NATIONAL REPORT — Convenience stores are an important retail format across the nation, but much of their strength lies in how well they meet the needs and cater to the preferences of customers in a particular region. Even when they expand beyond their original market, establishing a strong foothold sets them up for success on a grander scale.
Buc-ee's and Sheetz are two c-store chains that are successful in their regions and have grown into leading brands, according to a new Placer.ai report. They are among 10 regional powerhouses that, although they have taken different approaches to expansion, are all well-positioned for future growth.
Key takeaways from the report include:
BUC-EE'S BUCKS TRENDS
The Lake Jackson, Texas-based retailer operates the largest c-store in the world in New Braunfels, Texas, but Buc-ee's is differentiated by more than its size. The company's stores also stand out for their amenities, starting with the retailer's famously clean bathrooms and continuing with its wide variety of food options. Buc-ee's also benefits from Texas having the highest concentration of truck drivers.
Based on foot traffic data, Buc-ee's is outperforming the c-store category nationwide. In January 2023, visits to Buc-ee's were 112.1 percent higher than three years prior, compared to a 22.8 percent increase over the same time period for the c-store market nationwide.
Buc-ee's has also seen an increase in its share of longer visits over the past three years, possibly as a result of customers lingering to enjoy breakfast tacos, bakery items and the in-store jerky bar.
CONSUMERS ARE FREAKZ FOR SHEETZ
Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz is a beloved enough chain to have a fan podcast devoted to it called 'Freakz in the Sheetz' and to count U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) among its outspoken appreciators. The company is also helping to drive the focus on foodservice among c-stores, with an array of made-to-order prepared food items turning Sheetz stores into more of a dining destination than a place to get gas. Comparing the typical visitor journey at Sheetz compared to other popular c-store and gas station chains indicates that its food is a strong draw, according to the report.
In 2022, just 4.3 percent of Sheetz visitors continued to a dining location immediately after their store visits, compared to 6.3 percent for 7-Eleven, 8.1 percent for QuikTrip and 8.3 percent for Circle K.
Monthly visits have also increased significantly in recent years, according to the report. In December 2022 and January 2023, foot traffic was up 50.4 percent and 47.7 percent, respectively, compared to three years prior. With consumers still thinking about inflation and rising food prices, the ability to buy a quick, fresh meal while fueling up may be a welcome and affordable indulgence for budget-conscious consumers.
Placer.ai concluded that by building a presence from the ground up while maintaining a strong focus on the customer experience, powerhouse brands are able to capitalize on their local recognition, foster loyalty, and gain insights into the preferences and behaviors of their local markets.
Additionally, companies with an established regional presence have demonstrate their ability to adapt to local conditions and effectively navigate the intricacies of regional market dynamics. This provides solid footing for national expansion. Accordingly, investors and stakeholders in search of the next top national brand may want to consider the companies that have established robust regional roots.
Los Altos, Calif.-based Placer.ai tracks retail foot traffic and provides location analytics.