November 2021

Feature

Ideas That Grow

From giving back to amplifying sustainability to innovating new concepts, the 2021 Ideas 2 Go c-stores are industry pacesetters.
Chrissy Blasinsky

Convenience retailers continue to revolutionize what convenience means to their companies, employees, brands, customers and their communities. This year’s Ideas 2 Go program, which debuted at the NACS Show in Chicago during a general session on October 8, revealed how companies are defining their purpose and changing people’s lives.

Wawa’s Social Purpose

Convenience stores are inextricably linked to their communities, representing more than destinations for great food, refreshments and fuel. For Pennsylvania-based Wawa, its commitment to its people and making an impact in the lives of the customers the stores serve is guided by its social purpose.

At Wawa, “social purpose is embedded into the fabric and DNA of us as individuals and the organization. It’s an extension of our core purpose of who we are,” said Chris Gheysens, president and CEO of Wawa. “It’s how we make decisions, the people that we hire, the way that we support our communities and the way we serve our customers every day.”

Wawa’s social purpose is an extension ofthe company’s core purpose, which focuses on four pillars: community, valuing people, quality food and protecting the environment. “This framework allows us to direct and benchmark our efforts, allocate resources, time and people to the things that matter the most for us,”said Gheysens.

7-Eleven’s Evolution

At 7-Eleven, redefining convenience never takes a break. The company has opened an average of two stores a day in the past 94 years, beginning with a single icehouse and growing to more than 71,000 stores throughout the world.

In March 2019, 7-Eleven introduced its Evolution Store concept in Dallas, Texas, that has expanded into a handful of cities throughout the United States. These “lab stores” serve as experiential testing grounds, where customers can try—and buy—the retailer’s latest innovations in a revolutionary new store format.

“The Evolution Stores are our labs that we learn from. We’re quickly taking those learnings and putting them into prototype stores that we build with restaurants,” said Brad Williams, senior vice president of corporate operations and restaurant platforms, 7-Eleven.

Customers who frequent an Evolution Store quickly recognize the food- and beverage-forward experience. “We see people from our core convenience store customer who comes in every single day, to a parent with young kids who are loving the Slurpee or the soft-serve experience. We’re really looking to surprise and delight people across the spectrum,” said Molly Long, vice president of store evolution and design, 7-Eleven.

Weigel’s Community Involvement

In 2020, Powell, Tennessee-based Weigel’s celebrated its 90th anniversary—appropriately during a 90-day event—that captured the company’s incredible growth from a local dairy to a bakery and more than 65 convenience stores.

“The 90th anniversary is going to take us into the future and springboard our loyalty program,” said Doug Yawberry, president of Weigel’s Stores Inc. Another 90-day event for Weigel’s is creating customer excitement around limited-time flavored milks. From peanut butter chocolate to orange creamsicle and birthday cake flavors, “our customers know that we have quality products. When we introduce something, we make sure that it’s quality,” he said.

Weigel’s is also changing lives as a sustaining partner of Smoky Mountain Service Dogs (SMSD), whose mission is to enhance the physical and psychological quality of life for wounded veterans and their families with a mobility assistance service dog.

Army Sgt. First Class (ret.) Chuck Stewart’s wife encouraged him to reach out to SMSD after stopping at a Weigel’s store she had never been to before. While filling up, she saw a pumptopper for an SMSD fundraising campaign. That fateful day led to Chuck being paired with his mobility assistance dog, Sadie, for the past four years. “I never thought filling up a tank of gas would change my life,” he said.

Tiger Fuel Co.’s Solar Future

Tiger Fuel Company was established in August 1982 with the purchase of an Exxon-branded petroleum distributor. The Charlottesville, Virginia-based company expanded to convenience stores and car washes and home heating oil and propane gas products.

Today, Tiger is diversifying its energy offer even further with the acquisition of a solar company, Altenergy, that has since been rebranded to Tiger Solar.

“Our fuel business isn’t going away any time soon, but there is no doubt that the energy landscape is changing,” said Gordon Sutton, president of Tiger Fuel, who also believes that investing in solar will bring long-term success to the business and the bottom line.

“We are spending so much money keeping all these wonderful products cool during the summer. And we have the canopy space, so it just made sense to put that space to work and start providing clean energy that will save us money down the road,” he said.

Parent Petroleum’s Brewing Success

As Chicagoland-based Parent Petroleum expanded its store count to 16 PRIDE Stores, owner and CEO Mario Spina also set his sights on differentiating the concept to attract loyal customers. Today, the company has three foodservice concepts, Pride Café, Urban Counter and Taco Urbano, plus a liquor store and a new brewery called—appropriately—93 Octane.

“Nobody enjoys buying gas. What we try to do is make it an enjoyable experience for things that people do enjoy. Like good food, nice craft beer, a nice selection of wine and a nice selection of spirits,” said Spina. “And hopefully when they need to buy fuel, they’ll do it here because they know they purchase things they enjoy buying,” he said.

The branding for the brewery is intentional. “We wanted to tie it into our roots, which is gas stations and convenience stores. So, that’s why we named it 93 Octane. The logo looks like the button on the pump, and for every beer we make we tie it into some type of fuel, oil or car,” Spina explained.

“We try to do things differently at every store,” he said, a nod to the fact that the company is not done testing, learning and innovating. “Just because you have one concept, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work for the next store,” Spina said. “That is the great and challenging thing about convenience stores. It’s not cookie cutter.”

Chrissy Blasinsky

Chrissy Blasinsky is the content communications strategist at NACS and can be reached at cblasinsky@convenience.org.