While many other retail channels struggle, the convenience store industry continues to thrive, with annual sales topping $700 billion—more than those of the grocery industry or restaurants.
But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t challenges, from demand destruction for gasoline and cigarettes to new regulations that challenge convenience operations.
“Well, fortunately, you’ve got NACS focusing every day on all of these challenges— protecting your interests and giving you the tools you need to successfully grow your business,” said NACS President and CEO Henry Armour during Monday’s general session at the 2013 NACS Show in Atlanta.
The companies that thrive today are the ones building strong skills at both the store level and at headquarters, said Armour, and the NACS training portfolio to assist its members is impressive. From computer-based training to more intensive training for field supervisors and headquarter staff like the NACS Leadership Executive Program at Cornell University and NACS Financial Leadership Program at the Wharton School of Finance, “No other association offers programs to its members of such high quality and acclaim,” he said.
“But wait, there’s more!” Armour joked, and there certainly is, especially related to three big areas: fuels, food and swipe fees.
First, fuels. NACS is conducting a new monthly consumer survey to help better understand and respond to dynamic changes in consumer attitudes. These findings are available for members at nacsonline.com/gasprices, and also are valuable to the media, said Armour, as he showed a “Today” show segment citing NACS data.
This year also marked the launch of The Fuels Institute, a think tank focused on bringing together all of the stakeholders in the fuels arena— including retailers, jobbers, refiners, alternative energy producers, automobile manufacturers and environmental groups—to pursue critical research with the goal of creating more effective energy policies.
“With better data we can create better public policy,” said Armour.
NACS’ fuels efforts also continue on Capitol Hill and with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to modify the Renewable Fuel Standard to allow retailers to sell renewable fuels while protecting them from unnecessary and unfair liabilities.
A second major focus area for NACS is food, said Armour. NACS has been fully engaged with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on menu labeling to make sure that these regulations make sense, and has been active in Congress defending the industry’s participation in programs like SNAP.
NACS also provides the tools to help retailers grow their foodservice programs.
The intensive NACS CAFÉ Certified Convenience Foodservice Manager program lays out best practices in foodservice, food safety and effective marketing tactics.
And NACS is leading an initiative to tell the industry’s story related to nutrition and obesity. “We have a good story to tell, and we will tell it, said Armour. “How we provide healthy choices—probably more per square foot than just about any other channel. How we sponsor youth sports teams and other activities that promote calories out. And how we offer great food.”
The third focus area is swipe fees and breaking the monopoly that the credit card companies have on setting fees.
“We are absolutely right on this issue. But being right simply isn’t enough. We need to fight for what’s right, and we need to be persistent,” said Armour.
In fighting the deep-pocketed banks, they win when their opponents run out of time or passion. “Well, in our war on swipe fees the opposite has happened. Because of your incredible support, we haven’t run out of either money or passion. And we are seeing results,” said Armour.
Debit swipe fee reform is the best example. In August, a federal judge agreed with NACS with its lawsuit against the Federal Reserve for failing to properly establish reasonable swipe fee rates.
“We sued the Federal Reserve, and we won! Now that’s a big deal. Who beats the government?” asked Armour. “Well, this time around we did!”
It will likely be another year before the issue is fully addressed, but the fact remains that debit swipe fee reform saved the industry and its customers nearly $400 million in annual savings. “And there’s more coming,” stressed Armour.
Meanwhile the battle continues on credit swipe fees. NACS continues to lead the opposition to the proposed $7 billion swipe fee settlement announced earlier this year in the antitrust litigation against Visa and MasterCard.
“It is a horrible deal. Despite extraordinarily widespread opposition from NACS and the rest of the retail community, the judge went against us in an initial ruling. We will vigorously appeal that decision and will continue to aggressively litigate the issue. And if we can’t fix it in the courts, we’re heading back to Congress,” he stated.
“Our industry has mobilized and spoken together as one voice. And we have shown that being right – and fighting for it – can lead to great things. We have already shown that with swipe fees and we will also show it again, and again, and again on all the other issues facing our industry. When we speak as one voice, we are an awesome force to be reckoned with,” he concluded.
The NACS Show, which runs through Oct. 15 at the Georgia World Congress Center, is ranked as the 48th largest trade show in the U.S. and is rated in the top 10 among U.S. trade shows in three of the four key categories used by exhibitors to measure audience quality.