It's Time for Some Good News

By
Paul Reuter, Chairman emeritus and contributing editor

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Soon you will receive the joint CSP/NACS State of the Industry Summit Special Issue, which reports on all the latest industry numbers. Preliminary figures were reviewed last month in Chicago at the annual summit.

Thanks to the work begun years ago by David Nelson and his partners in CSX, which was eventually purchased by NACS, our industry has exceptional information by which to benchmark performance. And this year’s analysis is the best yet.

Now that we have paid our taxes and are heading into the summer selling season, many encouraging signs say more good news is ahead. When we couple there view of SOI numbers with the latest headlines, things seem very positive on several fronts.

A recent story in The Wall Street Journalalone was titled “Low Inflation Gives FedRoom”: a new reason to keep its easymoneypolicies intact. And “Factory Workers Racking Up More Overtime” paints bright picture by showing more work hours, especially in the manufacturing sector.

We also had “View Brightens For Fed Pessimist”: Eric Rosengren says he sees, for the first time in five years, lumber trucks chugging around, and he’s noticed a rise in truck sales.

“Economists Say Swoon Is Mere Hiccup”:A WSJ survey sees the economy picking up as 2013 progresses amid continued strength in the housing market and consumer resilience. The story went on: “The survey respondents expect growth to pick up in the second half of the year. On the whole, they see 2013 growth at 2.5%, which is the fastest pace since 2005.”

Those headlines came from just one week in April. And yes, as we all know in this “How can we top this surprise?” world, things happen and directions change. But for now, we have reason to be bullish.

David Nelson, co-founder of CSX, professor of economics at Western Washington University and president of FRMCInc./Study Groups, has more than 25 years of experience in the fuel marketing industry. David’s work over the years hashed a significant effect on performance and benchmarking in our industry. His study groups represent many of the industry’s best retail companies. If you do not belong, you should definitely consider it.

His opening presentation at the summit—“Economy and Opportunities for Convenience Stores”—is a must-read. As you study all the data coming from the financial community and couple it with David’s view, it seems now is a good time to invest in the growth of your business.

What separates David’s information from the rest is that he brought along an “assistant” (Waldo of “Where’s Waldo” fame, who showed up on important slides). Waldo and David provided great info, answered the “so what” questions and suggested actions for us to consider now. David labeled them “Key Waldoisms,” and in all he reviewed 19 action items. He reminded us that interest rates are as low as you will ever see them, and asked, “What are you waiting for?”

As Glenn Plumby, vice president of operations for Speedway, pointed out in his presentation at the summit, now’s the time to continue to grow foodservice at a rapid pace, grab market share, consider acquisition and new store development, and grow profitability by knowing what your shopper wants. Investments in research and new technology are the drivers. But let’s go back to David for a moment. Some of the other Waldoisms:

  • Review the favorable gift and estate-tax rules; it’s not too late.
  • The United States is in an energy renaissance.
  • Natural-gas-powered vehicles are on the rise.
  • The near-term risk of recession is low.

And now, as in the way of all good politicians, economists and journalists, a hedge on the prediction: This all works if consumers believe it and spend. Most indicators say they will. However, these consumers are new consumers, selective and driven by value. They have lots of choices and are empowered more than ever via social media and the Web.

So for retailers to win, they need to continue to up their game. McDonald’s, for example, has been fighting decline in customer traffic in the face of lackluster consumer spending worldwide. Sales have improved because of aggressive advertising supporting for the chain’s dollar menu. Value now is the key driver. So the year ahead looks promising—but only for those on their game.

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