ALEXANDRIA, Va. — In 1969, there were 11,000 convenience stores nationwide, with approximately $2.3 billion in sales, according to the Convenience Store News Industry Report from that year.
Fast forward to 2019 and there are approximately 153,237 convenience stores operating in the United States, with $661.4 billion in sales. Convenience stores account for more than one-third of the total brick-and-mortar retail universe in the U.S., according to Nielsen.
So, what will the next 50 years bring for convenience retailing? To help answer this question, Convenience Store News tapped leading c-store industry authorities.
Here is what Henry “Hank” Armour, president and CEO of NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, had to say:
What is the single biggest difference between when you started your career in the convenience store industry and now?
Armour: I have seen two very significant differences. One: the products have changed as brands and consumer tastes have evolved. But also because our industry has innovated its offer by adding fuel and restaurant-quality food, to name two significant developments.
Two: our industry has a more positive image today, largely because NACS members are more engaged with advocacy efforts to educate members of Congress about their business and how regulations and legislation can greatly impact their ability to serve their customers.
The leadership of organizations like NACS and publications like Convenience Store News deserve a lot of credit for these two changes.
What areas do you expect to produce the greatest innovations in the coming years?
Armour: Convenience, convenience, convenience. We sell time, however the consumer defines it. But it’s important to recognize that all retailers, regardless of channel, also sell convenience and compete for the same customers.
Frictionless checkout, the growth of e-commerce, mobile payments, one-stop shopping and delivery are certainly dominating the conversation and changing the business model of many brick-and-mortar retailers. The innovations that will stand the test of time will best combine convenience with technology, with a strong focus on the most important element: connecting with the customer, whether online, at the point of sale or in the community.
What are some ways you expect the c-store industry to be different 50 years from now?
Armour: Our industry has been defined by serving people where they are, whether at convenient locations on street corners or off highways. Our industry will continue to serve customers even as advances in new fuels, vehicle powertrains and evolving consumer trends in transportation and mobility change what it means to be a “convenient” store.
And there could be new definitions of convenience that go well beyond the technologies we see today, which I believe will radically redefine where the point of sale between the convenience store and the customer ultimately resides.