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