GOLDSBORO, N.C. -- As a new generation of leadership takes the helm at c-store chains and independent operations across the country, one theme is certain, that of technology.
John Strickland Jr., president of Goldsboro, N.C.-based Wayne Oil Co. and a third-generation operator, sees the best chains reinventing the channel, taking emphasis from the gas-and-smokes stereotype to building new expectations and showing customers the c-store's true value.
John Strickland Jr.He said he believes customer interaction and emerging technologies will be the critical elements, influencing the shape and form of convenience retail in the future. "Until someone figures out how to download a tank of gas, we're still a brick and mortar business," he said, believing that as dashboard technology advances, cars will automatically interact with pumps to identify drivers, run transactions and even order hot dogs. "It's how the store interacts with the car or truck or vehicle is what's going to change dramatically."
As a way to illustrate an important, transitional period in the channel's history, CSP magazine interviewed more than a dozen new industry leaders, detailing their insights and revelations in its February cover story, "The Kids Are All Right."
"Those retiring or transitioning to their sons or daughters go back to a time when the industry was far simpler," said Steve Montgomery, president of c-store consulting firm b2b Solutions, Lake Forrest, Ill. "We've seen manual cash registers move to electronic and then to scanning. We've seen marketing go from gut to analytics. We've seen a well-equipped facility go from a 1,500-square-foot store with two dispensers to 6,000 square feet and 16 fueling positions."
The new generation's advantage is that today's standards are all they've ever known, Montgomery said, emphasizing that in years past, the industry has been quick to jump on fads but slow to change its fundamental business. Today, the fundamentals are in constant flux, going from "center store to wall, replenishment to refreshment, from goods to services."
Strickland, who runs a 14-store chain under the Ballpark Stores name, said, "There's a new interest in focusing on customer service and things we've traditionally not focused on."
That metamorphosis, he says, starts from within. "We have internal customers as well," he said, commenting on the leadership role that lies ahead. "I'm always trying to figure out … how I can serve them better--teach, train and try to develop that vision and how they can start thinking differently about what they do."
It's a task that requires an overarching perspective. "Operations, marketing, supply have their vantage points, but my job is helping to figure out how the pieces of our company integrate to service the consumer better and drive value in what we do," he said.