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C-store Retailers Overwhelmingly Optimistic Heading Into Q4

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Retailers are approaching the end of the year feeling good about fourth-quarter prospects.

According to the results of a retailer survey by NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, nearly eight in 10 convenience store retailers said that they are optimistic about their business for the fourth quarter. 

While retailers are overwhelmingly optimistic about their business, overall optimism is down slightly from the second quarter (83 percent) and first quarter (86 percent), according to the quarterly NACS Retailer Sentiment Survey.

Strong fuels sales and margins continue to drive retailer optimism. More than half of all retailers said that fuels sales so far in 2015 are stronger than the same period in 2014 and 66 percent said that fuels margins are stronger than in 2014. The convenience store industry sells an estimated 80 percent of the gasoline purchased in the United States.

A majority of retailers are also optimistic about the overall economy, but their optimism about the economy is down slightly from 61 percent last quarter, the survey found.

Driving Sales

The lower cost at the pump is translating into better rings inside the store, notably in foodservice. According to NACS, 67 percent of retailers said their food sales have increased this year and nearly as many (63 percent) say that their "better-for-you" items are selling better this year. 

The growth of better-for-you items also reflects more media attention to healthy eating.

Meanwhile, fresh, hot-off-the-griddle breakfast sandwiches and grab-and-go food are driving strong sales at The Station at Freshfields in Johns Island, S.C. "Our foodservice sales are up 14 percent this year and our breakfast sandwiches have drawn an additional 85 customers daily," said Anthony Shupert, general manager.

Marketing and merchandising are also pushing sales, according to the association. Those efforts are also creating customer awareness and loyalty.

For example, Wi-Not Stop Convenience Stores in Manassas, Va., offers deals on fruit to encourage purchases, and Walter-Dimmick Petroleum in Marshall, Mich. is using open-air coolers to increase the visibility of sandwiches and grab-and-go items.

Warming Up to Winter

While the convenience channel sees its strongest sales in the warmer summer months, many retailers are well positioned to continue strong sales over the last three months of the year. 

Novelty and seasonal items are among the expanded items c-store retailers like Palo Mini mart in Palo, Iowa and Square One Markets in Bethlehem, Pa., will stock during the yearend.

Other retailers, like P.J. Hyde & Sons in Saranac Lake, N.Y., capitalize on the tourism the snow and winter months brings, noted NACS.

The quarterly NACS Retailer Sentiment Survey tracks retailer sentiment related to their business, the industry and the economy as a whole. A total of 102 member companies, representing a cumulative 1,777 stores, participated in the survey.

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