A Fresh Perspective

By
Paul Reuter, Chairman emeritus and contributing editor

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What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas … or not! AWMA asked me to moderate the closing general session—“What’s Driving the Changing Retail Landscape”— of its annual trade show in February. Thanks to the expert panel of Tedeschi CEO Peter Tedeschi, Open Pantry COO Jim Fiene and retail veteran Bill Reilly (who now heads up his own food and beverage consulting firm), the audience got more than it bargained for.

The topic of our discussion was clearly stated. The answer? Well, it lies in the many different strategies retailers operate. But regardless of any individual plan, one thing is universal: the need to grow and retain customer count, both traditional and noncore customers.

As I reflected on the panel’s answers to the many questions asked in AWMA’s pre-conference survey, variations on one theme kept coming to the forefront:

  • Is providing “fresh” products and foodservice generating enough profit? Or does the product line bring in new clientele whose other purchases offset the difference?
  • Can stores make the conversion from traditional stores to food destinations?
  • Do you believe it is changing the public’s image of the c-store to a cleaner, “fresh” and “healthy” one? If we held this panel a decade earlier, perhaps without the emphasis on “fresh,” the questions might in fact have been the same!

So how far have we come in the past decade? Well, for some, it’s miles. Perhaps one indicator is tied to CSP’s upcoming Restaurant Leadership Conference, coming up March 25-28 at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz. When we polled our RLC advisory board about speakers, the desire to have Wawa address our 1,500 attendees was very clear.

Our industry knows about Wawa and our other foodservice category leaders. We know that again this past year, the NACS SOI data echoed that our industry’s “top quartile” performers are strong in the foodservice category.

The AWMA panel candidly addressed the advantages and the risks this way: Foodservice is not a one-size-fits-all solution; it doesn’t work in all stores, nor does it work for all operators. As important is to define what foodservice means in size and scope to you. Just as it’s not for all stores, it’s also not a one-definition category.

After the session, one person told me we spent too much time in our discussion on foodservice. Her opinion is that many cannot compete, and that if we keep banging this drum too loudly, we may in fact cause many to look away from the other areas in which they can succeed: how to take cost out by becoming more efficient with technology, looking for cost and improvements in logistics, store loyalty, thinking about how to use our competitive advantages, our forecourts, etc.

My answer? She’s spot on—not at the expense of a well-balanced foodservice offering, but in concert with it. Perhaps too often when we do our SWOT analysis, we focus too hard on the WT and don’t capitalize on the S. What do we do successfully, and how can we grow that success into more O (opportunity)?

I believe all that our panel discussed comes home loud and clear in this month’s excellent investigative cover story by Angel Abcede and Abbie Westra.

“Walgreens cut the ribbon on its flagship store two days before reporting its strongest increase in net income in a decade and largest growth in earnings per share in more than 15 years,” they say in the article. And Port Washington, N.Y.- based NPD has recent data that shows c-store traffic down 1.4% and Walgreens traffic up by that same percentage.

But that’s not the whole story. Find out why there’s more to investigate about this drug stalwart, and why it’s very much a company to watch. (See story on p. 42.)

The winner of this year’s presidential election is whoever can convince us he is best at making the economy grow and improving the nation’s long-term balance sheet. The winners in retail will be whoever can convince the customer that their store is the place to shop. It’s plain and simple, not the simplest of tasks—but that’s what makes the work we do as rewarding as it is!  

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