Retailers Exchange Ideas at the Annual NAG Conference

Educational sessions designed for convenience store executives and plenty of networking highlighted the National Advisory Group’s 2012 meeting in New Orleans.   

By Erin Rigik, Associate Editor.

Retailers and suppliers converged at the Windsor Court Hotel in New Orleans in September for four days of strategic educational sessions on burning issues facing the industry and ample networking opportunities with non-competing chains at the 2012 National Advisory Group (NAG) Conference.

The NAG conference, which caters to small and mid-sized c-store chains, began with its renowned information exchanges, where attendees met with small groups of non-competing chains to discuss relevant business issues, sharing their experiences  to help each other enhance retail operations. Next, attendees poured into educational sessions on hot industry topics, ranging from self-distribution and developing a foodservice commissary to capitalizing on social media and the future of retail payments, all led by prominent experts in their fields.

“NAG brings together a group of like-minded, entrepreneurial retailers in an intimate setting. This provides a great environment not just to learn from one another, but to develop great friendships with industry peers,” said Greg Ehrich, vice president of operations for Englefield Oil, operator of 126 Duchess Shoppes in Ohio and West Virginia. “I find NAG provides the best blend of education and networking of any industry event I attend.”

Burning Issues
Matthew Mandeltort, senior consultant at Technomic Inc., kicked off the burning issue sessions with a presentation about developing a foodservice/bakery commissary. “If you are serving food, consumers hold you to the same standards as a restaurant,” he told retailers.

But that doesn’t mean c-stores shouldn’t play to their strengths. Commissary programs allow c-stores to gain more frequent food deliveries, allowing an avenue to offering fresh, prepared foods, while having better shrinkage control. One thing is certain, he said, “As prepared foods become more critical to supermarkets and c-stores, independent commissary usage will only increase.”

Trish Temmerman, marketing research director for Management Science Associates (MSA), spoke on Convenience Consumer Insights findings from their cciPanel. MSA found 9% of respondents shop daily at c-stores while another 37% shop 2-3 times per week. Over 70% shop in 1-2 c-stores, which provides opportunity for retailers to build store loyalty among customers. Temmerman talked about mining survey results to learn the best ways to attract and retain that elusive female shopper, make shopping easier for moms with kids and maximize daypart sales.

Peter Leavitt, president of Leavitt and Associates, spoke on building a more efficient supply chain. Chains with 200-plus locations in tight geographic areas may benefit from self-distribution, which allows chains to control the supply chain, and can provide a point of differentiation, as well as allow companies to improve store level operations.

But even without a full self-distribution model, there are opportunities to take costs out of the supply system. Some successful chains run hybrid programs, using a cross between their own distribution and partnering with an established c-store distributor. Leavitt noted, this can be “the best of both worlds, utilizing both retail and wholesale competencies to improve the supply chain.”

Engaging Technology
Sally Falkow, social media and digital public relations strategist for Meritus Media, impressed the crowd with her presentation on capitalizing on social media marketing.

“One of the biggest mistakes I see is companies using social media as a broadcast channel. Customers are looking for a conversation,” Falkow said. “It’s called social media for a very good reason. You need to talk to people. Listen to people. Hear what your customers are saying, and produce a piece of content that would add value to that conversation and drop it into the conversation.”

While some people say there is no ROI in social media, Falkow noted people who make that claim don’t have a goal. Aim for engagement, she suggested. She advised attendees to spend up to 30 minutes on social media each day. Post 1-2 times a day. Use photos, and encourage people to click on the photo if they like it. She also urged operators to explore new social media sites, such as Pinterest, which ties positive emotions to visual images. She also pointed out that 7-Eleven, Sunoco and Wawa are the top 10 social c-store chains, rated by the number of Facebook and Twitter followers.

Richard Oglesby, senior analyst from Aite Group, spoke on the future of retail payment systems, helping retailers gain a firm understanding of the payment solutions, who is using them and how they can tap into this potential new revenue opportunity. Mobile wallets and reloadable gift cards are growing in popularity among consumers, cloud computing is here, and the mobile payment trend is growing, he noted.

Betsi Bixby, president of Meridian Associates Inc., talked strategies retailers can use to maximize their profits, including learning how to effectively communicate what your brand stands for and how that can aid you in creating a unique destination, improving traffic and sales.

Engaged Retailers
One benefit NAG provides that differentiates it from other conferences is abundant networking time with an intimate group in a range of laidback settings. In addition to cocktail receptions and lunches, retailers also had time to get to trade best practices in the “Pow Wow Room” hospitality suite, where attendees watched football, enjoyed cocktails, talked shop and sang along with the guitar and vocal stylings of NAG’s very own Tim Lindblom, president of Gulfcoast Software Solutions.

“I was really impressed with the great information and industry insight, said Bob O’Connor, president of O’Connor Petroleum, operator of three Jetz Convenience Centers. “This is the kind of conference that executives at small chains need to attend to find solutions to improve their businesses.”

To learn more about the National Advisory Group, group registration information or the upcoming 2013 conference, visit www.nagconvenience.com and join us on Facebook to stay informed on NAG members and other Burning Issues at www.facebook.com/nationaladvisorygroup.

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