Opportunities Abound

The NACS Show is my annual reminder of just how much innovation exists among the many talented retailers and suppliers I communicate with every day. I expect this year’s show—amazingly the 14th of my career—to be one of the most interesting I’ve ever attended. While the event has so much to offer, a black cloud will hang over this year’s gathering as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues tightening the screws on tobacco.

On the heels of SCHIP tax increases and a bill granting the administration broad oversight of tobacco products, the FDA swiftly enacted a ban on a multitude of flavored tobacco products. The ban includes cigarettes containing any artificial or natural flavor (excluding tobacco or menthol) that use a distinct “characterizing flavor” like clove, grape, chocolate or coffee. Loose tobacco and roll-your-own (RYO) tobacco intended to be used in cigarettes are covered by the ruling, as are cigarette rolling papers and filters.

What is not covered—or was not made clear at presstime—is flavored little cigars. FDA lawyers said the administration would look at “little cigars” and similar products on a “case-by-case basis.”

Pipe tobacco also is not banned.

For operators in other industries who are not scarred and battled tested in the trenches against rivals like Wal-Mart, Safeway and Costco this ruling would be devastating. What other industry could face constant legislation and scorn from federal, state and local lawmakers and continue to thrive, and do it during one of the worst economic recessions in the last 75 years?

While some of the country’s “prestigious” firms are seeking handouts, convenience store owners are executing new ideas and cultivating innovative concepts to be more profitable. After all, who really has time to go to Washington to beg for mercy during the breakfast rush?

Trying to maintain a bit of sanity, a good friend that operates stores in the Midwest opined, “Tell the boys in Washington to take their shots now. We’ll deal with them when we get through with Visa and MasterCard.”

This brings us back to the NACS Show. If you were holding out hope that tobacco would be left unaffected by the feds, last month’s announcement was the kick in the pants you needed to start making other areas of the store more profitable. It is imperative, more than ever, that operators maximize every square inch of selling space because they may not have tobacco to fall back on anymore.

The NACS Show is guaranteed to offer you a multitude of solutions across dozens of categories to help each store realize its full sales potential. Don’t let this opportunity go by without locating a handful of good ideas to implement or at least test in the coming year, whether it’s expanding the foodservice offering, frozen beverages, salty snacks or investing in new technology to help stores run more efficiently. Today’s investments could be the difference between staying solvent or fueling the corporate hybrid sedan for a trip to Washington.

A Certified Success
One company showing its resolve in these difficult times is Certified Oil, the subject of this month’s cover story. Certified joins the ranks of the industry’s elite with an outstanding new prototype store in Chillicothe, Ohio, and a host of programs to give it a competitive advantage, such as a new loyalty program and the Certified Savings club.

“The design addresses all internal and external aspects of the store, including Certified signage, store logo, colors, counters, fountain drinks, foodservice and more,” said Keith Cheney, regional vice president of Certified Oil in Columbus, Ohio. “The new, modern convenience store was built to attract a wider audience, including men, women, older citizens, younger adults and families.”

Learn more about Certified Oil and its 70-year history starting here
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