A woman examining a bottle of juice in a store.



As convenience stores face change, Advantage Solutions helps guide the way

Michael Browne

When the National Association of Convenience Stores holds its annual NACS Show in Atlanta October 4-6, it will not only be a celebration of the strength of the convenience store industry, it will be one of the biggest, most important business opportunities of the year for Advantage Solutions.

“Our teams will be out in force at the NACS Show,” says Charles Simpson, senior director category leadership at Advantage. “We’re going to have a large presence at the show, meeting with more than 100 clients to promote and sell our services and solutions.”

This year’s show comes as the c-store channel is amid a period of growth and evolution in the United States, thrusting the channel into the retail spotlight and priming it for increased attention.

“We continue to see mergers and acquisitions,” says Simpson. “With that we’re also seeing a growth in independent store ownership. At the same time, many of the large chains are building new stores or rebuilding acquired units.”

For the first time in four years, the number of c-stores is growing in 2023, surpassing 150,000 nationwide. On top of that, advances in technology coupled with a changing customer base are forcing retailers and product manufacturers to evolve their approach in the channel.

“The c-store channel has traditionally been somewhat behind when it comes to innovation,” Simpson says. “Cost is always a major driver of speed in terms of innovation, but we’re starting to see stores get into more — or at least testing — self-checkouts as well as the integration of EV charging stations at their gas stations. There’s still some work on the cost front, but we’re seeing some retailers start to dabble in that space. We’re also seeing growth in the use of apps and the mobile space to communicate with shoppers.”

With a clear transformation underway, Advantage is honing in on three key focus areas for convenience stores this year: general category management services, covering everything from market research to business planning; planograms and assortment for clients and customers who can’t devote full-time resources to those tasks; and floor planning to address how consumers are shopping the store.

Perhaps the biggest change in the channel has been shoppers themselves. Data from NACS show the traditional demographic of 15- to 24-year-old blue-collar males is increasingly giving way to more female shoppers and Millennials, the latter of whom now comprise 39% of shoppers. Four in 10 shoppers have at least some college education, half have at least one child and 44% live in the suburbs.

With a change in shopper profiles comes a change in product profiles, Simpson says. “Today’s shoppers are looking for bold new flavors, sustainable packaging, low- and no-sugar options, high protein, clean ingredients and so on. Those kinds of attributes are driving new product innovation.”

Today’s c-store shopper is also seeking out more foodservice options, says Brenda Chantry, senior team leader in category management at Advantage Solutions. “C-stores are really pushing foodservice,” she says, noting the category is one of the top drivers of growth in the channel last year. “Our research says 50% of c-store customers agree the food at their c-store is comparable to fast-food restaurants. So instead of going to a fast-food place where there are long lines, they’re going to their quick, in-and-out c-store to get breakfast, lunch or a snack.”

All of these new products, innovations and new menu items will be on display at the NACS Show, along with educational sessions, networking opportunities and more. This year’s show will draw more than 20,000 attendees.

Aside from connecting with friends and colleagues, Simpson says he is looking forward to learning new strategies to help retailers and manufacturers drive business and exceed profit expectations.

“You don’t need to invest in and hire a new person to execute against category management or planogram services, for example, when you can use Advantage services, which can be scaled based on your needs,” he says. “We can offer so many experts and technology from our world, and that way you don’t have to make a massive investment to hire a full-time employee that you may not need all the time.

“Our ability to help another business succeed is what drives me right now heading into the show.”