Coined by President John F. Kennedy, the phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats” is mainly used by politicians and economists to convey the idea that if the economy improves, every participant in the economy will be in an improved financial position.
The way I see it, in a perfect world, this phrase can also apply to the U.S. convenience store industry when it comes to the state of the industry’s single-store and small operators vs. the industry’s midsize players and large chains. “Convenience” has become a hot commodity in the age of COVID, putting convenience stores at an advantage. But right now, every participant in the industry is not reaping equal benefits. The rising tide is not lifting all boats.
The number of single-store operators in the convenience channel declined for the fourth straight year in 2021, dropping by another 3.1 percent. While these operators still account for 60.4 percent of all convenience stores, single-store owners made up a record 63.2 percent of the industry in 2017. And this multiyear trend shows no sign of reversing.
According to the third-annual Convenience Store News State of the Small Operator Study, there are more small operators (1-20 stores) who are currently thinking about downsizing or throwing in the towel completely. Roughly 14 percent of the small operators we surveyed said they expect to either decrease their store count or sell all their stores and exit the business by the end of this year — a sharp jump from the 6.8 percent who said the same a year ago.
Given the current retail landscape, I guess it’s not all that surprising to see such a jump. The labor shortage is still ongoing. Supply chain issues continue to plague retailers, distributors and suppliers. Inflation is running rampant. And rising gas prices are threatening the strong summer season that convenience retailers of all sizes were anticipating just a few months ago.
Despite these obstacles and others, though, the majority of the convenience store industry’s small operators are not giving up. They are continuing to invest in bettering their businesses, from rolling out enhanced foodservice options to implementing digital marketing.
For the foreseeable future, “convenience” is going to continue being a key factor for Americans in where they choose to shop, which bodes well for all convenience stores. However, for the tide to rise and lift all boats, there needs to be more support for the industry’s single-store and small operators, and more resources specifically designed and tailored to their unique needs.
Convenience Store News has been doing its part with our annual State of the Small Operator Study, Small Operator content in every issue of the magazine, an entire Small Operator section of our website, and a weekly Small Operator newsletter delivered to inboxes every Monday.
Convenience Store News' mission is to deliver the insights, analysis, market research and business intelligence that helps c-store retailers stay ahead of what's next — and that includes the industry’s single-store owners, small operators, midsize players and large chains.
As the new leader of editorial content for Convenience Store News, this mission is one that I take very seriously, and I am excited to find new, innovative ways to deliver on this mission.