Above: “Ask the people who work for you, what should we stop? What should we start? What should we continue?” Scott Stratten told the opening day general session audience.
Scott Stratten, founder and partner of UnMarketing, kicked off the 2022 NACS Show on October 1 by sharing how industry leaders should remember three simple words— stop, start, continue—and ask employees what the company should stop doing, what it should start doing and what it should continue doing.
Truly great leaders—whom Stratten calls “unleaders” because they defy traditional norms—have an ability to clearly view their companies and themselves from the perspective of the employees on the front lines as opposed to those on top.
“Regardless of where you are in the leadership hierarchy,” Stratten said, “the reality is everything is about people. When you can be your authentic self you have no competition.”
Stratten said there are two critical elements to succeeding as an unleader: self-awareness and empathy. Skills which, until the pandemic, had been thought of as secondary, soft skills, now take center stage. The pandemic, he said, has taught successful unleaders to listen to their employees and realize that customers will see how those employees are treated and will react to it.
Self-awareness is crucial to leadership—and it’s not a new concept, he says. These leaders know what they don’t know, and then let their people do what they do best.
“Ask the people who work for you, what should we stop? What should we start? What should we continue?” Let them be honest about what’s working and what’s not. Let them be human, he says.
“I like to surround myself with people who have no filter,” Stratten said. “I want to surround myself with insubordination.” That’s because insubordination breeds disruption, which breeds new ideas.
In a nod to current labor challenges, Stratten disagrees with the idea that people no longer are interested in holding down a job. “They just don’t want to work for you,” he said. “There’s a difference. They don’t want to work for low pay and low morale,” especially younger adults who have grown up with disruption their entire lives.
Leaders need to take care of their teams all the way down to the front line and stand up for them, he says. His most memorable boss as a teen was a movie theater manager who stood up for him when he was being yelled at by an angry customer. The simple act of his manager intervening in a tense situation changed his perspective on work and made him invest himself in his job rather than slacking off.
“Our people are our business. That’s it,” Stratten said. “You can have a competitive advantage—just treat people like humans.”
On October 2, NACS President and CEO Henry Armour and 2021-22 NACS Chair Jared Scheeler led a discussion with U.S. Senator Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) on swipe fee reform.
Swipe fees cost the convenience retailing industry $14 billion a year and remain one of its biggest challenges. But there is hope on the horizon in the form of a new bill introduced in both houses of Congress this year.
The Credit Card Competition Act of 2022 is co-sponsored in the House by Reps. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and Lance Gooden (R-Texas) and in the Senate by Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Roger Marshall (R-Kan.).
Armour said the bill would do for credit card operations what a similar bill (also sponsored by Senator Durbin) did for debit cards a few years back. “We have an immense opportunity to fix this broken system,” he said. “The Credit Card Competition Act would bring long overdue competition to the credit card marketplace, significantly reducing these fees.”
Senator Marshall explained the importance of the bill and why he chose to get involved on behalf of convenience store owners. “Once I figured out that there were four global banks and two credit card companies controlling this industry, I said, there’s a problem in here,” he said. “And then once we started having this horrible inflation, I think that’s when it came to my attention that this is an inflation multiplier.”
Scheeler, CEO of The Hub Convenience Stores Inc., said there are multiple problems with these fees, but the biggest one is that people simply don’t know they exist. “These fees are buried. They’re hidden,” he said. “When a customer swipes their card, they don’t think for a second that there’s a fee associated with that transaction. But as business owners, we’re not stupid. Of course, we’re going to build these fees into the prices of our goods and services, and that adds up over time. High prices aren’t good for us. We’re seeing that with the price of gasoline and diesel right now.”
Fortunately, Senator Marshall said there is plenty convenience store owners can do to make their voices heard on this critical issue. “If you have a relationship with a congressman or a senator or your community bankers, reach out to them and try to communicate,” he said. “I think the talking point is that this is an inflation multiplier that the convenience stores are spending more on than their utility bill.”
Retailers can make their voice heard by texting “NACS” to 50457 or visiting convenience.org/fixswipe to send an email directly to their legislators.
Armour teed up another discussion focused on the future of mobility, featuring Dr. Gill Pratt, chief scientist and executive fellow for research at Toyota Motor Corp., and Doug Haugh, president of Parkland USA.
“We’ve seen the headlines,” Armour noted. “California plans to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035—and other states say they will follow. And similar conversations are taking place around the world. Our industry sells 80% of the motor fuel sold in the United States—and has equally dominant positions in other countries,” he said.
“EVs are positioned as the future, but there are big questions about how we get to that future,” Armour said. “How do we decarbonize transportation while preserving the current access to affordable and reliable transportation?”
Toyota, Armour noted, is investing heavily in battery-electric vehicles but also believes in giving its worldwide customers flexibility and that “there is more than one option for achieving carbon neutrality.”
Hybrids and hydrogen are part of that solution for the automaker. Hydrogen especially makes more sense for large trucks than battery power, Pratt said. Right now, Toyota sees consumers in multi-vehicle families buying EVs mainly as second vehicles, with a gasoline-powered vehicle as their primary car. He expects this dual-structure behavior to continue.
For consumer-level EV charging, Pratt sees the opportunity for convenience retailers to provide high-value goods and services to EV customers while they are on-site, which meshes with the future that forward-thinking convenience retailers envision.
Parkland USA is a subsidiary of Parkland Corporation, one of North America’s fastest-growing independent marketers of fuel and petroleum products and a leading convenience store operator with 3,800 sites.
While Parkland is “all in on EV,” Haugh said, “At the same time, somebody’s going to be selling gasoline in 2060.” He agrees that there will be mixed demand for EVs and traditional fuels for decades to come. In British Columbia, Canada, for instance, 1 in 5 new cars sold are EVs. “That’s a real wake-up call for us,” Haugh said.
He urged convenience retailers to get ready now for the eventual EV switch, driven by climate change regulations and fuel costs. “The infrastructure is important,” he said. “Don’t just put in one charger. That’s a mistake. Go all in and invest in multiple outlets.” High-speed chargers, he adds, are the way to go.
Pay attention to customer amenities, too. “Clean restrooms are more important in this environment,” he said. “If they’re at your site for 30 minutes, eating and drinking, they’ll need to use the restroom.”
So-called garage orphans represent a real opportunity to provide away-from-home charging services, coupled with a great food offer, he said. Then there are the service-related drivers and road trippers who will need access to EV chargers and want to take advantage of on-site dining and outdoor eating spaces. To enhance its loyalty program for EV drivers, Parkland is integrating EV charging services into its Journie Rewards program app, too, he said.
The company is especially excited about the results of its international “future of design” contest for a prototype EV charging station of the future, which was won by a Scottish architectural design firm. Parkland plans to build the Electric Charging Destination of the Future station in British Columbia as a test-and-learn endeavor. “We certainly learned a ton from this contest,” Haugh said.
Haugh also raised the point that discussion around EVs must take into account the need to decarbonize the electrical grid, which he notes, is “more carbon intensive than EVs.”
Speakers at the October 3 general session, including 2022-23 NACS Chair Don Rhoads, focused on the power of community engagement and the impactful role convenience retailers have in making a difference. Rhoads, president and CEO of The Convenience Group, said c-stores need to go beyond products, pricing and customer service to provide value to their communities.
“It’s not enough,” he said. “Value is important, and that 25-minute drive to Walmart is becoming more attractive. We need to continue to showcase our value, and we need to be engaged in our communities.”
Convenience stores, Rhoads said, serve three communities. One is the society in which they play a big role, shown in the $1 billion c-stores contribute to charity each year. The second is the people that make the stores work. The third is the industry community.
“I can control what happens inside my four walls— the products we sell, how they’re priced, our customer service and how we react with our community,” he said. “But I can’t control what’s happening in our economy and in our regulatory environment. This is where NACS comes in.”
Jake Wood, founder of Team Rubicon, a disaster response organization, urged the audience to think about the moments where they can have the greatest impact. Wood, a former Marine with combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, said life comes down to a series of moments and decisions.
“These moments that we approach, some of them we know are moments of consequence,” he said. “Some of them we don’t realize them for the moments they are until we’re well beyond them, and we can reflect back with the luxury of time and perspective and see those moments for what they were.”
Wood started Team Rubicon in 2010 in response to the devastation he saw on the news as a result of the earthquake in Haiti. The group now has 150,000 volunteers in the U.S. and Canada who respond to hundreds of disasters in communities across the globe.
Some of the moments that can change everything will catch us by surprise, Wood said, but in other moments you might realize you are in the right place at the right time.
“Every once in a while, you find yourself facing a moment,” he said, “and you realize, hey, this moment might be terrifying, this moment might seem a little overwhelming, but this was a moment we’ve been preparing for our entire existence.”
Wood urged convenience retailers to “think about the moments and decisions you face every day. I challenge you to make that difference,” he said.
THAT’S A WRAP
The final day of the 2022 NACS Show was all about reigniting the customer experience. NACS Vice President of Research and Education Lori Stillman debuted THRIVR™, a new NACS tool built with SOCi to help convenience retailers build and manage a localized marketing strategy that maximizes their stores’ online presence and meets customers when and wherever they are searching.
“Today, online is how customers define convenience,” Stillman said. “They use their smart phones and digital devices to discover what’s out there. What they want. And who has it.”
Convenience stores need a strong presence in the digital world—including via social media channels—and must respond to the conversations consumers are having about their brands.
“THRIVR gives you more control of your brand—and it tells everyone who you are and what you have, when and wherever people are searching,” Stillman said.
For small operators, managing the process can be daunting. “If you have only one or two stores, you tell yourself you don’t have the resources to do this. If you have hundreds of stores, you know coordinating all of this is an immense challenge. But without it, you are missing the opportunity to grow trips, to grow baskets, to thrive,” Stillman said. “NACS can help you thrive. That’s why we’ve launched THRIVR.”
The tool is available to all c-stores, regardless of size, via NACS. “It gives you more control of your brand. With accurate data, compelling content and an ability to keep a pulse on customer feedback and reviews, you can thrive in the digital retail landscape,” she said.
Stillman also highlighted NACS Research tools, including the NACS State of the Industry Report and NACS Convenience Voices shopper insights program. And she recognized the 24 rising stars of the industry who graduated from the 2022 NACS Leadership for Success program.
The October 4 general session also included the debut of the 2022 edition of the NACS Ideas 2 Go video program, featuring six companies that are redefining convenience retail and the customer experience: TXB Stores; The Walk-Off Market, powered by Amazon; Lou Perrine’s Gas & Groceries; Coen Markets; Kwik Trip and Wakepoint LBJ. Each episode is live at convenience.org/ideas2go.