By Ross Markman, Retail Relations Editor
Cruising the trade show floor at the Las Vegas Mirage Events Center on a recent February afternoon, Larry Clinkenbeard was on the prowl for a new food product to hawk in his rural Montana convenience store. Joe’s Smoke Ring, located just off the Flathead Indian Reservation and 10 miles from anything resembling a highway, is one of five stores owned by his family’s company, DC Petroleum, and already features several branded food offerings.
Like many of his peers in the c-store industry, Clinkenbeard was in Sin City for the annual Western Petroleum Marketers Association (WPMA) Convention and Convenience Store Expo, on the hunt for new products to market or new services to try out.
“I hadn’t been to [this show] in 10 years and I’m in the process of a major renovation,” Clinkenbeard said, perusing a display for The Taco Maker. “See, we already have subs, fried chicken and fresh-made pizza. This may be next.”
Retailers like Clinkenbeardowners of mom-and-pop stores and small chainsare looking to the future. Consider Debra and Jack Loebs, whose 4-Way Gas N Go serves a town of 3,500 in Newcastle, Wyo., in the northeast corner of the state.
“We’re here to get new ideas, to find new stuff to sell inside the store,” Debra Loebs said, checking out the new pizza offering from Hot Stuff Foods. “If we don’t keep up with the times and evolve and take a chance, we’ll never stay competitive.”
For some retailers, however, this year’s WPMA show was a familiar site. Ashok Mehtar, a salesman for Paul Oil Co., an Oakdale, Calif.-based jobber for the Shell and Valero brands, said he has attended the event for the past 30 years and is unsure why he decided to go again this year. Mehtar also owns three c-stores independent of his position with Paul Oil.
“I don’t mean anything bad by it, but they need to get more and different vendors in here,” Mehtar said while riding the conveyor that flows into the Mirage. “It’s always the same people, and to me that doesn’t make much sense.”
That sentiment, however, wasn’t shared by most retailers who attended the Feb. 21-23 convention, where dozens of suppliers, from carwash to coffee, spent three days pitching their latest productsand, in some cases, their newest servicesto the hundreds of retailers schmoozing about the trade show floor.
Many vendors unveiled new products at the show, from Hot Stuff Foods’ new quick-serve and portable Palm Pizza to the latest carwash innovations from Mark VII.
“I figure I’d find something new for my stores,” said Bob Virk, who owns 20 One Stop stores in the Bakersfield, Calif.-area. Virk, whose stores already offer brands such as Haagan-Dazs and Subway, is considering the addition of a chicken element to his food selection. “You have to add new things to compete with the other guy,” he says.
Bob Shuster, a jobber for Escondido, Calif.-based Shuster Oil, arrived on the show’s second day, seemingly with the premeditated notion that he was going to make a purchase at some point during the convention.
“I always end up spending more money than I want at this show,” he joked. “But I can’t help it; I always find something new here.”