a breadth of relationships with retailers in every channel, as well as brands in every category—from the largest convenience and grocery chains and wholesalers down to the independent operator, and from iconic CPG brands to emerging brands—we can see and address pain points along the entire path to purchase.

A strong sales and marketing partner can help brands and retailers solve problems and identify and seize opportunities. They share best practices, thought leadership, industry experiences and data and insights in areas that are critical right now—supply chain, out-of-stocks, inflation and related changing consumer behaviors.

More than two years after the pandemic, out-of-stocks and other supply chain challenges have continued. What can be done to mitigate the impact?

Our retail services are in high demand as manufacturers and retailers continue to be challenged with keeping products available for shoppers to buy. Because the core shopper is less price-sensitive and more impulse-driven, it’s even more critical to meet the expectation of availability and expediency.

In c-stores, increasing sales begins with having the right products on the right shelves at the right time. With the challenges we’re seeing, this basic tenet requires a new level of transparency, data sharing and collaboration between manufacturers and retailers.

With a deep knowledge of the supplier community, we’re often asked by retailers for input on brands and different manufacturers who can meet these important requirements in supply. One of the largest c-store chains contacted us when their incumbent supplier had chronic shortfalls in meeting fill rates. Because of our large and diverse portfolio, we were able to quickly bring our client to the table and facilitate a winning solution for sustainable supply with another top-tier brand.

Advantage Sales’ most recent “Outlook: June 2022” study found that 78% of manufacturers say supply will improve in the second half of the year. Although retailers are less optimistic, our clients are updating us on investments in production capability and capacity, as well as alternative materials in packaging.

Still, most manufacturers expect that at least one supply chain issue will continue to affect their business over the next six months. Top challenges include raw materials, transportation, manufacturing labor and packaging.

What changing consumer shopping behaviors are you noticing?

With rising food and gas prices and concerns about personal finances nudging COVID-19 from its top place on Americans’ list of worries, brands and retailers are facing new challenges—and new opportunities—arising from shoppers’ changing behavior.

In c-stores, where fuel is often a sales driver, the continued rising price of gasoline is having an impact. While trips to the pump remain steady, fewer drivers are filling the tank, and they are more likely to spend less in-store. Building loyalty through digital, leveraging insights to promote relevant products and services—these are some of the strategies we’re seeing to draw shoppers from the forecourt.

Meanwhile, the demand for online shopping has been the other big change, and that shows no signs of abating. While we tend to associate the e-commerce boom with grocery, the convenience channel is acting on the opportunity for delivery and click-and-collect, particularly in foodservice. We expect to see continued growth in third-party e-commerce partnerships, especially with retailers’ commitment to foodservice, as well as investments in cashier-less checkout as a labor strategy and a shopper benefit.

Where are you focusing your attention and resources in the c-store channel this year?

Our clients rely on our team to provide category insights and data, as well as shopper intelligence, as they weigh decisions like SKU reduction for efficiency gains and package diversification to reduce price on shelf. Due to the impact of these decisions at retail, our attention and resources are grounded by a relentless focus on our customer’s customer—the wholesalers’ retailers and the retailers’ shoppers—and our branded client partners’ consumer.

The retailers we serve are focused on the fundamentals of labor, supply and managing inflationary pressures. We’re impressed by their ability to manage the day-to-day while continuing to innovate with manufacturers and embrace new technologies. With the proven resilience of our customers and clients, we’re inspired to bring the full weight of our capabilities to help them along the way.

This Q&A originally appeared in the August issue of NACS Magazine.