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    C-store Stops Part of Summer Vacationers' Plans

    Gas, drink and snack purchases are among the top reasons for visits.

    ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- With one week to go before the unofficial start of summer, consumers around the country are beginning to map out their vacation plans. For many of these travelers, convenience store stops will be on the itinerary.

    According to this month's NACS Consumer Fuels Survey, 85 percent of vacationers surveyed will be traveling by car and more than four out of five (82 percent) will be stopping at a c-store along the way.

    Besides gas purchases, 59 percent of survey respondents said they will buy drinks, 59 percent will use the bathroom and 55 percent will buy snacks. Vacationers also are much more likely to buy a sandwich or meal (21 percent) or use the ATM (20 percent) in the warmer summer months. Only 4 percent of consumers said they would go inside the store for either of those reasons when surveyed in January, according to NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing.

    Nearly half (45 percent) of all consumers say they plan to take trips outside of their state and 63 percent will take at least six days of vacation this summer, including 10 percent who plan to travel at least 21 days this summer, according to NACS.

    NACS also found that:

    • Consumer pessimism appears to have bottomed out. Fifty-four percent of consumers say they are "pessimistic," the lowest percentage of pessimism recorded all year in NACS' monthly surveys. Relatively stable gas prices may also play a role, as 84 percent say gas prices affect their feelings on the economy.
       
    • Retailers expect stronger sales. More than half (54 percent) of retailers responding to a NACS member survey said store sales so far this year have been above those of the last year and they are even more optimistic about the rest of the year: 68 percent say sales this summer will be higher than in the summer of 2012.
       
    • If it's cold or frozen, it sells. During the summer, retailers most often see a sales increase in packaged beverages (cited by 84 percent of retailers), ice (65 percent), fountain drinks (59 percent), frozen dispensed beverages such as Slurpees (45 percent) and ice cream (38 percent).
       
    • New store offerings add to optimism. Among the new services cited were text alerts to notify loyalty program members of impending gas price increases; propane refill programs; loyalty programs linking gas discounts to in-store sales; and on-site fishing license renewal facilities. Retailers are also excited about new food and beverage programs in their stores, such as locally-grown fresh fruits and produce; fresh-brewed iced coffee and tea; more healthy option items and prepared salads; craft brews and growler fill programs; milkshakes and soft serve frozen yogurt; breakfast empanadas and other Hispanic fare; grab-and-go meals; and even sushi at the deli.

    In addition, nearly half (49 percent) of all retailers say they are optimistic about the economy, and they are even more optimistic about their industry and their own business. Seventy-five percent are optimistic about the convenience store industry and 76 percent say they are optimistic about their own company.

    "[Customers] are somewhat less price sensitive if convenience and customer service are delivered at a high level," said Michael Gonzalez, general manager of Arguindegui Pump-N-Shop in Laredo, Texas.

    This NACS consumer survey was conducted by Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates LLC from May 7-17 and incorporated responses from 90 retailer companies, which range in size from single-store owners to large chains that operate hundreds of stores.

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