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ALEXANDRIA, Va. — The convenience channel has registered a strong nine months so far this year and optimism is up on higher in-store and motor fuel sales.
According to the most recent NACS Retailer Sentiment Survey, more than two in three convenience retailers said in-store sales in the first nine months of 2016 were higher compared to the same period last year. Additionally, three in five said motor fuels sales were higher compared to the nine months of 2015.
Conversely, only 9 percent of retailers said in-store sales were lower and 14 percent said fuel sales were lower over the first nine months of 2016 vs. year ago, stated NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing.
Strong convenience store sales also pushed retailer optimism higher. Nearly three in four convenience retailers — or 73 percent — said they are optimistic about their own business prospects in the fourth quarter, up from 68 percent who said they were optimistic last quarter, the association found.
Retailers cited new foodservice offers and the continued growth of craft beer and growler sales at c-stores as factors driving retailer optimism.
Specifically, Linda Herrera at Grand View General Store in Tetonia, Idaho, said the store's fresh food offering is expected to drive sales. Labrine Voutsinas at Bayshore Breeze Market & Grill in Dunedin, Fla., said beer sales are expected to grow.
C-stores are also embracing technology to enhance the experience. Mark Nelson at Dyno's Convenience Store in Spencer, Iowa, said the retailer is expecting to increase consumer traffic with a new rewards program.
Looking toward the fourth quarter, retailers said the holidays, coupled with good weather and continued low oil prices — if they happen — should help grow sales.
According to NACS, surveyed retailers were nearly as optimistic about the overall industry's prospects. More than seven in 10 (71 percent) said they are optimistic about the convenience retailing industry over the fourth quarter, up 8 points from the previous quarter.
A majority of retailers (53 percent) say they are optimistic about the overall U.S. economy, a 6-point jump from last quarter, the association added.
The factor most cited as affecting sales in the fourth quarter was the upcoming election.
"Traditionally, consumer sentiment — and spending — decreases in the weeks before an election before rebounding," said NACS Vice President of Strategic Industry Initiatives Jeff Lenard. "But retailers also expressed concerns about how the election will shape legislation and regulations related to their businesses."
However, several retailers are finding ways to engage customers during the election season. 7-Eleven Inc. is conducting its 7-Election, encouraging consumers to pick the coffee cup that reflects their vote. The promotion has accurately predicted the past four presidential elections, and current results reflect a dead heat for the 2016 election.
"We're also using the election as a promotional opportunity," said Dennis McCartney with Landhope Farms Corp. in Kennett Square, Pa. "In this business, you have to capitalize on everything that surrounds you and your customers."
The quarterly NACS Retailer Sentiment Survey tracks retailer sentiment related to their businesses, the industry and the economy as a whole. A total of 115 member companies, representing a cumulative 1,728 stores, participated in the September survey.