RECAP: NACS Convenience Leaders Exchange South Africa

South Africa's convenience leaders gathered to collaborate and navigate industry challenges.

September 07, 2023

“What is keeping us awake at night?” This was the opening question posed to convenience retail leaders by Mark Wohltmann, director of NACS Global, in his address at this year’s NACS Convenience Leaders Exchange South Africa.

Wohltmann discussed the results of the NACS Global Strategic Industry Issues survey and listed issues like generational needs, the importance of big data and digital advancements as concerns that retailers should be turning into opportunities. Collaboration is the only way forward, says Wohltmann.

Data from the Trade Intelligence Forecourt and Convenience report 2023 says South Africa’s primary convenience market is estimated at R240 billion ($12.5 billion) annually. Of this, the informal independent trade is valued at R188 billion ($9.8 billion) with forecourt convenience stores worth an estimated R40 billion ($2 billion). Convenience is currently one of the fastest growing channels, behind online shopping, and expanded +6.7% in 2022.

The increase in the middle-class population and urbanization trends have supported the growth of this sector. More people are living in urban areas, leading to increased demand for on-the-go and quick shopping experiences. This sector provides jobs, contributes to the economy in terms of GDP and generates tax revenue.

With busy lifestyles, consumers often prefer quick shopping trips rather than longer visits to bigger supermarkets. This trend makes convenience stores an integral part of urban life.

As the convenience store market grows, retailers have been innovating in terms of products offered, store design and other services to attract customers. This has led to the expansion of the product range in many stores, including fresh foods and gourmet options.

While competition can spark tension among businesses vying for the same space, this week’s event–which took place at the Hyatt House Sandton Hotel in Johannesburg–provided a refreshing contrast and great advocacy for our industry. It was a gathering marked by collaboration and a shared commitment to drive the convenience store sector forward and turn challenges into opportunities.

“We can only learn and advance our businesses and our careers if we are open to discussion and sharing,” said Wohltmann in his opening address to the gathering. “And that’s why networking is the most important item on the agenda today,” he added.

Wohltmann was joined on stage by Reggie Sibiya, CEO of the Fuel Retailers Association who emphasised that all leaders present at the event share the same customers and therefore share the imperative to put the customer first.

Issues in the South African context, which emerged in a roundtable discussion between convenience leaders, were the rising cost of doing business in the face of economic uncertainty, loadshedding and supply chain precarity. In response to these issues, strong leadership emerged as a key solution and recurring theme throughout the event, with Millat CEO Hamza Farooqui’s address on what convenience leaders need to focus on to make it through this challenging economic period.

Farooqui celebrated the event for its collaborative nature and the mutual understanding that the customer comes first. “Partnerships are especially important in our business. Because we are all working on a common platform, there is a lot of scope for collaboration and for building something unique,” he says. “And at the end of the day, we are here for the customer. So, all these exercises are meant to give the customers a better experience.”

NACS is an international industry advocate by hosting summits and partnering with other international organizations to ensure the convenience space remains collaborative between suppliers and retailers around the world. Check out the events here.

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