For years, convenience stores have been places to do your shopping on the run, often for good reason. Immensely compatible with the male approach to shopping, C-stores were places to “get in and get out”. This was no surprise as many were not well maintained and did not encourage extended visits.
All that is changing today. I first noticed the trend in Canada a few years ago when visiting the Petro Canada Neighbours convenience format in Ontario. These inviting brick structures inspired thoughts of Panera Bread or Starbucks rather than gas station. Freshly prepared food options could be enjoyed at cozy table settings while checking your email on the complementary wifi. Finally there was reason to spend a little more time – and money – in a convenience store.
The trend has taken hold in the US as I’ve had the opportunity to witness at Sheetz and Wawa stores on recent road trips up the US eastern seaboard. The industry continues to evolve and it seems clear they are moving into the space occupied by restaurants known as “fast casual”.
With the NACS Show coming up this weekend in Atlanta, we are sure to see and hear further evidence of this trend. The competition will continue to heat up in this area of casual dining with consumers benefiting in the process. With the competition comes a more acute need to raise customer service levels and pay attention to customer loyalty. The evolution of customer loyalty strategies in the convenience retail sector will accelerate as result of these trends.
We’ll be in Atlanta at the NACS Show this weekend and will have reports along the way to share.