Beyond Bubba

Discussion
Apr 28, 2005
George Anderson

By George Anderson

Convenience stores once were the place to gas up, and buy smokes and beer. They were a Bubba paradise.

Today, Bubbas can still get in their pickup trucks and drive to the convenience store to find processed meat and other delicacies of the modern diet to delight the palate.

Unlike the past, however, they may find they have to park next to a Cadillac or expensive import when they get there. They are also likely to smell something other than hot dogs
on the roller or fried chicken under the heat lamp when they enter the store. Today’s convenience stores are broadening their offerings to appeal to more sophisticated tastes with
gourmet foodservice offerings and fresh food departments.

Stuart Lowry, marketing director for The Markets of Tiger Fuel, a convenience store chain in Virginia, told The Associated Press, “We’re trying to make these stores destinations rather than convenience stops. If you choose to just get in and get gas you can. If you want to sit down and have a gourmet meal, you can do that, too.”

More and more convenience stores are moving in this direction as they find the market for cigarettes getting smaller and competition for gas putting pressure on profitability.

For many, the answer has been to upgrade their foodservice operations. Jeff Lenard, a spokesperson for the National Association of Convenience Stores, said, “Most retailers will tell you they can make more money off a 12-ounce cup of coffee than a 12-gallon fill-up.”

Better tasting coffee isn’t the only draw. As a wide variety of operators, big chains to independents, expand their food offerings beyond items found in the typical Bubba diet, customers may be tempted by such items as artisanal cheeses, sushi and hot meals prepared by chefs for takeout or to be enjoyed in the store.

The increased emphasis on foodservice has meant more space and manpower is being dedicated in stores to take care of Barbie as well as Bubba. According to the National Restaurant Association, 80 percent of convenience stores now prepare food onsite.

Moderator’s Comment: What does it take to succeed in the convenience store business today? Can convenience stores
succeed by leaving Bubba behind? What operators do you think have been most successful in anticipating changes in the consumer and competitive market and why?

George Anderson – Moderator

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14 Comments on "Beyond Bubba"


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Bernice Hurst
Guest
15 years 10 months ago
As I said earlier this week, c-stores and gas stations go hand in hand in the UK but I have never yet seen one that sold any food item that I would consider purchasing. Where food is prepared on the premises, it is simply heated in a microwave. Chilled products that can be heated by customers in the microwave are also available. Everything is packaged although there is the odd piece of fresh fruit – usually so well chilled that it has almost certainly lost all flavour. The same applies to sandwiches. If c-stores at your end are starting to offer well cooked food from good chefs, lots of fresh and gourmet options then good luck to them. It’s certainly novel and potentially lucrative – I’m sure there’s an audience out there. Add in some of the imported products that we are talking about elsewhere on the site and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if shoots of loyalty didn’t start sprouting all over the place. Quality is what would count to supplement the convenience… Read more »
M. Jericho Banks PhD
Guest
M. Jericho Banks PhD
15 years 10 months ago

Gourmet meals at the gas station? That’ll definitely leave Bubba behind. But why would you want to? (Except, of course, for the big puddles they leave when they change oil in your parking lot.)

And therein lies the “essential fluids” rule for C-Store success: Never run out of gas (and oil), beer, or soda. These products are the main draw and profit generators for C-Stores, like plastic doo-dads are the core business for Dollar Stores. These are the traffic-generators, and Bubba likes ’em all.

Ryan Mathews
Guest
15 years 10 months ago

I’m not quite prepared to walk away from bubba. If I were in the C-store business I’d worry less about inventory mix and more about how to convert existing real estate into a broader-based neighborhood store concept aimed at servicing the needs of mobility restricted consumers.

David Livingston
Guest
15 years 10 months ago

Obviously, Wawa is the one to marvel at. However, don’t leave Bubba behind. I was recently at the Tennessee Grocers Association meeting, which is becoming more of a convenience store convention. Vendors selling everything from car washes to Chesterfried chicken were there. The owners of C-stores that attended were “Bubbas” themselves and they know their niche market.

Just like supermarkets, there are different classes of convenience stores. I was at a BP C-store in Louisiana who’s bathroom was so filthy and disgusting that the clerk advised me to go across the street. And it was good advice. Here in Milwaukee, Sendiks, an upscale supermarket operator, has taken over a PDQ store, stocking perishables and prepared foods, while also selling gas.

What it takes to succeed is knowing your customer and catering to their needs… Just like any other business.

Ben Ball
Guest
15 years 10 months ago

What about the possibility that “Bubba’s” tastes are simply changing? There is evolution of the species, you know. And some of those pickup trucks cost a lot more than the Caddies they are parked next to.

Retailers wouldn’t be trying to expand their market to Soccer Mom if Bubba wasn’t willing to come along, at least they wouldn’t try it for long because “Bubba” is still the base of their profitability. You won’t see him at the opera any time soon, but take a peek inside Bubba’s truck and you will probably find a GPS system and a DVD player complementing the gun rack.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
15 years 10 months ago
Bubba is the backbone of the C-store business. Altogether too much time is spent trying to cure a situation that only causes problems and that is attempting to cater to the female shopper. Bubba will put up with anything but hot beer. The help can be grouchy, the floor can be dirty, the prices can be too high, the bathrooms passable. This equates to low overhead and high profits. When you go to the trouble of trying to cater to females, you end up spending more in overhead and, in many cases, lowering prices. A lose/lose situation. My advice – Quit worrying about being politically correct. Keep the beer cold and make money. Let’s face facts. This isn’t a new topic in the C-store industry and a few C-stores seem to make it work – but is the return worth the effort? I don’t think so! All hale Bubba! Spend your time doing market research on “What Bubba Wants” and it’ll provide dividends far beyond anything soccer moms might provide.
neil bourjaily
Guest
neil bourjaily
15 years 10 months ago

The wiser C-store operators realize that American shoppers are out of time. Those same shoppers are in search of healthy ways to feed themselves and their families. If I were a C-store operator, I’d make sure that my stores were the stores of choice for HMR. Nothing speaks of customer service to the out-of-timers than being able to park, walk 30 steps there and back, and drive away. Grocers can’t offer that, big boxes can’t offer that, and the fast food outlets can’t offer taste, health, and variety the way that the C-store can. The Sr. managers of the C-store operators are hiring foodservice people to manage these offerings. No wonder the C-store doesn’t consider the grocer to be the competition.

Stephan Kouzomis
Guest
Stephan Kouzomis
15 years 10 months ago

For those convenience stores that want to broaden their shopper base, knowing what the mobile consumer wants in fresh foods and meals is critical. But, expanding the customer base doesn’t exclude Bubba. Bubba’s income has risen, and he wants many of the fresh products, foods and meals as the possible new shopper.

Researching the traffic flow of shoppers, and the ones that live and work very close to the C-store, is critical, in order to micro market to the target.

Importantly, convenience store owners and operators are looking at the fresh food market, catering, and carry-out operations to sense what consumers want in the “fresh world”. It is more than fast food needs that C-store businesses should be concerned about! Hmmmmmmmmmm.

Karen Kingsley
Guest
Karen Kingsley
15 years 10 months ago

I’m with Warren on this. I don’t think Bubba needs to be, or should be, excluded. At the same time, C-stores are, and already have gone a long way toward expanding their appeal. Both operators and suppliers are working hard to increase product to appeal to women; and the fact is, people who prefer sushi are just as time-pressed as those who prefer jerky. Satisfying both of them need not be mutually exclusive.

Tom Zatina
Guest
Tom Zatina
15 years 10 months ago

Hungry travelers in search of food now take some of these clean, bright convenience stores seriously and, more importantly, trust the offerings they present. On a recent trip to a 7-Eleven, I found a refrigerated case full of attractively packaged and very fresh looking sandwiches, including a southwest style chicken salad on whole wheat bread. I watched as 2 shoppers stopped and, after inspecting the items, grabbed them to go.

Another operator that is presenting great options is WaWa. Their stores are very attractive indeed, and well run.

By the way, that chicken salad sandwich was actually quite good!

Michael L. Howatt
Guest
Michael L. Howatt
15 years 10 months ago

There will always be more Bubba’s in the world than there will be sushi eaters. Part of this is that the majority of G&C stores are located in the south and/or non-urban areas. Expanding their offerings is a nice idea, but soccer mom with a minivan full of kids is still going to go to McDonald’s vs. Circle K for a meal mainly based on price alone. I don’t see a C-store with a Playplace or video arcade anytime in the near future.

Art Williams
Guest
Art Williams
15 years 10 months ago

C-stores can’t afford to leave Bubba behind but they are smart to increase their offerings to attract Barbie as well. They will need both to continue to be competitive in most markets. With the new pressure from grocery stores and club stores selling gas, C-stores need to be innovative and appeal to an ever broader market base. Most stores still have a cleanliness and clutter problem that isn’t expensive to fix. The quality of the clerks is a big issue too. Is it asking too much to be waited on by someone that speaks your language and is understandable? And someone who is friendly and helpful and doesn’t have a bad attitude? And little things like keeping the paper refilled in the receipt dispenser at the pumps so you don’t have to go inside unless you want to.

It is amazing to me that some C-stores stay in business at all with some of the above mentioned problems. Until they fix these issues, it won’t matter what kind of consumers they appeal to.

Len Lewis
Guest
Len Lewis
15 years 10 months ago

For too many years, the drawing power of the convenience store was underestimated by other retailers who thought exactly the same way — that the stores were only good for selling cigarettes and beer to people in pickup trucks.

However, this is a powerful concept that’s being refined. For many years, WaWa convenience stores has been into foodservice in a big way. These are clean, bright stores with excellent quality food, and they attract a broad demographic.

More recently, Exxon developed On The Run C-stores at their gas stations. Some of these are beautiful stores. they are mini supermarkets that are a pleasure to shop and some even have Boar’s Head serviced delis for fresh sandwiches and hot entrees.

I want to know when Wal-Mart will be rolling out its own version of a C-store. It’s got to be coming at some point.

Warren Thayer
Guest
15 years 10 months ago

Just interviewed a half dozen senior execs in the C-store business, and when you talk to them about competition, supermarkets aren’t on their radar — all they want to talk about is fast feeders. (Not really that much the upscale stuff, at least for the most part.) They’re trying to focus on keeping labor costs down and avoiding shrink, and they’re improving. It’s been a healthy transition, thus far. Bubba isn’t left behind, but the transition has made Soccer Mom feel more comfortable going to the C-store, and that’s important. The channel still has its work cut out for it, and I’m not at all convinced that many will succeed with real gourmet food, even though there have been a lot of headlines garnered by the rare C-stores with that type offering.

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