Convenience Store News

NOV 2016

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26 Convenience Store News | NOVEMBER 2016 | WWW.CSNEWS.COM The land of "cokes and smokes" is fast becoming the land of inventive new ideas C-store INNOVATION NATION T he convenience retail channel, long known as the place for "cokes and smokes" in years past, has not typically been lauded for its innovation. But that is changing, and never more so than now. As today's consumers place an increasing pre- mium on "convenience," c-store retailers, wholesalers and suppliers are innovating to meet new and ever- evolving shopper needs. "Experience" has become a buzzword in retail- ing, and convenience channel players on all sides of the supply chain are realizing experience really starts with innovation. Over the last decade, the convenience channel has actually broken into two segments: the traditional convenience stores that most consumers are familiar with, and the convenience superstores (think Wawa Inc. and Sheetz Inc.) that are rolling out fresh expe- riences, observed Chelsea Gross, an analyst with RetailNet Group LLC. "Many pieces of U.S. convenience need reinvention and, ultimately, we are seeing the expectations of the convenience trip being defined by certain innovative c-store retailers," she said. "…These are experiences where the family goes to the gas station, but they also sit down and have a quick meal. It's very easy to order because of automation in the store. They do things like have a separate counter for tobacco so there is a quicker checkout for those people who are looking for that quick trip. They are really reinventing the experience in convenience in so many different ways, and you see it unfold from a sales and store growth perspective." Convenience superstores are outpacing sales growth not only for the total convenience industry, but also the total U.S. retail industry. And the same can be said for store growth, Gross explained. Notably, conve- nience superstores represent six of the top 10 conve- nience banners for sales added, and five of the top 10 convenience banners for stores added. "They are really starting to have a role in the growth platforms for con- venience," she said. LEADING THE WAY In addition to the increasing number of convenience superstores, Gross offered some other examples of innovation happening in the convenience channel: • 7-Eleven Inc. has strengthened its private-label product offering and is giving its proprietary 7-Select brand prime shelf space in its stores. • Sheetz is taking up residence on college campuses and in doing so, the chain is "capturing consumers while they are in that transitional period to peak [retail] consumption, which happens at about [ages] 25 to 34." • Casey's General Stores Inc. is using mobile tactics to up its game. Notably, a popular pizza-themed game on its mobile app successfully engages customers. While fellow c-store retailers should certainly draw inspiration from these innovative ideas, Gross cau- tioned that they should not just copy what a chain like Wawa is doing. Rather, they should look at what a competitor is doing well and then innovate further A C onvenience Store News Staff Report cover story

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