U.S. Convenience Store Count Stands at 150,274 Stores

The industry fared well despite an eventful year, but the number of small companies continues to decline.

U.S. Convenience Store Count Stands at 150,274 Stores

February 2021   minute read

There are 150,274 convenience stores operating in the United States, a 1.6% decrease in the number of stores in operation (152,720) at the close of 2019, according to the 2021 NACS/NielsenIQ Convenience Industry Store Count. The store count is based on c-stores that were open as of December 31, 2020.

Convenience stores sell an estimated 80% of the fuel purchased in the United States, and the new store count shows that 121,538 convenience stores sell motor fuels (80.9% of all c-stores), a slight drop from 121,988 stores selling fuels the year prior.

“While pandemic-related restrictions significantly affected commuting in 2020, leading to an estimated 10% to 15% decrease in fuel demand, fuel was still an important convenience offer as customers increasingly relied on their local convenience store to bundle shopping occasions when fueling up and also purchasing fill-in grocery items and take-home meals at stores,” said NACS Vice President of Research Lori Stillman.

The decrease in the total convenience store count was expected, given the overall retail contraction in the U.S. The industry decline was led by a 3.1% decrease in single-store operators (92,196 in 2020 vs. 95,108 in 2019), which account for 61.4% of all convenience stores. In addition, the decrease in the industry store count was more pronounced among stores that did not sell fuel.

Of the total 2,446-store decline: 1,986 did not sell fuel, compared to 460 that sold fuel.

Change in Store Count, 2020 vs. 2019

Source: 2021 NACS/NielsenIQ Convenience Industry Store Count

The decline of one-store operators continues a multi-year trend. Back in 2017, one-store operators made up a record 63.2% of the industry. Meanwhile, the percentage of one-store operators that sell fuel dropped to 57.1%, the lowest since 2010 (56.7%).

Despite the third-straight yearly decline in stores, the overall convenience store count has increased 2.7% during the past decade. The last time the industry saw multi-year declines was 2009 and 2010, related to the economic fallout of the Great Recession.

The sustained growth of online shopping and the long-term effects of the pandemic will continue to reshape consumer shopping routines and affect the overall retail landscape and make for extremely challenging times. At the same time, there are opportunities, especially for small retail, to implement more online offers and last-mile fulfillment to provide convenience, however the customer defines it,” said Andy Jones, NACS vice chairman of research and technology, who is president and CEO of Sprint Food Stores of Augusta, Georgia.

Performance vs. Other Channels

The decline in the convenience store count reflects a decline in all brick-and-mortar stores. Overall, retail contracted 2.1%, with the dollar store channel being one of the few channels that saw growth (+3.1%). All other major channels had fewer units by December 2020. The convenience store count represents nearly one third (31.9%) of the U.S. brick-and-mortar retail universe tracked by NielsenIQ.

Source: 2021 NACS/NielsenIQ Convenience Industry Store Count

In addition, “gas station/kiosk” stores sell fuel but not enough of an in-store product assortment to be considered convenience stores. Overall, there are 15,638 kiosks, led by 1,673 kiosks in California, 1,339 in Texas and 924 in New Jersey, a state that requires full-service fueling. The kiosk format saw a 9.4% decline during the past year and a 29.2% drop over the past five years as more consumers seek out stores with robust food and beverage offers.

Top 10 States by Store Count (As of December 31,2020)

Source: 2021 NACS/NielsenIQ Convenience Industry Store Count
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