Here’s a Closer Look at Our Industry’s Performance Last Year

Only the top 40% of c-store operators are making money inside the store.

June 10, 2022

Charlie McIlvaine, CEO of Coen Markets at the NACS SOI Summit

By Sara Counihan

ALEXANDRIA, Va.—There are 148,000 convenience stores in the U.S.—90% of America is within 10 minutes of a convenience store. There are 165 million transactions a day taking place in the convenience industry. That’s a big footprint. This week’s NACS Convenience Matters podcast episode takes a deep dive into what’s actually going on inside the industry from a financial and operations performance perspective.

The NACS State of the Industry Report is released each year and is a benchmark for the convenience industry, and normally, the report is a two-year comparison, but this year it was three because 2020 was an anomaly. On paper, 2021 looked like a strong economic year, but Charlie McIlvaine, CEO of Coen Markets, said the industry should eye last year cautiously.

“There’s a little bit of be careful on this because a lot of what happened inside the store and certainly what happened outside on the forecourt was circumstantial. It was circumstantial in the first instance of inflation, driven in part by labor,” said McIlvaine. “Secondly, on the fuel gallons, when you compare anything to 2020, you’re great on a percentage basis. So that’s why we actually focused a lot in 2019 for a comparative base to 2021.”

McIlvaine pointed to two standout metrics from last year: Transactions were down 6.9%, and fuel gallons were down 7.2% in 2021 versus 2019.

“We need to go down through what happened to profitability and look at the unit behavior to get the right full picture,” said McIlvaine.

Also different in this year’s report is c-store performance was split up into deciles, whereas historically, performance was split into quartiles.

“We found that the top, the very top of all the 10 buckets, earned 1.7 times as much store operating profit as the next ninth decile,” said McIlvaine. “That is distinctive because that just shows you there’s a real big bust out.”

According to the report, only the top four deciles are turning a profit inside the store.

“The top decile on order of magnitude is 3.0-plus times on almost every line item to the bottom decile …  And they’re less than that by 1.5 times in wages and benefits and card fees,” said McIlvaine. “Their direct store operating expense is 1.6 times the bottom decile, but their top line or their gross profit is 3.2 times. That just shows you what operating leverage does for this business.”

McIlvaine said the top decile does a very good job at foodservice. He also pointed out that throughout the pandemic, 14% of restaurants closed their doors, which is 100,000 restaurants.

“Where do you think these people are going for food? As an industry, we are growing in our foodservice relevance to the consumer choice set. If we can continue that experience with our guests, that allows our guests to normalize that they can get a high-quality experience [at a convenience store],” said McIlvaine.

Tune into this week’s Convenience Matters podcast episode No. 339 “Breaking Down the NACS State of the Industry Results,” to find out more on how the industry did last year, including basket breakdowns, labor and what “good” c-store performance actually looks like. And read the June issue of NACS Magazine for exclusive coverage of NACS SOI data.

Sara Counihan is contributing editor of NACS Magazine and NACS Daily. She can be reached at