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ATLANTA -- Convenience Store News wrapped up the last of a four-day, four-city series of presentations of its Industry Forecast Study findings yesterday in Atlanta. Sam Turner, CEO of Calfee Companies, based in Dalton, Ga., addressed a group of suppliers and retailers on his view of the future of the convenience store industry, following an overview by ACNielsen's James Russo of the U.S. economy and the retail sector, and a presentation of industry insights and the 2004 forecast by Maureen Azzato, publisher of Convenience Store News.
The forecast reveals upward sales trends in key c-store categories and an overall retail outlook more positive than in recent years. However, the gap in performance between top and bottom companies is widening, the study found.
A breakfast meeting in New York City kicked off the four-day series on Monday this week. There, Wawa Inc. Vice President Harry McHugh warned attendees, "You cannot differentiate yourself on gasoline and cigarettes, except for the delivery and presentation of those products. Use gasoline to drive volume. Cigarettes are a low- or no-margin item, also a commodity."
McHugh said Wawa owes its phenomenal success to its strict adherence to the fundamentals of the convenience store industry: the concepts of safe, clean, fast, fresh and friendly. This philosophy, coupled with commitment to outstanding store locations and an "overpowering offer," spell ongoing success for the highly respected c-store chain.
Looking to the future of c-store offerings, McHugh said he sees packaging and lifestyle considerations becoming increasingly important, especially in the beverage category. He also warned the group that c-store operators should carefully monitor the growing concern over obesity among Americans. "We need to have lots of options for our customers: low-fat, low sugar, low-carbohydrate offerings."
McHugh added, "We focus a great deal on customers and what they are thinking. We never stop talking with them."
In Chicago, Mike Zielinski, CEO of Royal Buying Group addressed the breakfast group on Tuesday; Jeff Morris, CEO of Alon USA, gave the retailer perspective to attendees at the Dallas meeting Wednesday.
Convenience Store News magazine will publish the forecast study findings in the January 2004 issue.