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NACS Show 2012 Gets Off to an Educational Start

LAS VEGAS -- NACS Show 2012 kicked off today with a focus on education. Attendees to the convenience store industry's largest trade show had their pick of 35 educational sessions, covering topics ranging from payment technologies to branding to staff development.

The Future Payments Landscape

With several new payment technologies available to convenience store retailers, it's difficult to determine which will win out during the next five years, according to the four-person panel at the educational session entitled, "Future Payment Landscape."

Near Field Communications (NFC); quick-response (QR) codes; Europay, MasterCard and Visa (EMV); and geolocation technologies were all discussed, with the focus primarily on the latter two technologies.

EMV was the most hotly debated, with panelists questioning if it will be the go-to payment technology in the future. "The jury is out if EMV will make it in the United States due to its complexity and cost," said Gray Taylor, executive director of PCATS.

Patrick Gauthier, head of product strategy and business operations, retail services for PayPal Inc., said he thinks EMV will someday have a place in the American landscape. However, the emerging payment technology his company is most excited about is geolocation.

"Geolocation has a lot of promise," he said. "It gives you the ability to know a person is coming into your store and you can identify them. That allows you to provide a personalized experience for them."

Big Branding Ideas for Small Chains

A lot of retailers think that if they don't have a large number of stores, like a 7-Eleven or Wawa, then branding is out of the question. But that's not true, as presenters during the "Branding a Small Fish in a Big Sea" educational session discussed.

"All great brands stand for something," explained Terry McKenna, principal at Employee Performance Strategies Inc. "The most trustworthy brands in the world build relationships with their customers."

  Building a brand is something that Lisa Dell Alba, president and CEO of Square One Markets Inc., knows about. The family-owned company operates nine stores in northeast Pennsylvania and as an independent operator, the branding process is a quest, she said.

An important first step in that quest is putting yourself in your customers' shoes and thinking about what it is like to shop in your stores, Dell Alba noted. Hiring the right employees is also key to branding, she said, adding that retailers need to make the most of their employees.

Steve Jones, president of Johnny Junxions in Bedford, Ind., agreed. "You don't have to spend a lot of money," he said, reiterating that "employees are the best assets we have."

Building a Strong Lineup

At the "Filling Your Roster With Heavy Hitters" session, two retailers emphasized the importance of recruiting smartly and having a clear training plan to promote from within.

Gregory Donoghue, vice president of human resources for Tedeschi Food Shops, likened store management to sports management, noting that having a strong understanding of a store's lineup will help retailers deal with both existing and future needs.

"Don't just keep a list of your people," he advised.

Additionally, Murphy Oil USA's Karin Beezley, manager of training and organizational development, shared the company's process for hiring and training associates from the cashier level all the way up to district managers. Employees go through extensive hands-on training to learn what drives the chain's culture, with the end goal being to provide clear growth opportunities for high-performing employees.

Smaller c-store chains, too, are just as capable of providing training that will encourage their workforce to strive for excellence as large chains, according to Beezley. "You can do a lot with a little," she said.

Health Care Hardships

Retailers who think their employee health insurance costs are going up due to Obamacare ain't seen nothing yet, said Daniel Maniaci, president of an insurance services company that bears his name and one of the presenters at "A California Perspective on Health Care."

Maniaci warned that small businesses can expect huge premium increases and higher administrative burdens by the time the controversial health care law goes into effect fully in 2014.

Foodservice Globally

U.S. c-stores aren't the only ones putting an increased focus on foodservice. In a session entitled "Global Foodservice Marketplace," two leading international retailers spoke about their efforts to grow sales and margins with more expansive food offers.

Ina Strand, executive vice president of Statoil Fuel and Retail, the Norwegian-based oil company recently acquired by Canada-based Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc., explained how the retailer is converting fuel customers to food and drink customers.

Graeme Liebenberg, of Franchisee Fruit and Veg City Holdings, then talked about how the company executed its FreshStop concept inside Caltex fuel centers in South Africa.

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