Americans plan to put the severe winter weather in their rearview mirrors and travel more frequently this summer, according to the results of a consumer survey released by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).
One in four consumers (25%) say that they will spend more money this summer than they would otherwise because of the harsh winter weather, as opposed to 16% who say that they will spend less money. Consumers is in the Midwest are most likely to spend more money more this summer, with one in three consumers (33%) saying that they will spend more money than otherwise expected this summer.
Convenience store owners also are optimistic about summer spending, with most saying that they expect sales to increase at both the pump and inside the store.
“We expect to see sales up at least 8-10% over last summer’s numbers, and we will be back to pre-recession sales numbers before the end of 2014,” said Theron Soderlund, president of TMS Enterprises, which operates the Country Corner convenience store on Orcas Island, Wash.
Convenience stores sell 80% of the gas purchased in the country and will see plenty of traffic at the gas pumps this summer, especially when the weather is nice. Store owners surveyed by NACS said that weather conditions are the best determinant of sales, with two of three calling it important. The economy was the second-most important factor affecting sales, cited by nearly half of all retailers.
“People are tired of waiting on the economy to improve, but there are positive signs that it is improving,” said Sonja Hubbard, CEO of Texarkana, TX-based E-Z Mart Stores Inc. Sales also may be enhanced by more hours of daylight, which Hubbard said is a significant factor that drives strong summer sales.
Renewed housing starts and construction is also driving stronger sales at stores. “We are seeing construction crews in the mornings and afternoons that have been almost nonexistent for three years,” noted Sunderland.
Americans are expected to average more than two summer vacation trips of at least two nights away from home, and the bulk of this travel will be by car. More than eight in 10 consumers (84%) say that they will drive for a summer vacation.
While gas prices are near highs for the year, consumers see driving as cost effective. A majority half of consumers (54%) cite affordability as the reason to travel by car, followed by the freedom to choose where to stop (52%).
Fully half of all consumers (50%) say that the gas price influences where they stop on their summer vacations, but they also are influenced by in-store offers. Four in 10 consumers (39%) say that seek out quality food options for stops, and 36% say that they seek out stores that have clean bathrooms.
It’s not surprising that clean bathrooms are a priority, given that consumers cite them as their top reason to stop. More than three in four consumers (77%) say that they stop to use the bathroom, 74% say that they stop to get gas and 67% say that they stop to get food or drinks. Services are also important: nearly 1 in 5 consumers (18%) say that they expect to use an ATM at a convenience store while travelling. Younger consumers, those ages 18-34, are the group most likely to buy a snack (68%), buy a sandwich (33%) or use the ATM (25%).
To capture more summer sales, retailers are particularly focusing on new deli programs, cookouts, fresh fruits and expanded beverage options.
“There is a continued interest in a store prepared food, and customers are buying more freshly made sandwiches and meals,” said Tom Moser, general manager of Westminster, Md.-based Tevis Oil Inc., which operates Jiffy Mart stores.
“We’re doing new things like grilling outside a couple of times per week — and we’re seeing a lot of new faces so far this year,” added Robin Gabriel, president of DCT Inc., which operates a Shell station in Hinsdale, IL. Healthy snacks are also seeing strong sales in 2014, noted James Quakenbush, president of Lacombe Chevron Travel Center Inc. in Lacombe, La.
Potentially strong sales over the summer months has retailers hopeful that the weak first quarter will be followed by strong summer sales.
“Consumers are feeling a little bit better,” said Leo Vercollone, president of Verc Enterprises in Duxbury, Mass., and one of the many retailers who indicated that they very optimistic about the industry’s economic prospects this summer. “After all, we held our own this winter, when the weather couldn’t have been worse.”
The NACS consumer survey was conducted May 1-2 by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates LLC and incorporates responses from 1,183 gas customers. NACS also surveyed dozens of retailer member companies, which range in size from one-store owners to large chains operating hundreds of stores, from May 8-14.