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In this issue's article on rising credit-card interchange fees, we describe MasterCard's recent announcement that it would post its rate schedule online and place a cap on the fees it charges retailers who accept cards for fuel purchases as a "tipping point" that may lead to some relief for c-store operators. As our story points out, the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) played and continues to play a pivotal role in bringing this issue to a head and is to be commended for its efforts.
Whether MasterCard's action leads to lower fees is unknown, but as the industry gathers for the annual NACS Show this month it occurs to us that c-store retailers are facing a number of "tipping points."
Of course, The Tipping Point is the title of a book by Malcolm Gladwell that presents a way of understanding why change happens as quickly and as unexpectedly as it does. The basic point is that ideas, behaviors and products sometimes behave just like outbreaks of infectious disease, and these social epidemics can start from the smallest and unlikeliest of sources.
Look around the landscape today and you can see several outbreaks of new ideas and coming trends that will revolutionize your business in the near future. Indeed, in this edition of Convenience Store News, you can find a compendium of articles covering these eruptions.
Take our cover story on gas prices, for example. Only a couple of months ago, the thrust of the story would have been the negative ramifications of $4-a-gallon gasoline. Now, with prices moderating, senior editor Barbara Francella points out that retailers should not let themselves be lulled into a state of false security. Retailers must be prepared for even more volatile gas prices in the year ahead.
In Taking the Exit (page 64), Barbara presents four case studies exploring another trend that is reaching epidemic proportions: the increasing number of c-store operators who are cashing out, selling their stores and moving on with their lives. Their reasons for selling may hit home for many of you, or they may re-energize you to drive your business to new heights. While Barbara's article explores the decisions faced by small chain retailers around selling their businesses, an article by staff writer Linda Lisanti illustrates the ramifications of another side to the constant churn of c-store ownership. In The Shifting Culture of Convenience (page 77), Linda reveals how many big chains are selling individual stores to new Americans and why this industry presents such an opportunity to these hard-working immigrants.
Another tipping point appears to be occurring in retailers' expansion strategies. For years, retailers sought out the best up-and-coming suburban locations by following new home-building trends and big-box retail development. Now, it appears many are taking another look at downtown locations. Last month, a coalition of retailers formed the Inner City Retail Advisory Group to discuss strategies for security, community interaction, and workforce training which are unique to inner city retail operations. Our Urban C-Stores section (page 84) profiles two very different retailers who have embraced the challenge of operating in urban environments.
Talk about an epidemic: Tesco's impending invasion of the U.S. will spread changes throughout the market. To provide insight on what to expect when the British retail powerhouse hits this continent, CSNews went across the Atlantic to tap the expertise of a London-based consultant with an intimate understanding of the inner workings of this successful international retailer (page 101).
We've only mentioned a fraction of the articles in this issue dealing with change in the industry. We've identified the "tipping points," now it's up to you to make the important business decisions to profit from them.