Our Industry Is Essential

By Jeff Lenard   read

The designation of essential businesses goes well beyond the products convenience stores sell.

July 23, 2020

Convenience stores are essential businesses—not just because of what we sell but also because of what we do. In a recent NACS survey, 89% of our retail members said “essential” is a word that should be associated with our industry. And our customers agree: We heard how important convenience stores are to their daily lives in a series of consumer focus groups we conducted in February.

Open-24-7.jpgThere are more than 152,000 convenience stores across the United States selling essential products like food and fuel (an estimated 80% of the market), and our industry’s proximity to communities they serve create in a very convenient format for fulfilling grab-and-go needs. For years, we’ve touted that our industry sells time, getting customers in and out quickly with much needed food, refreshments, fuel and other daily essentials. Given the current pandemic climate, customers can rely on their local convenience store for a quick and easy shopping experience.   

Yes, our industry is essential for what we sell and how we sell it, but also because of our support for our communities.

In normal times, our industry collects or contributes more than $1 billion a year to charities. But what’s really impressive is that when times are anything but normal and business is anything close to robust, retailers are doing even more. The stories we are hearing are truly heartwarming about how stores are that neighborhood anchor for the communities they serve.

Here’s some examples around school lunches. More than 30 million schoolchildren depend on the National School Lunch Program. But school closures during the pandemic means no lunch for many hungry kids. Our industry quickly filled some gaps. Convenience stores and chains across the country developed programs to offer free lunches to kids, and others organized food drives, worked with hunger groups or local churches or even created pop-up food donation centers at stores. Our newsfeed has been filled with stories about our retailer and supplier member companies donating to organizations that address hunger like Feeding America and No Kid Hungry, two groups that NACS works with. I have had several phone calls with community groups who invariably tell me, “Your members are amazing!” And, naturally my response is, “Yes, they are.”

Convenience stores also support local heroes who serve the community. Even though the pandemic has cut into sales, nearly two in three (63%) NACS retail members say they are supporting first responders and medical/healthcare personnel. Some are offering discounts or free items for those in uniform or providing monetary donations or equipment donations directly to hospitals. In fact, a one-store retailer told us that while her store sales since the pandemic are only 25% of pre-pandemic times, her team is focusing on making a difference in the community by donating more than $20,000 to local hospitals. On a national level, the NACS Foundation is launching 24/7 Day this week to celebrate the first responders, medical/healthcare personnel and Red Cross volunteers that serve our communities 24/7.

Exemplifying that phrase “making lemonade from lemons,” convenience stores have quickly stepped up to solve the coin shortage and raise donations for important community groups. Members ranging from single-store operators to those owning thousands of locations have created “round-up” programs in which customers can donate their spare change to charitable groups. Of course, they will give customers their change if they prefer it. These programs were developed incredibly quickly and that’s because members already had charitable giving programs in place. This is just a different way to execute an existing program to provide monetary assistance and awareness to critical groups that sustain our communities.

The operational shifts our industry has done to sell products during these evolving times has been nothing short of amazing, whether it’s offering frictionless payment options, more take-home meal options, delivery and/or curbside and drive-thru.

But our shift to reinventing what it means to be a community partner may be even more impressive. And it shows that who we are and what we mean to communities beyond our products showcases why we are—and will always be—essential businesses.

Jeff Lenard is the spokesperson for NACS and vice president of strategic industry initiatives. Ask him anything about music and he’ll gladly join the conversation.