LOS ALTOS, Calif. — Convenience stores are collectively a growing power in the retail sector, but four chains in particular are standing out, according to a new report from foot traffic analytics firm Placer.ai.
Based on several metrics, Buc-ee's, Maverik — Adventure's First Stop, Sheetz Inc. and Wawa Inc. are outperforming the wider c-store segment.
Lake Jackson, Texas-based Buc-ee's topped the list of c-stores with strong summer visit peaks in 2023, with further analysis showing that the company has sustained elevated visits for several years.
Compared to a baseline of January 2019, Buc-ee's visit growth has outperformed the wider c-store space nearly every month with the only exception being April 2020, the height of the early COVID-19 pandemic. Buc-ee's may not be the largest c-store chain, but its more limited footprint also contributes to its cult following and gives each new location a greater foot traffic impact, according to Placer.ai.
Buc-ee's operates more than 40 locations. The retailer kicked off a multistate expansion plan in 2019. In 2022, Buc-ee's broke ground or began operations in four new states: South Carolina, Colorado, Tennessee and Missouri.
MAVERIK — ADVENTURE'S FIRST STOP
Salt lake City-based Maverik — Adventure's First Stop has an opportunity to diversify its audience through its recent acquisition of Kum & Go, operator of 400-plus stores in 13 states, but it also has a number of other growth drivers, such as planned expansion into Montana in 2024.
Taking into account visits to Maverik since 2019, the retailer appears to be winning the long game, Placer.ai said. In 2023, the chain has consistently outperformed the wider c-store space in monthly year-over-year visit growth, suggesting it is one of the strongest c-store chains coming out of the pandemic era.
Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz Inc. has been aggressively expanding for several years — recently reaching its milestone 700th c-store on Sept. 12 — and shows no signs of slowing down. Its first store opening in Michigan and a planned $145 million distribution center in Ohio are two notable moves in its multistate growth plan.
Sheetz's expansion is especially impressive because visits to new locations don't appear to cannibalize existing foot traffic, according to the report. Throughout 2023, Sheetz has experienced positive visits per venue growth while outperforming the wider c-store space. This indicates that Sheetz c-stores consistently drive increased traffic, putting it in a good position as it enters competitive markets.
Because the c-store space is highly regional, there are opportunities for multiple players to find success in localized markets, according to Pacer.ai. This enables chains to curate their offerings to specific audiences, matching convenience with local preferences. As expansions and mergers heat up in the channel, competition will as well as regional brands encroach on the territory of rivals.
Pennsylvania-based Wawa Inc. has gotten significant attention for the brand's visit growth and its ability to funnel visits from the quick-service restaurant segment, which has also boosted Wawa's standing in the larger c-store category, according to Placer.ai. The chain's share of total visits increased from 12.8 percent to 17.6 percent in the second quarter of 2023.
The retailer continues to innovate and provide new levels of convenience, such as its fully digital prototype store, which could be the next leap that drives more traffic, said Placer.ai.
Wawa operates 1,000 c-stores throughout the Northeast and Florida. The company has also broken ground on locations in North Carolina and Alabama — Wawa's first forays into those states. The retailer currently has plans to double its footprint within the next decade.
Headquartered in Los Altos, Placer.ai is the first platform that fully empowers professionals in retail, commercial real estate, hospitality, economic development, and more to truly understand and maximize their offline activities.