Four Factors C-store Owners Should Consider Before Installing EV Chargers

Adoption rates and location are among the variables for entering the electric vehicle charging space.
Electric vehicle charging sign

Today, you see a Tesla here. Tomorrow, you'll see a Ford Lightning there. As electric vehicles (EVs) become more prevalent, convenience store owners are presented with a unique opportunity to diversify their offerings. With nearly every vehicle manufacturer launching a line of EVs and large corporations investing in battery factories, we're seeing the future of transportation evolve. But what can c-store owners expect?

The reality is that many variables impact forecasting whether EV chargers will be a lucrative investment for your store. Here are four factors to consider before investing in EV chargers: 

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1. Location: What Does EV Adoption Look Like in Your Region?

Adding EV chargers to your convenience store can be a significant investment, so you want to ensure that demand will follow. Understanding the current and projected EV density for your region will help determine your prospective customer base. By looking at vehicle registrations in your county and filtering by EVs, you can form an initial baseline of the local market size. 

[Read more: U.S. Adds 1,000-Plus EV Stations in Six Months]

When pricing out the physical chargers themselves, you can expect to pay $800 to $5,000 for a single level 2 (a several-hour) charger or $40,000 to $100,000 for a level 3 (a pit-stop) charger. In addition, if your site does not have enough grid capacity, you'll need to engage your local utility to upgrade and rework your facility's electrical capacity. Given how quickly these costs can scale, it's crucial to first understand if demand will justify your investment. 

In addition to regular or repeat customers, you'll also have those who are just passing through. For that reason, you should consider how close your location is to the interstate and EV charging corridors. As the nationwide charging network expands, consumers who are traveling between destinations are more likely to stop at sites that are just off the highway vs. those that require a detour. You should also consider how close you are to the next public level 3 charger, as well as what charging capacity your competitors offer.

2. Competitive Landscape: Where Else Can EV Owners Charge Their Vehicles?

Historically, if you wanted to refuel your vehicle, the "where" you could do so was limited: typically restricted to public or private fueling stations. Now, with electric vehicles, that narrative has changed. Nearly 70% to 80% of charging happens at home or the workplace. This is foreign to the traditional fueling landscape because customers don't have to exclusively rely on convenience stores for their charging needs. 

In fact, EV owners can save 50% or more by charging at home compared to using a public level 3 charger. For this reason, nearly every EV owner who lives in a residential single-family home will have an at-home charger — meaning they won't have to stop at your station for their day-to-day charging needs.   

3. Intent: What Influences Customers to Stop at Your Station?

Once you take out those who have at-home charging capabilities, what would make the remaining EV owners choose your c-store? Are you their only option or do you have competitors nearby? Are they only stopping to fill up their vehicle or do they also get their morning coffee from your station? Do you have a hot food area where they grab lunch on the go? 

These are just a few questions you can ask to determine if having EV charging will help improve your other revenue streams as well. 

4. Amenities Offered: How Can You Capitalize on Their Extended Stay?

Another difference between fueling gasoline vehicles and charging EVs is the time it takes. Variables such as the vehicle and battery size, state of charge and charger speed impact fueling wait times, which are significantly longer for EVs. Most level 3 chargers provide an 80% charge in 30 minutes or less, whereas most level 2 chargers only provide 10 miles to 30 miles of charge per hour.

It's worth considering then: Do you have enough amenities for customers while they wait for their vehicles to charge? Can you capitalize on a double or triple inside-the-store transaction that you wouldn't have been able to if they were simply fueling their vehicle? Do you have enough additional parking stalls for other customers as EVs will need to stay longer?

Next Steps

While these four considerations can help guide your thought process around adding EV chargers to your c-store, there isn't one right choice. Ultimately, you must decide what is best for you and your store: considering your location, risk tolerance, financial position, and eligibility for grants and federal incentives (such as funding from the National Electric Vehicle Infrastructure program).

To learn more about what resources are out there, you should seek out a jobber who has polyfuel capabilities — one who can help you adapt to the evolving landscape, apply for funding and incorporate multiple fueling options to support your store's short- and long-term strategy.

Jerry Miller is the director of business development — electrification at U.S. Energy, a vertically integrated provider of fuel and environmental credits. For nearly 10 years, he led multiple large-scale electrification development efforts for the U.S. Navy. He is now applying that experience to the transportation sector as he's developed a patent-pending, re-deployable EV charger that runs off RNG or CNG, helping fleets expedite their EV deployment while solving for infrastructure constraints. He can be reached at [email protected].

Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News

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