On a recent tour of convenience stores in the Northeast, I came across an outstanding Mobil store in northern Maine. What caught my attention at this particular store was the clerk who immediately greeted me and told me about the store’s foodservice special that day, a homemade Boston chowder. That I was greeted was not so much a surprise. That the clerk was so eager to help me find what I needed and offered suggestions was.
I’ve toured hundreds, maybe thousands, of convenience stores in my nearly 13 years of covering this industry and I’ve been told many things, most of them printable, but never had I run across an employee that was so eager to go out of his way to make sure I found what I needed.
Ironically, I really just wanted to use the restroom and refill my car-holder friendly 24-ounce coffee mug. I ended up spending some $20 on snacks, drinks and a "Git-R-Done" baseball cap, which no wardrobe should be without. As I was leaving, I asked the young man what kind of training the store offered. He said, "Not much. I just moved here from the Pittsburgh area and used to work for a company called Sheetz. I guess I’m just used to interacting with customers after working there." Go figure.
In this month’s cover story, several retailers discuss their foray into the foodservice business. With gas margins in the gutter, the 35% margin foodservice offers has been a savior for Mike Harrell, president of Jernigan Oil Co. Inc., a fourth-generation marketer in Ahoskie, N.C. that operates 25 Duck Thru convenience stores.
"Foodservice has helped get us through some lean times," Harrell said. "We operate in rural towns so we’re fortunate not to have a lot of foodservice competition at some of our stores. This gives us an advantage, but also comes with a lot of responsibility. We can’t just offer a simple variety. It has to be fresh, innovative and affordable enough to attract the customers day after day."
Read this month’s cover story beginning on page 18.
While variety is crucial at the foodservice counter, it’s forcing some difficult choices in the cold vault. New products and line extensions in energy drinks, isotonics and carbonated soft drinks are crowding an already overflowing cooler.
"What’s happened is that we are seeing so many new categories and segments and so much innovation that the competitive landscape has gotten much more complex with new products and even new categories," said Gary Hemphill, managing director for the Beverage Marketing Corp. in New York City. Carbonated soft drinks has "probably been the one that has been impacted the most by that because it is the biggest, so it’s logical that sales there have been down the last couple of years. We don’t have our final 2007 numbers yet but it will be down again."
Retailers agreed. "Everybody wants to give you a counter cooler, a floor cooler, and, like the rest of the retailers, I’m just out of space," said Terri Murray, general manager of Massachusetts Turnpike Operations for Gulf Oil Limited Partnership in Newton, Mass.
Find out how chains are coping in the cooler on page 36.
We are pleased to have two new editors joining us. First, Howard Riell has been covering the convenience store and petroleum industry for more than 15 years. He most recently worked as a contributor for CSP. Shawn Foucher joins us from The Chronicle-Telegram in Elyria, Ohio, where he was nominated for numerous Associated Press awards for reporting. Both Howard and Shawn share my commitment to outstanding reporting and are sure to elevate Convenience Store Decisions’ editorial product. I’m thrilled to have both of them onboard.