Independent Grocers Taking Aim at C-stores

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Independent Grocers Taking Aim at C-stores

By Joan Driggs, EnsembleIQ - 03/01/2016

LAS VEGAS — Independent grocers have convenience stores on their radar.

An educational session at this week’s The 2016 NGA Show, hosted by the National Grocers Association (NGA), discussed the need for independent grocers to compete against convenience stores and provided some key takeaways on how to successfully do so.

Panelists representing leading independent grocers such as Niemann Foods, Buche Foods and Docs Food Stores pointed out that convenience stores are continually upping their food retailing game with more grab-and-go and fresh prepared items. Independent grocers need to stay competitive to remain the go-to destination for shoppers, whether they’re on a weekly fill-up trip or a quick stop on their way from work.

Nine-store chain Docs Food Stores, based in Bixby, Okla., has moved many convenience items to the front of its stores, including beverages and quick meals, according to speaker Courtney Brown, vice president and chief operating officer. The chain also added an express register to help customers make a quick purchase, he shared.

Additionally, Docs takes advantage of low-priced meal deals from its hot bar and utilizes outdoor seasonal displays — such as a farm-stand truck — to communicate that its stores have more to offer than traditional convenience stores.

Brown stressed that having enough staffing is critical because customers don’t want to wait in line ever, but especially when they’re on a quick trip, it could be a deal breaker.

RF Buche, president of Buche Foods, a South Dakota chain of grocery and convenience stores (some of which offer fuel) told NGA Show attendees that rethinking your basic grocery retail strategies is key to success. Appealing to convenience shoppers means putting yourself in their shoes — not just in terms of what assortment might appeal, but also the experience.

Clean bathrooms are not to be underestimated, he noted. Buche Foods brags that it cleans its restrooms seven times a day. The company has even hosted manager bathroom-decorating contests.

Niemann Foods, based in Quincy, Ill., has about 100 stores under its umbrella, including grocery, convenience, hardware and pet stores. Rich Niemann III, director of convenience operations, discussed the company’s recent evolution in its convenience business. 

The company underwent an evaluation about five years ago to determine the best place to invest and reinvent. The result is Harvest Market, two convenience stores with a focus on fresh prepared foods.

Harvest Market features sandwiches, soups and other fresh items prepared daily; hot and cold fountain beverages; and self-serve Sweet Berry frozen yogurt and toppings.

Like Buche Foods, Harvest Market makes use of its fuel operations to drive customers into the store. “Consider that 60-70 percent of fuel customers might not go inside,” Niemann said.

The company makes use of extensive advertising at the fuel pumps to promote meal deals and other items that are typically not available at convenience stores. “Fresh really sets the tone,” he said, and helps the company bounce its convenience shoppers to grocery shoppers.

The 2016 NGA Show is taking place Feb. 28 through March 2 at Las Vegas’ Mirage Hotel & Casino. The annual event brings together independent retailers and wholesalers, food retail industry executives, food/consumer packaged goods manufacturers, and service providers for opportunities to learn, engage, share, network and innovate.

The National Grocers Association is the only industry association devoted exclusively to the needs of independent grocers.