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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The combination of low gas prices, strong consumer confidence and warmer weather will likely continue the year's already strong sales at convenience stores into the second quarter of 2017, according to the results of a survey of c-store owners conducted by NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing.
A significant number of retailers say that low gas prices have grown sales this year, as 47 percent say that low gas prices helped grow in-store sales and 42 percent say that low gas prices grew fuel sales over the first three months of 2017.
Eighty percent of c-store retailers expect in-store sales to increase this summer compared to the summer of 2016, and 57 percent expect their fuel sales to increase compared to last summer.
"Low gas prices will encourage increased traffic on the roads and in our stores," said Terry Handley of Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey's General Stores.
Other c-store operators cited strong consumer confidence, warmer weather and strong employment numbers as being good for sales.
Approximately three quarters of retailers (76 percent) are optimistic about the economy, 73 percent are optimistic about the c-store industry and 73 percent are optimistic about their own business prospects over the next three months. This reflects consumer optimism, as a record 61 percent of consumers said they were optimistic about the economy in the March 2017 NACS Consumer Fuels Survey.
An increasing percentage of retailers are also optimistic about food sales, as 53 percent of all retailers who are optimistic about their business prospects cite food sales as the reason. Additionally, 57 percent of retailers say that sandwiches and meals will grow their sales, with 35 percent citing healthy packaged snacks and 28 percent citing fruits and vegetables, according to NACS.
C-stores also sell more beverages as weather warms up, and retailers are expecting no change in that regard; 63 percent say packaged beverage sales will increase, and 43 percent say both cold and frozen fountain drinks will increase.
"We want to change the customer mindset from a location of fuel with food products to a food and beverage destination with fuel products," said Scott Blank of Cape Girardeau, Mo.-based Bi-State Oil Co.
Retailers are also putting more emphasis on store operations. "I expect our growth to come from our efforts to improve our customers' experience through brighter lighting, a clean bright store and friendly service," said Mark Speaks of Gilbert, Ariz.-based Git 'n Run Mobil.
The quarterly NACS Retailer Sentiment Survey tracks retailer sentiment related to their businesses, the industry and the economy as a whole. A total of 79 member companies, representing a cumulative 3,281 stores, participated in the March 2017 survey.