Independent Operators Sound off in NACS Webinar

ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- Single-store owners want first dibs on new products and programs, and more support and communication in general from the supplier community, according to the independent operators who participated in yesterday's NACS Webinar entitled "How to Sell to Small Operators."

Rahim Budhwani, CEO of 6040 LLC, recalled experiences at trade shows when he would talk with a company, and as soon as he mentions he has two convenience stores, the representative disappears to talk with the person behind him with 50 stores.

"We need more customer service from manufacturers," Budhwani said during the Webinar, noting suppliers can make the most impact by bringing new products to single-store operators (defined by NACS as operating three stores or less).

"When you bring that new product in, I would love it if you market it first to single stores because we are the largest segment, and it is very easy for us to execute a new program. We can market it faster, and we are very aggressive in marketing," he noted.

When it comes to seeking out information on the latest products and trends, Kent Couch, owner and operator of Stop & Go Mini Mart/Shell, said he looks to his wholesaler, as well as industry newsletters, such as the Convenience Store News Daily Newsletter.

Single-store owners are more dependent on their wholesalers than chain operators are, which is why Couch urged the manufacturers on the line to be more proactive with the wholesaler community. "They're the ones who are going to come to us," he explained. "It frustrates me when I go to a [competing] store and see a great new item there, I go back to my wholesaler and ask about it, and they say 'oh yeah, we have it.'"

Despite these challenges, the retailers said single-store owners -- who make up 61 percent of the industry, or about 90,000 stores, and 62 percent of total merchandise ACV (all commodities volume) -- have several competitive advantages.

For instance, 7-Eleven franchisee Iris Yost, who has five 7-Eleven stores in Las Vegas doing business as Yost Family 7-Elevens, said independents know their customers better, can deliver superior customer service, and can execute and change with the times faster.

Couch agreed: "We can identify each customer, and have a relationship with each one. Chains can't do that because they have to rely on store managers and district managers. None of them have the passion to survive like I do day to day," he said.

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