Where Can You See the Future of Retail?

By Jeff Lenard   read

Two decades of visiting convenience stores translates to a treasure trove of insights on what’s next for c-stores.

September 23, 2021

See-the-Future-of-Retail_landing.jpgAs a spokesperson for NACS, I field a lot of questions from reporters, analysts and members. I can bucket them into two categories: What’s going on with gas prices, and what’s the future of convenience?

Let’s address them separately. In short, gas prices are most dependent upon oil prices, it’s not OK to dispense fuel into any type of container with a lid (or garbage bags) when supplies are tight and the President does not control gas prices.

What’s the future of convenience? I have a lot to say about that because I’ve already seen it in Ideas 2 Go video shoots over the past 20 years. And so can you, either at the NACS Show, in NACS Magazine or on our website.

Frictionless Checkout

Amazon Go made huge news when it debuted its “Just Walk Out” technology in 2018, and rightfully so. But five years prior, QuickChek introduced its take on cashierless checkout with Fast Lane, an assisted checkout designed to speed up the customer experience. The totally unmanned Russell’s Xpress concept was launched in 2015 and beat Amazon Go to market by three years. Founder and owner Raymond Huff continues to innovate, being one of the first retailers to pilot test a new and innovative age-verification solution, TruAge™.

To really see the future of frictionless payments, look no further than China, where there’s even a term for it called New Retail, which represents an Online to Offline-like experience where in-store and online shopping are seamlessly integrated. We can save you the trip: In 2019 we visited four innovative New Retail concepts in Shanghai.

And all the shortages we’ve faced the past two years? Mission Market, a c-store in the Bay Area, implemented a way to speed up lines and eliminate coins years before the latest coin circulation challenges.

Food and Beverages

We’ve visited enough stores with innovative food offers to start our own “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” In fact, Guy Fieri has visited some of the same stores we’ve featured in Ideas 2 Go, like Chef Point Café.

Remember in “National Lampoon’s Vacation” when Clark Griswold said he was so hungry that he’d eat a sandwich from the gas station? We’ve had lobster bisque, beef tongue tacos, seafood pots and some of the most amazing barbecue you’ve ever had—all at a gas station. So many great places we’ve visited, there’s no way I could pick a favorite.

But what’s even more interesting is how high-end drinks pair with high-end food. Stop n Go Mini Mart in Bend, Ore., has 30-plus taps of craft beer and is often the top beer seller in its market, besting even Costco. If you prefer spirits, how about a speakeasy? Yep, there’s a hidden door at the Farmer’s Grandson Eatery in Eagan, Minn.


Drive-thrus are among the hottest “last mile” innovations gaining traction since the pandemic began. A decade ago, we visited Pak-A-Sak to see how they rolled out their innovative drive-thru concept that expanded the offer to everything in the store and showcased their offer at the window.

But if you really want a drive through—that is, drive through the center of the store—Brew Thru is for you.

One-Stop Shopping

Convenience is often defined as one-stop shopping. How can customers buy all the items they want—fuel, food and other general merchandise—in one stop? Papa’s Healthy Food & Fuel, Johnny Junxions (Judah, Ind.) and Aw Shucks Country Store meet this need by turning their lots into community hubs. They host farmer’s markets, swap meets, vintage car shows—and attract large crowds and loyal customers from their community.

And if that’s not interesting enough for you, how about a gas station that also is a dog park, movie theater and a place to enjoy a beer and a “bretzel” outdoors? Then you need to check out WagsPark Shell.

Food halls also are about experience. The Maxol Ballycoolin store in Dublin, Ireland, showcased this concept before it became a thing. And what about seeing a concert where you fill up? One night we went to Jubitz Travel Center in Portland, Ore., and saw country superstar Kacey Musgraves perform.

Now that I’ve name-dropped, let’s end with two more celebrities who we also filmed for Ideas 2 Go. Wendell Pierce is best-known as Bunk from “The Wire” and Meghan Markle’s father in “Suits.” He opened stores in the underserved areas of New Orleans that were not quickly rebuilt following Hurricane Katrina. It was a great story about why we are always essential businesses.

Lenny Dykstra, the former all-star for both the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies, couldn’t have been more accommodating when we visited his upscale c-store/carwash in Corona, Calif. And, unlike the recent ESPN 30 for 30 program “Once Upon a Time in Queens,” where Lenny’s interviews appeared to be the sole reason for the parental advisory, we didn’t need to delete an expletive. Which just goes to show that while we often see the future, that doesn’t mean it will stay that way.

Jeff Lenard has been visiting convenience stores since 2002 as the producer of our Ideas 2 Go video program. Ask him about the time he almost filled the rental car with diesel.