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By Linda Lisanti
Years ago, the greatest competitive advantage that convenience stores and gas stations had going was location. Then, it was time of day. Now, it seems to be speed of transaction. So, what will be next?
Top retailer and supplier executives participating in Tuesday's Industry Leaders Roundtable -- which included Garb-Ko Inc. president/CEO Dan Abraham; R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. president/COO Lynn Beasley; E-Z Mart Stores Inc. CEO Sonja Hubbard; The Hershey Co. president/CEO Rick Lenny; McLane Company Inc. president/CEO Grady Rosier; and Wawa Inc. CEO Howard Stoeckel -- advised their fellow operators to ask that question often as the definition of convenience keeps changing.
"What we have to remember is that convenience isn't what it used to be," Hubbard said. "One of my mantras is to remember that we sell convenience, and what today will make our customers' lives easier isn't what will make it easier for future customers."
R.J. Reynolds' Beasley cited a quote from hockey great Wayne Gretzky, who said about his success: "I go to where the puck is going to be." Beasley said it's critical that the industry determines where the consumer is going and get there before the competition.
On competition, the panelists agreed that drug stores pose a significant threat. McLane's Rosier said they already service the female shopper, are a destination point given their selection of drugs, and are expanding rapidly. "All they need now is gas," he noted.
Although, Garb-Ko's Abraham said he thinks there's still time for the convenience channel to solidify its place with consumers and gain back lost market share. "They (the drug stores) have got the product, but haven't yet figured out how to merchandise it."
To keep winning customers, the industry must invest in its people, according to the panel. Treating people well will deliver the results, Beasley told the audience.
To illustrate that point, Stoeckel spoke of the geese in Wawa's logo. He said geese fly in formations because they fly 70 percent farther this way; they're constantly honking so the leaders in the front can communicate with those in the back; and if a goose gets hurt, it's always escorted to the ground by two to three other geese.
"Everything is based on team at Wawa," Stoeckel added.