“If you do anything weird, I’ll stab you.”
That wasn’t the reaction we expected when NACS Chairman Don Rhoads asked a store employee if he could take a picture with him. But all is well—Don got a picture and everyone had a good laugh.
But looking back, it was kinda was weird. Thirty-plus times we walked into a convenience store, leisurely strolled around and asked frontline employees if Don could take a picture with them.
In five days we covered more than 1,000 miles and stopped at 36 convenience stores from San Diego to Sacramento—some planned visits with industry leaders and some pop-ins. We also visited two c-store headquarters, a distribution center and the association that represents our industry in California, which is not an easy task given the regulations in the state.
5 days, 40 stops, 1,085 miles
Pearson Fuels, San Diego
Hazard Center Auto Mart, San Diego
Cardiff Valero/El Pueblo Mexican Food,
Cardiff by the Sea
Cardiff by the Sea
Gaslamp District in San Diego
G&M Food Mart (G&M Oil Co.),
Rocket Fuel/United Oil,
Valero Food Mart,
Westside Country Store,
Love’s (Love’s Travel Stops),
Pilot Flying J,
Loop Neighborhood Market,
Circle K/Allied Clean Fuels Center,
MTC Distributing (Harbor Wholesale),
(Tooley Oil Company), Elk Grove
ampm/Sheldon Wine Shop (Gil Moore Oil),
Gil Moore Oil,
76/Spinners Cinnamon Rolls,
California Fuels & Convenience Alliance,
This was Don’s third road trip. The first was an East Coast trip (see “NACS Chairman Hits the Road,” May 2023 issue) and the second was in Dublin, Ireland, during NACS Convenience Summit Europe. His goal this year as NACS chairman: Meet and thank the people who are the face of our industry. At every stop that is exactly what happened—we were greeted with smiles and shared our appreciation for what they do every day. It was a wonderful experience, and no one got hurt. Here are some big takeaways from the road.
Fueling the Future
California leads the nation in alternative fuel vehicle sales, and 19% of all new car sales in the state were zero-emission vehicles in 2022. We saw plenty of stores with EV chargers, including a rest stop with 60-some Tesla chargers (only three were in use).
Beyond EVs, hydrogen has a presence in the state. We talked to a driver filling up her hydrogen-fueled Mirai and she had positive things to say about the vehicle and the quick filling time, which was only a few minutes. However, it was hard to look past the cost: about $120 for a fill-up that would take her about 250 miles.
Then there’s Chevron’s Allied Fuel Center in Napa, one of the first totally environmentally friendly fuel terminal malls in the country, which boasted an impressive array of fueling options including three grades of diesel (diesel, renewable diesel and red diesel), E15 and E85 and propane.
When In Wine Country
Beer and wine sales in Region 6, which includes California, outpace the national average in the United States. In fact, Region 6 is the only region in which wine is a top 10 in-store category, according to NACS State of the Industry data.
Beer caves and local craft beers were prevalent at most stores, and there was more of a focus on wine once we reached Sonoma and points north. The ampm in Elk Grove features the Sheldon Wine Shop, which had a great selection of wines at competitive prices and daily wine tastings. In Napa, the Circle K on Devlin Road knows its customer base: In wine country, it’s a smart idea to have a robust selection of wine and an open-air cooler with everything necessary for a charcuterie board.
Bonneau stood out for its delicious sandwiches and for being the first convenience store with wine at the back bar instead of tobacco products. We can’t say we’re wine experts but there was something particularly intriguing about the Cabernet Sauvignon sold at Poppy Markets: “I Was Told to Bring Some Wine,” priced at an affordable $15.99.
Liquor also is an important category in California. The Cardiff Valero stood out, with liquor at all prices, including a bottle with a retail price of $9,999.99. Overall, it was a very well-merchandised offer. Next time we’ll check out the Chevron in Sacramento that has liquor tastings.
Foodservice Is Different
Compared to a national average of $56,491, foodservice sales in Region 6 averaged $20,589 per store, per month in 2022, according to NACS State of the Industry data. The average store size in Region 6 is 2,460 sq. ft.—the smallest of the regions—which also means a lack of kitchen area.
That said, there are ample great food finds in California convenience stores. Loop’s rice bowls are marketed as “the solution to a lot of life’s problems.” Fried chicken for breakfast? Yes please, which was the case at a Tooley Oil-operated Circle K store with a Krispy Krunchy program. And then we had fried chicken again for lunch, with Poppy Markets’ Crunchy Munchy program.
A recent NACS Daily story focused on how new restaurants are opening along the highway for the roughly 20% of truck drivers who are of Indian heritage. We saw some signs for these restaurants and stopped at an ampm connected to a Tandoori Flame restaurant.
The queso tacos with a side of consume at Birria Boys, which is tucked inside a Chevron in Elk Grove, were among the best we’ve had.
We had incredible cinnamon rolls at Spinners Cinnamon Rolls inside a 76 convenience store. The owner agreed to a photo on one condition: “Don’t Photoshop me,” which may be the first time that sentence was uttered in California.
We didn’t even have to go inside the store for all of our foodservice. At a 7-Eleven in Los Angeles we were served by a self-driving robot, which provided a welcome cold beverage and snack. And we saw two others fulfilling orders and cruising down the sidewalk and across the street.
A Sharing Industry
The goal of our road trip was to reconnect with some old friends and make new ones along the way—and do what our industry always does: Share ideas and help make each other better. As David Tooley (Tooley Oil) said about a competitor, “We are better when we both succeed.”
You could see this spirit of sharing on the road. Retailers would suggest other places for us to visit—and in some cases, they were direct competitors. And we heard the importance of NACS—and the California Food & Fuel Alliance—in driving our industry forward.
There were also physical manifestations of the role of NACS in our industry. Tooley Oil has the groundbreaking age-verification program TruAge® installed. It’s working well at the store we visited. We also saw offices decorated with NACS Executive Education program diplomas and NACS Magazines on coffee tables. And when showing off their stores to us, retailers proudly told us that they found certain ideas or products at NACS Show. But our favorite—and we are biased as podcast hosts—was when Dee Dhaliwal told us, “I feel like I meet you every week” by listening to our weekly Convenience Matters podcasts.
Our time on the road was about connecting with our industry and celebrating the people who add the smiles that go along with convenience. They are the people who are the face of our industry and keep it moving forward—even if it sometimes gets weird.
Odds and Ends
Some other experiences to share:
• Not all work:
We made a few detours along the way, including Randy’s Donuts in L.A.
• Road tunes
The easiest thing to debate on a road trip is the music. Dave Matthews Band, The Allman Brothers Band and Led Zeppelin made the cut.