business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

ATLANTA - There’s a strange dichotomy at the annual convention of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) currently underway here.

First, there’s a tremendous spirit of optimism summed up by the show’s theme of “We Can.” That optimism is evident in many educational sessions as industry sales continue to increase and the channel’s points of differentiation seem to grow stronger. In fact, the exhibit floor itself bristles with the possibilities of new products and services in stores ranging from incredible emphasis on fresh prepared foods and baked goods - which position c-stores as being ever more competitive with supermarkets and fast food chains - as well as with new products in the channel's traditional categories, such as beverages, snacks and more.

Particular exciting to attendees this year is an entire exhibit area focusing on CBD and the range of products (foods and non-foods) that boast the properties of the seemingly “miracle” drug.

But then there are some harsh realities, summed up powerfully in a speech by Jacob Schram, who formerly ran Circle K in Europe. Schram’s session outlined how the changing world of motor vehicles will likely hit convenience stores - an industry that still relies heavily on selling fuel and on its customers' mobility - like an earthquake in the very near future.

According to Schram, there are four key signs that the dominance of the internal combustion engine (ICE) is ending.

• Electric cars, he said, are coming so fast that he expects the wave of change to be larger than the shift from horses to cars in the early 1900s. Already countries as disparate as Norway and China are moving at breakneck speed into electrification, which in turn leads to changes in how vehicles are priced, bought, and, of course, re-fueled.

• Autonomous vehicles, he says, will create significant changes in everything from reducing car accidents to changing how urban real estate is developed. Plus, consumers might start using cars as living and working spaces.

• Connected cars, he says, will be similar to today’s smart phones, with consumers personalizing them through applications and turning them into a useful tool of daily living.

• Shared cars, increasingly popular with younger consumers, create incredible change for family budgets, housing and more.

Schram, who has worked extensively with Volkswagen, says his predictions are based on real world changes he has seen in his work. And his advice to c-store operators was to find ways to aggressively approach this challenges to seize incredible opportunity for new relationships with shoppers as gasoline becomes less important.

One thing was clear. The road upon which the c-store business traditionally has traveled may be coming to an end, and retailers are going to have to find alternative routes if they are to continue moving forward.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.

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