CSD: What is the most rewarding aspect of working within the c-store community?
Morris: The people I meet. We are in a successful direct retail business. Listening to our customers and responding to them are keys to our success. I enjoy meeting and knowing people who love this challenge and excel at meeting it.
CSD: What experience provided the greatest lesson with respect to successfully operating a convenience store?
Morris: Sitting in a store and watching our customers interact with our product offering, our store manager and our employees. It was compelling to see what our customers purchased and what they walked past, and also to see how some actions of our managers and employees interfered with a sale and how some actions created a sale.
CSD: What do you see as your company’s greatest asset?
Our customers and our locations. This is a convenience business. Thus, by definition, our locations must be convenient. The best offering and the best employees cannot overcome an inconvenient location. Next, our customers tell us what to offer and how to price it. But we have to watch, learn and listen to them.
CSD: What do you see as the biggest challenge-facing the c-store industry today?
Morris: Keeping up with our customer’s convenience needs. Our customers now buy many of our historical products in bulk and have moved to convenience products such as single-serve beverages and food. Shifting our expertise to keep up with our customers will always be our biggest challenge.
CSD: How has the convenience consumer changed over the last several years?
Morris: We have moved from an era when two thirds of what we sold generated a profit to a time when only one fifth of what we sell generates a profit. We are more dependent on newer and fewer items to pay the bills and generate investment income.
CSD: Where have you seen the largest increase in consumer demand?
Morris: Beverage and food such as coffee and single-serve items.
CSD: What are Alon stores doing to bring in new customers?
Morris: We are investing in high-quality beverage and coffee bars and a cleaner, brighter image.
CSD: What do you believe separates your stores from the competition?
Morris: The 7-Eleven brand with its proprietary-products and name recognition, our strong market share in many markets and our high-quality legacy real estate.
CSD: What do you want your employees to think when they arrive to work?
Morris: I want them to look forward to seeing their friends and acquaintances during the day (translate as “customers”) and to being good hosts for these friends when they visit.
CSD: What’s the secret to your company’s success?
Morris: We are a neighborhood store. Although we have 167 stores, each one should be tuned for its neighborhood. Our employees, their friends and acquaintances live in and are part of this neighborhood.
CSD: If you were able to look 10 years into the future, what do you think convenience retailing will look like? And, what will be the major difference?
Morris: Only our customers can tell us, but if I was going to guess I would think we will be offering the convenience products of the next decadehealthier single-serve beverages and food for our adult customers; more novel snacks, candies and beverages for our younger customers; and a steady, but slow decline in our historical products such as cigarettes, beer and gasoline.