Looking For New Ideas

Adding revenue-generating services to a convenience store can boost traffic and the bottom line.

Looking For New Ideas

November 2023   minute read

Convenience stores are hubs of communities. They’re where consumers pick up snacks, beverages, tobacco, gas and other sundries, but they can also be a place to do a lot more than that.

Consumers at c-stores can play games, use simulators, wash their dogs and their cars, go bowling, trade cryptocurrency and even pick up dry cleaning.

“Convenience stores are all about providing convenience, and the savvy operators are the ones investigating ways to provide convenience in all new ways,” said Brynn Capwell, CEO of Archer ATR, a consulting firm in Rochester, New York.

However, success, she said, comes down to performing due diligence. “Do you understand what you are getting into, the resources you’ll need and the space it’ll demand? Second, have you performed a thorough consumer-needs assessment? Is there a brand people love, or a specific need the consumer expects this offering to address?”

Outside the Box

TravelCenters of America’s Petro in Columbia, South Carolina, lets customers kick back in a bowling alley or at sporting simulators for golf, hunting, baseball and basketball. The company has other locations that offer “dwell time” spaces, lounges with Wi-Fi where drivers can watch sports or movies.

Customers at two 7-Eleven stores in Hawaii can drop off and pick up their dry cleaning through the chain’s partnership with Hakuyosha Clean Living. Customers use their phones to register for the program and receive a notification when their clothes are ready for pickup from contactless lockers.

The company would love to introduce more but space is an issue. “These two stores had a bigger footprint,” said Annika Streng, marketing manager, 7-Eleven Hawaii. “And we did try to pick locations in business districts to make things as convenient as possible for customers.”

Games of Skill

Dragon’s Ascent, Gem Master and Amigos Locos are just some of the options from Pace-O-Matic, a Duluth, Georgia-based company that offers legal games of skill.

The company works with around 3,000 convenience stores and is helping draw more people into the stores.

“We’re bringing consumers from the gas pump into the location and giving them a reason to stay,” said Gina Trumm Reinhardt, chief marketing officer. These people play the games for fun and entertainment, the company’s research shows. That research also shows these customers stay in the store for around 30 minutes and buy products, “so it’s increasing the overall market basket.” The stores with the games, Reinhardt points out, typically see a 5% to 8% increase in overall revenue.

Customers at two 7-eleven stores in Hawaii can drop off and pick up their dry cleaning.

Many c-stores also have ticket terminals so when a player wins at the games they can cash out their ticket by themselves, without involving store staff. A video screen demonstrates how to use the machines and how to redeem tickets. Stores typically sign up for a five-year contract and aren’t allowed more than three games, “because we don’t want this to be more than 50% of their income,” said Reinhardt.

These games “can be very profitable,” said Ed Burcher, partner, The Business Accelerator Team, Phoenix, Arizona, but there are tradeoffs.

“You may have lost … prime parking places in the front of your store for 30 minutes or more for your core food, beverage or tobacco guest,” he says. In addition, he points out, companies may make future growth more difficult with placement of offers that limit kitchen and storage expansion.

Bitcoin ATMs

Around 6,000 U.S. convenience stores offer Bitcoin ATMs, and these typically work best in high-foot-traffic stores, says Bitcoin Depot COO Scott Buchanan.

Once a convenience store has opted to have a Bitcoin ATM, the two parties agree on a monthly rent, plug it in and it’s open for business. Ideally, they’re placed near the door, says Buchanan, though they can go anywhere.

Bitcoin pays the stores to lease the space the ATM goes into, which turns them into revenue generators for the store. The machines drive people to the stores, too, he adds.

Dog Wash

Evolution Dog Wash is featured in 400 to 500 c-stores.

“It’s a growing market, as people travel more with their pets,” says Matt Ogden, president of the Golden, Colorado-based company. He points out that more than 60% of truckers now have a pet with them. As that grows, c-stores are also adding pet areas. The dog washes appeal more to traveling consumers, he says, though plenty of customers also bring their dogs from home to the convenience store for a wash.

According to the American Pet Products Association, 70% of U.S. households owned a pet in 2022, and 78% of these people traveled with their pets.

Evolution has two main varieties of dog wash machine—a larger model and the mini. The machines are fully automated. Evolution controls everything from soap to water temperature. The machines don’t require any interaction from store staff.

The larger model is more popular with convenience stores because it has more features. Also, says Ogden, it “is a statement piece.”

Convenience stores either buy the Evolution dog wash machines outright or lease them with a revenue share. “People who wash their dog in our machine in general spend 30% more in the c-store” than regular customers, he says. Stores with these machines “can capture revenue from more items in the store and from higher profit items.”

Many of the Evolution customers are new to the store, too, says Ogden—50% to 60% of users don’t normally stop at the store, creating the possibility of winning new customers.

Ogden reports that Evolution washes at convenience stores typically wash six to eight puppies a day, with 15 to 20 on weekends. The average wash is about 10 minutes for $12, says Ogden, “but we’re seeing a migration to $15 for 12 minutes.” In a 12-minute wash, the operating costs are just $1.70, including water, electricity and soap. Once the machine is installed, a staff member has to check the machine around once a day or every 10 washes.

Car Wash

OPW Vehicle Wash Solutions has machines at hundreds of convenience stores nationwide.

Before adding a car wash the company needs to ensure there’s adequate traffic to warrant it. “One of the first questions we ask is how many gallons of fuel are you pumping per month,” says Kris Oliver, North America sales manager. That gives OPW an idea of how many cars it would expect to wash at the site. “We also take into consideration the demographics and the traffic in the area,” he added.

“You need space for the car wash and room for the queue for the car wash,” said Oliver. “Typically we plan for four to six cars stacking, and maybe that line wraps around the backside of the building.

We have signage all the way from the gas pump, with danglers inside the store to lead people to the games.”

Demographics are also important, he points out, because in a higher-income area, more people are likely to use the car wash. “Car washes went down in Covid when people had to choose where to spend money. It’s something that’s easy to cut out. But cars are becoming more expensive right now and people want to take care of them.”

Convenience stores buy the car washes outright. If it’s a new construction for the car wash, it usually takes five to seven years to see a return on that investment, Oliver says. For sites that are replacing an existing car wash, Oliver says that the return on investment is faster—two to three years.

Once it’s installed, consumers pay on average $12 for a car wash and a site typically washes 12,000 to 15,000 cars a year, though that can go as high as 25,000 at some locations.

Oliver said that it’s not just the revenue from the car wash that’s beneficial. Sales of fuel rise and so does foot traffic in convenience stores after a car wash is installed,

Location Matters

Gaming machines can be located anywhere, though near an eating area is a great spot, Reinhardt said, because the games and foodservice complement each other “by encouraging patrons to stay in the location longer and purchase more items.”

It’s important to lead customers to those game terminals, Reinhardt said. “In Texas, we have signage all the way from the gas pump, with danglers inside the store to lead people to the games.”

Pace-O-Matic also puts information about the games outside the stores on trifolds around bollards and on reader boards, as well as digital boards within stores.

Signage at EV charging stations can also be a good idea, since these drivers have time to kill. “This gives the consumer something to do,” said Pace-O-Matic director of marketing Evelyn Frederickson.

Evolution dog washes can be placed inside a c-store or outside. Indoors, they require a space that is eight feet by eight feet, ideally fenced in to separate it from the rest of the store and to allow some secondary retail tied to dogs. One multilocation retailer places them inside at the back of the store, so that dog owners have to walk past a lot of merchandise.

However, more often than not, retailers are putting the dog washes on the outside, often under a lean-up with a little roof or in a small standalone building.

The placement of an OPW car wash “is key to being successful,” said Oliver. “If space permits, I want that car wash where it can be seen from the pumps, seen from the road. A lot of the older car wash facilities were tucked behind the building. and you don’t even know there’s a car wash there.”

There have been a lot of eye-catching enhancements to the equipment, too, over the years, said Oliver. The car washes flash colored lights when they’re in use, which can also draw the attention of people driving by.

And the bays are well lit so that all customers feel safe. “It’s open and inviting; we’re trying to make that overall experience easy for everyone,” said Oliver.

At the end of the day, said Capwell, convenience stores are community hubs. Services like dog washes, laundry pickup and games of skill encourage community engagement, giving them an increased chance of success.

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Travelers in South Carolina can relax in this bowling alley in a Petro.

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