A Glimpse at the Future

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A Glimpse at the Future

By Don Longo, Convenience Store News - 03/25/2014

Retailer CEOs, technology and strategy experts offer clues on c-store industry’s direction

Under the theme, “Visions of the Future,” convenience store industry chief executives Kim Bowers of CST Brands Inc., and Allison Moran of RaceTrac Petroleum Inc. kicked off this year’s NACS Leadership Forum with presentations about how their large convenience store chains are transforming to serve both current and future customers.

Bowers listed the many strengths of her 1,900-store chain. With 1,041 stores in the Southwest, CST operates in states that are among the fastest growing in population in the United States. She also noted that demographic shifts in the country, such as the growth of the Hispanic population and the increase in the number of Millennials, are positive factors for the future of c-stores.

“Millennials are more economically challenged and they are more ethnically diverse,” said Bowers, “but they will outspend Baby Boomers by 2017 and they buy more everyday essentials and fresh food from c-stores than other demographic groups.”

Moran described her family-operated business’ transformation from a high-velocity gas, cigarette and beer retailer into a better-balanced modern convenience store chain that appeals to new customers or “guests.” Giving credit to her father Carl Bolch Jr. for empowering her to spearhead change, Moran cited the company’s critical investment in employees and infrastructure.

“The transaction-based shoppers, whom we used to attract with low gas prices and cigarettes and beer, were changing. They wanted more choices from a c-store,” she said, adding that RaceTrac’s focus on changing its operations to meet the future needs of its customers has been tremendously successful. “We have strengthened our brand, increased guest loyalty and grown our revenue.”

The executive leadership conference also focused on how to use technology to foster greater customer engagement and loyalty. Rouz Jazayeri, partner in the investment firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Byers, called the growth of mobile the major Internet trend at present, and predicted the next big tech trend will be wearable devices and what he called “everywhere computing.”

Anthony Shop, co-founder of Social Driver, emphasized that “people are the new channel.” He noted that people today are writing their own autobiographies, and the trick for companies and brands is to figure out “how can I get my customer to take a selfie with me in it.”

Katie Elfering, senior director for CEB Iconoculture, told retailers to “stop trying so hard” when it comes to social media and instead advocated “right-sized engagement.” She observed that “marketers want to be BFFs with their customers, but customers don’t have the time or desire to be BFFs with most brands.”

Next year’s NACS Leadership Forum will again be held in Miami Beach from Feb. 11–13.