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ATLANTA — NIMBY: Not In My Backyard. BANANAS: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything (or Anyone). No matter what acronym you use, convenience store retailers often find opposition when looking to open new locations.
Part of the opposition has to do with people's perception of the channel, noted Jeff Lenard, vice president of strategic initiatives at NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing.
Speaking at the "Overcoming NIMBY" educational session at the 2016 NACS Show, taking place this week in Atlanta, Lenard explained that he does a Google News search each day for two terms: convenience stores and gas stations. The results for convenience stores is not good, and gas stations is worse, he said.
Still, despite the less-than-flattering headlines the channel grabs, NACS surveys routinely find that consumers are generally "very positive about our industry," he said. For example, 71 percent of consumers indicate convenience stores share their values.
Unfortunately, it's the other 29 percent who typically show up at municipal meetings to oppose new c-stores opening in their neighborhoods.
"Over 90 percent of millennials love us, but usually a 20-something-year-old is doing something else than showing up at [municipal] hearings," Lenard said.
With this in mind, NACS and convenience store retailers are working to change how the community-at-large views the industry.
LISTEN TO THE OPPOSITION
Dave Carpenter, president and CEO of J.D. Carpenter Cos. Inc. in Des Moines, has had a lot of experience facing and overcoming opposition. Speaking on the same NACS Show panel, he offered fellow retailers some crucial tips to fighting NIMBY.
"It is incredibly important before you even enter one meeting, or put a property under contract, to know the situation," Carpenter explained.
Getting zoning changes for a new location is most challenging. Other roadblocks include city planning and neighborhood associations, he added.
"The good news is with passion and hard work, you won't win every time, but you can usually outwork everyone else," said Carpenter.
He also advised c-store retailers not to fight everything, adding "it took me a long time to learn" and to listen to what the opposition wants. Sometimes, the opposition has some ideas.
Another tip: Fight like you would fight for your family. "We do care. We do want to be good community businesses," he said.
The good news, according to Carpenter, is that with the high approval rating by millennials "the tide is turning" for NIMBYism when it comes to c-stores.
As director of real estate, southern region, for Sheetz Inc., Jamie Gerhart has been busy the past few years as the Altoona, Pa.-based convenience store retailer builds up its presence in the South, particulary North Carolina. He told the session's attendees that sometimes it's just about telling the facts and being nice.
"Being fair and being nice. It may sound simple, but it works," he said.
According to Gerhart, retailers facing community opposition should go into meetings knowing what they are willing to do. "If you have that list, it becomes a checkoff instead of an emotional decision," he advised.
He also noted that it's best to stay away from emotionally charged words — like war or fight — when describing efforts to overcome NIMBYism.
"Unfortunately, someone is going to achieve their goals and someone isn't," Gerhart said. "We're the professionals in the room and we have to go out with facts and common sense."
The 2016 NACS Show, hosted by NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, wraps up Oct. 21 at Atlanta's Georgia World Congress Center.