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Road Trippin' to Great Customer Experiences

Social and community connections shine through on day two of the 2023 NACS Show.
Don Rhoads speaking at the 2023 NACS Show

ATLANTA — Working in the convenience store industry may have changed, but the impact of the channel on the life of U.S. consumers has not.

NACS 2023-24 Chairman Don Rhoads, president and CEO of The Convenience Group LLC, Vancouver, Wash., kicked off the Oct. 4 general session at the 2023 NACS Show talking about his early career working the night shift at a c-store next to a strip club to illustrate his empathy for the frontline workers.

"The job was complicated and complex then, and while technology has helped efficiency, it's also added complications," he said.

According to Rhoads, inventory rules, legacy systems and government regulations have also placed a burden on c-store workers like never before. "So, as chairman, I visited more than 80 stores in the United States and Ireland specifically to thank our frontline people," he noted.

To support that general session's theme of customer experience, Rhoads turned to three popular social media personalities who have made a mark promoting the great food experiences to be found at the nation's independent convenience stores.

Social Connections

Stephanie Stuckey, who three years ago bought back her family's nearly defunct but iconic Georgia-based Stuckey's roadside shop; Stafford Shurden, a former farmer and owner of Stafford's Market and Deli in Mississippi; and Al Herbert, a video personality who reviews food at local c-stores as the Gas Station Gourmet, discussed the keys to success for community-oriented, convenience store retailers.

Shurden, who also stars in a social media video series he calls "Gas Station Tailgate Review" started his journey by going store-to-store comparing his own gas station food with others. His motto was that "our gas station food is better than your restaurant food."

Stuckey, whose original store opened in 1937 and pre-dates many of the most well-known c-stores and travel centers of today, said that telling her company's story through a road trip was the best way to gain attention. "A road trip represents freedom, fun and independence," she said. "You can find fun at gas stations along with great, affordable food."

The three talked about their road trip experiences as well as the non-c-store oddities they encountered along the way, such as a roadside castle in Hattiesburg, Tenn., a psychic goat and a historical marker for a UFO sighting in Mississippi.

Herbert said that the most successful stores make customers feel like the store is "their" place. "Do fun stuff and post it on Facebook. One store does a customer of the week, who gets free coffee, a muffin and their photo posted online.  Another does a speed eating contest," he said. "Something happens every day in your store that will make a great social media post. You need to use it to your advantage."

Creating a great customer experience is about "telling stories, not selling," said Stuckey. "Keep it authentic, interesting and relevant."

Community Connections

NACS President and CEO Henry Armour closed the session noting that to him, c-store also stands for "community" store. "We are in every community around the country, around the world and often around the corner."

He pointed out the many ways that NACS helps its members be great community partners.

  • On nutrition, NACS has partnered with Partnership for a Healthy America and other food-forward groups.
  • NACS partnership with the American Red Cross led to the creation of 24/7 Day to support first responders.
  • NACS partnered with the Good Jobs Institute to address labor issues in the industry.

One big issue that illustrates NACS community-mindedness is preventing youth access to age-restricted products. More than $17 billion of alcohol is consumed by minors and 3 million minors say they have used tobacco.

"With our industry's 54 million transactions for age-restricted products, even a 95 percent success rate doesn't cut it today," said Armour. "The industry needed a tech solution that is safe, secure and built for the future — that means on your phone."

In response, NACS created TruAge, developed by the industry, for the industry. TruAge is already supported by retailers representing 35,000 c-stores. It also is supported by the major alcohol and tobacco companies, as well as tech provider Verifone.

"We are encouraging other tech providers to join us in getting TruAge embedded in their systems," he said, adding that California has selected TruAge as its age verification for digital driver's licenses. "In California, they can use their driver's license to purchase age-restricted products with their mobile license. I urge you to bring TruAge to your customers."

The 2023 NACS Show is Oct. 3 through Oct. 6 at Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta.

About the Author

Don Longo

Don Longo is Editorial Director Emeritus of Convenience Store News. He joined the brand in 2005. With the highest recognition of any c-store industry media journalist, Don has given presentations to business groups throughout the U.S., Europe and South America, appeared as a guest on Fox Business News and National Public Radio, and is a highly sought source for major consumer and business news.

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