By Frank Beard
One only needs to
read an issue of NACS Magazine, a few
NACS Daily articles, or get out and
visit some stores to see that convenience retailing is full of unique and
innovative ideas. As I look back on 2017, here are five ideas that really
caught my attention.
1. Artisan Pizza. From single-store independents to large
chains, many of today’s convenience retailers take foodservice to a new level.
Some are even raising the bar for pizza.
North of Boston,
inside a Prime Energy station in Wakefield, Mass., Slice
Pizza & More has earned a well-deserved reputation for its
pizza. The crust is tossed by hand, the sauce made from scratch, and the
toppings include unique combinations such as my favorite, Broccoli Rabe and
White Bean. Although Slice was founded elsewhere, the owner decided to relocate
in a gas station owned by a member of his family. Competitive fuel prices meant
high foot traffic, and both business now complement each other.
destination exists south of Boston in the Cape Cod area. The owner of WildFire
Brick Oven Pizza moved an imported Italian brick oven into a Shell
station in Mashpee, and she utilizes training from New York City’s Goodfellas
Pizza School to prepare everything from fresh bread to homemade pizza and sub
sandwiches. I recently enjoyed the Figawi, which included mozzarella, fig jam,
arugula, prosciutto, balsamic glaze, ricotta, and olive oil.
2. Helping Those Who Need Assistance. Refueling is a simple task for most of us,
but what about individuals with disabilities? After noticing FuelCall systems at both at my local HyVee Gas
and a BP station in Tallahassee, Fla., I decided to learn more.
procedure at self-serve stations, as required by the Americans
with Disabilities Act, is to inform customers that they can honk or otherwise
signal an employee for assistance. But getting noticed at larger stations may
be difficult, and honking may be awkward and uncomfortable—especially if other
customers are nearby.
FuelCall is brilliant. Roll up to the pump, lower the window, and press a
button. That’s it. Employees inside the store will hear a sound and come out to
Besides being a
genuinely nice thing to do, I suspect this sort of system is good for business.
The Census Bureau estimates that nearly 40 million Americans have disabilities.
3. Upscale Seating. Many convenience stores offer some form of
indoor or outdoor seating to compliment their foodservice, but Kum & Go has
gone above and beyond with its new marketplace stores. The ambiance and quality
rivals many coffee shops and fast-casual restaurants. The seating area boasts
polished concrete floors, modern decor, quartz countertops and large windows
that flood the building with natural light. It’s the sort of place you feel
comfortable having lunch and staying to work on your laptop—especially since
charging ports are plentiful. Outside, space heaters are built into the
underside of a roof that extends over the patio.
4. Local Products. Despite only 800 square feet of retail
space, 36 Lyn Refuel Station in Minneapolis has set itself apart from the
competition by offering a range of locally-produced products. Customers can
purchase freshly-brewed Peace Coffee, snack bars from companies like Canteen
Girl, and other local favorites like cans of cold brew from Big Watt Beverage
Co. Each time I’ve visited, new products have been introduced.
As I’ve written previously, differentiation is crucial
since convenience retailing faces challenges from new, potentially-disruptive
technologies and services. This is one way to stand out.
5. Competitive Pay as a Marketing Tool. It’s no secret that the convenience
retailing industry has many great employers who offer generous pay and
benefits. QuikTrip and Sheetz, for example, are both a regular presence on Fortune’s list of top companies to work for.
this information on the front doors helps generate applications, it can also
stand out as a quality signal to customers. I recently visited a Buc-ee’s
location in Baytown, Texas, and noticed a large sign in front of the door
advertising the “Buc-ee’s Minimum Wage.” All wages were far above the minimum,
and there was a mention of three weeks of paid time off. “Use it, cash it, roll
it,” said the sign.
As a consumer,
that set a positive tone for the rest of my experience. And with millennials
favoring corporate social responsibility,
it may be a smart move.
Frank Beard is a regular NACS Daily contributor who has traveled to more than 1,000 convenience stores in
24 states. He raised awareness of the industry's healthful food options with
his "30 Days of Gas Station Food" experiment, and he's an
analyst/evangelist for convenience store and retail trends at GasBuddy. Follow
Frank on Twitter