M-PACT Show Hints at the Future

Fashioning a good foodservice program can boost a retailer’s economic buoyance.

As M-PACT 2018 wound down in Indianapolis, one general session directed at convenience retailers included economic outlooks that could affect the industry in 2018 and another addressed how c-stores can shape their own futures by creating a better experience for customers.

In a session called the “Fast Changing World of Gasoline and C-Store M & A,” Jeff Kramer, managing director of NCR Realty & Capital Advisors LLC, looked back on some of the pressing issues that impacted the c-tore industry last year, and how things are shaping in 2018.

So far, the U.S. economy is marked by a low unemployment rate of about 4.1%, which is going to pressure those retailers competing to hire qualified workers. However, the recent tax reform initiative that reduced corporate taxes promises to provide a boost for companies looking to grow their operations organically and through mergers and acquisitions (M&A).

Kramer explained that while fuel remains an important sales contributor, instore sales, led by foodservice, is driving investment for such big brands as Sheetz, Wawa, RaceTrac, Kwik Trip and QuikTrip.

IN THE GAME

In a separate morning session, John Matthews, founder of Gray Cat Enterprises Inc., told M-PACT attendees that it’s not too hard for convenience retailers to determine if they’re in the game when it comes to presenting an inviting store for customers, who are searching out foodservice options.

For retailers looking to up their game, Matthews outlined four major considerations c-stores should digest if they want to tailor the customer experience while assessing their own retail needs. They include: marketing, merchandising, operations and store design.

A key component to any retail venture is branding. Matthews explained that c-store should determine if they are food or petroleum oriented. To make a stronger case, retailers should tie in their brand name, logo design and signature offerings to reflect the message they hope to convey to customers.

To further raise brand awareness, retailers can devise yearlong brand campaigns and promotional calendars. These strategies should be augmented by local store marketing plans, social media efforts and custom packaging.

Even that degree of planning can pale in comparison, depending on how hard competitors are selling their goods and their brand.

“Quick service restaurants are taking their food out and having people sample it,” said Matthews.

Even the best branding and marketing plans can be undone by operations that lack continuity and store designs that are lackluster. Logistically, out-of-stocks are momentum killers. Instead, c-stores can entice with signage, and satisfy the customer experience with fully stocked and relevant product assortment.

A good example of a good presentation is Amazon’s much-heralded convenience store of the future, Amazon’s Go, which is now being tested in Seattle and in where Matthews visited a few weeks ago. Amazon spent four years crafting a system — dubbed Just Walk Out Technology — that allows shoppers to scan their phone upon entrance, grab desired items off a shelf, and automatically get charged the right amount after exiting without the need to stop at a cash register to pay.

“It’s not about transactions, it’s about an experience,” said Matthews.

The M-PACT show concluded March 15.

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