Opinion: Keep Calm And C-Store On

online retailing

This column is starting out like all the others: a blinking line and a blank space. I’ve been staring at the cursor, matching the rhythm of my heart to the flicker on the screen, for about 11 solid minutes. Any minute now, inspiration will hit.

It always does.

The good thing is, I know what I want to write about. The question is, how?

(­Stands up to get a cup of coffee)

I’m not procrastinating. I’m not. I just can’t figure out how to talk about Amazon. I feel as if I’ve talked about it so much already.

(­Stares blankly at the screen)

Last year saw the rise of a new class of competition for the convenience industry. E-commerce took a step out from behind your computer screen and threatened to move to the empty corner down the street. Both Amazon and Wal-Mart are creating new brick-and-mortar retail spaces that meld the online world with the physical. What does that mean for your product mix and how you manage your categories?

Most experts agree it’s too early to tell, but we do our best to explain some of the possibilities in our first cover story of the year (p. 13). We don’t just ponder the potential threat of Amazon or Wal-Mart. (You can find that story in the February issue of our sister magazine, CSP). Instead, we looked at ways c-stores can increase their own digital presence.

(­Wait, is that an unopened box of Girl Scout cookies in the freezer?)

One of the c-store industry’s strongest assets is its nimbleness. We’re used to competitive threats surrounding us on all sides. It’s kept us agile, adaptable, ready to adjust to the whims of the marketplace. Facing pressure from drug chains, dollar stores or digital giants, you keep calm and c-store on.

(­I should put that on a T-shirt. I wonder if it’s already available on Amazon …)

But Amazon, and e-commerce in general, is your most elusive competitor yet. Which is what makes discussing them so difficult. We simply don’t know if its brick-and-mortar forays are pet projects or part of some high-priority plan to take over the streets, much less if they’ll thrive or die on the vine.

(­Hides the half-empty box of Thin Mints back in the freezer)

As you wait to see what comes of the click-to-brick migration, all you can do is make and maintain the best stores. To help you do that, we talked to category managers from some of our industry’s most successful chains. We asked them what was important to them in the coming new year. We talked with them about new-product strategies, how they made room for new innovative items and cleared out the old ones. You’ll find their words at the start of each category section.

In fact, we dedicate this issue to the category manager, a group of professionals whose physical feet hit the physical pavement every day to fill your physical store with physical products. C-store on, my friends.

(­Where did I hide those cookies?)

Abbey Lewis is editor in chief of Convenience Store Products.