C-Stores Lift Up Their Communities Amid Crisis
Here are some feel-good stories about retailers serving their neighbors during the pandemic.
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C-Stores Lift Up Their Communities Amid Crisis

April 8, 2020

Here are some feel-good stories about retailers serving their neighbors during the pandemic.

From giving away goods to dedicated shopping hours for seniors, retailers are showing why they’re the heart of their communities. Here are some stories about convenience retailers and grocers who are going the extra mile to help customers during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic.

La Crosse, Wisconsin-based Kwik Trip is providing free delivery via EatStreet at more than 70 Wisconsin locations for items such as bread, eggs and toilet paper, Madison Magazine reports.

“These are largely unprecedented times, and we want to make it as easy as possible for everyone to get the items they need without having to take on additional costs,” said David Jackson, Kwik Trip’s digital marketing and loyalty manager. “Whether you need bread and eggs, or some comfort food like our famous chicken sandwiches and a Big Buddy, we’re going to make sure you’re able to get what you need without having to leave home.”

Choice Market in Denver is offering food pickup or takeout discounts to service industry employees who are hard hit by the sudden closure of in-store dining in bars and restaurants, plus emergency responders who are on the front lines of the public health crisis.

“In an effort to support our fellow colleagues who have been the most impacted, Choice is offering a 20% discount on the entire bill for any employee in the service industry as well as any first responders and medical personnel,” Choice said in a notice to customers posted on its website. The hybrid c-store/fast-casual restaurant also is offering $5 off any UberEats delivery of $20 or more to help reduce the delivery expense to customers.

Choice Market is featured in the 2019 Ideas 2 Go

Across the Atlantic in Drylaw, Edinburgh, Day-Today convenience store has given away more than $6,000 in free products to seniors, as a way to help them prepare for quarantines, the Good News Network reports. Owner Zahid Iqbal packaged toilet paper, tissues, anti-inflammatories and antibacterial hand soap into “coronavirus kits” that he delivers for free to customers age 65 and older or to anyone with mobility problems.

“We’ve given away more than a thousand now, that’s just over the weekend,” said Iqbal. “It’s a time when we need to stick together.”

Meanwhile, some grocery stores and discount stores in the United States are setting aside special times reserved for elderly shoppers to help those most vulnerable to COVID-19 shop for essentials, CBS News reports.

Foodtown, a grocery chain of about 30 locations in Texas, is opening its doors from 7 to 8 a.m. “to allow those ages 65 and older to shop in a less crowded environment,” the company announced on its website.

Starting Thursday, Massachusetts-based Stop & Shop will open earlier to serve only customers who are age 60 and older from 6 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., the company announced on its website.

At Dollar General, the first hour stores are open will be for older shoppers only, USA Today reports. The chain is encouraging other customers to please shop “around this window of time to allow the most susceptible customers in our communities the ability to shop during the first hour that stores are open.”


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Posted on: April 8, 2020
From California to Massachusetts, c-stores face varied circumstances as they put new protocols in place and rush to identify opportunities. As COVID-19 disrupts lives and businesses across the globe, U.S. convenience stores are experiencing different realities depending on their location, but many are already adapting by evaluating new opportunities to meet changing customer needs in the midst of chaos. At press time, California, Ohio, Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington closed bars and restaurants beginning Monday, March 16, in effort to slow coronavirus, while internet rumors swirled — and which The National Security Council warned are “fake” — that a national lockdown could be imminent. As lockdowns emerge, tech-forward companies already offering order-ahead, pick-up at store and/or delivery may see an advantage as customers look for alternate ways to buy products while staying home. Amazon has seen such an uptick in delivery orders that it announced plans to hire an additional 100,000 temporary employees and raise wages. Convenience stores have an opportunity to also step up on delivery. C-Store Advantage C-stores have many advantages over other channels, Mel Kleiman, founder of Humetrics pointed out. For example, they don’t usually have the long lines grocery stores are known for, making them ideal stops for people concerned with social distancing. “Yes, there are going to be major disruptions in your operations, but let’s figure out how to make it a positive for growth, customer retention, employee involvement, as well as positive PR for your company and the industry as a whole,” he said. Savvy c-store retailers are looking for the opportunities, whether that means figuring out ways for customers to order at the pump, or passing out DIY hand sanitizer recipes or considering new ways to offer support to parents or communities. On March 16, Alltown Fresh, which operates four locations — two in Massachusetts and two in Connecticut — announced on Twitter that it was introducing order ahead and curbside pickup at its Massachusetts locations. Customers can call to place their order, and then call again when they arrive. The items are brought to the car, reducing social contact. “Stay tuned for the rollout to our (Connecticut) locations,” Alltown Fresh tweeted. Ashland, Ky.-based Clark’s Pump-N-Shop, with stores in Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia and Florida, also took to Twitter to remind customers that its drive-throughs are an option for picking up supplies.The chain also announced that it’s hiring at ALL locations. Wawa, Pa.-based Wawa, which operates more than 860 c-stores in seven states, also posted on Twitter to educate customers about its delivery services. Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz, which operates 600 stores in six states, tweeted to remind customers about its mobile app, which has a mobile point-of-sale so customers can scan, pay and go quickly without worrying about lines. It also allows customers to order ahead made-to-order foodservice items and pick them up curbside or in-store. The View From California In California, despite slower store and gas volume on Monday, March, 16, Rotten Robbie Gas Stations saw an uptick in non-edible grocery and take-home water sales, said Reilly Robinson Musser, vice president of marketing and merchandising for Robinson Oil Corp. dba Rotten Robbie Gas Stations, which operates 34 c-stores in California. Most schools in the area are closed for at least three weeks, and tech companies, such as Apple, Google and Facebook are allowing employees to work from home. “Restaurants are empty and people seem to be taking things seriously,” Musser said. Robinson Oil sent guidance information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to all employees and provided extra hand sanitizers and gloves. It’s asked employees to take precautions as far as social distancing, etc. Employees are asked to stay home if they are feeling sick and area managers are keeping in touch with all employees. They’re asking people to be flexible with scheduling to help accommodate those who have to stay at home with kids or who are out sick. aymond Huff, president of Denver-based HJB Convenience Corp., which operates 19 Russell’s Convenience stores in four states, began to see the effect of COVID-19 last Wednesday, March 11.  “Our stores are in the central business districts of Los Angeles, Denver and San Francisco.  Sales were off 12% on Wednesday, 18% on Thursday and 22% on Friday. Prior to the crisis sales were trending up about 7%,” he said. While Russell’s is a tech forward company, offering frictionless checkout through the SKIP app, as well as two Russell’s Express micro marts, the buildings where the micro marts  operate have emptied, making identifying new opportunities more of a challenge. At its convenience stores employees are allowed to wear masks, if they choose and are washing hands every hour as well as when they touch surfaces, such as stainless steel.  “We are sanitizing all surfaces where customers touch hourly with the bleach and water mixture required by the health department,” Huff said. All Russell’s Convenience employees receive sick leave and vacation time. Huff added each area is implementing a plan of action. “In my opinion, the U.S. should just close everything down for two weeks, let this thing run its course and get us back to business,” Huff said. Silver Linings in Chicago Following news of the bar and restaurant ban in Chicago, The PRIDE Store’s Owner & CEO Mario Spina noted the chain’s brewery and tasting room would be closed but customers could still purchase the brand’s packaged beer inside its 15 Chicagoland PRIDE Convenience Stores, plus any other locations that sell 93 Octane.  The c-store chain’s restaurants — which include Urban Counter, Taco Urbano and Pride Café — will continue to offer carry-out and delivery through Uber Eats. “With many grocery stores being hit hard by consumers stocking up on products, our restaurants could continue to be busy because of the lack of options available,” Spina said. Stores were busy ahead of the lockdown.  “We have seen stores run out of dairy products, cleaning supplies and other miscellaneous home items. We are in the process of increasing the inventory carried at each store to be able to provide those core items to our customers,” Spina said. Protocols are changing too. Each cashier must wear plastic gloves during their shifts. The usually 24/7 stores are now closing from 1 a.m. to 3 a.m. for a deep sanitation, although dispensers remain open for fueling. “We will also sanitize our dispensers (keypads and nozzles specifically) multiple times throughout the day. Luckily, a few years ago we installed hand sanitizers at each door for our customers,” Spina said. Managers are instructed to keep an eye out for team members showing flu-like symptoms. “Open communication regarding this is crucially important,” Spina said. Convenience stores across the country are beefing up their store sanitation and employee hygiene practices and alerting customers to the changes they are making to keep them safe. As CStore Decisions reported yesterday, Sheetz and Kum & Go both announced plans to extend paid sick leave to employees impacted by the virus. The c-store industry is no stranger to transformation in difficult times. It evolved from two-bay garages servicing cars to gas stations with “Cokes & smokes” shops to foodservice powerhouses offering frictionless checkout options. If there’s one thing this industry excels at it’s finding success by thinking outside the box amid changing circumstances. Humetric’s Kleiman pushed convenience retailers to think in terms of opportunities they can be building now when customers need them most. “The question to you is, what can you do to not only survive, but thrive?” From Convenience Store Decisions Read Full Article
Posted on: April 8, 2020
From sanitation practices to payments to pump-side delivery, c-stores are taking a proactive approach. U.S. convenience and fuel retailers are reaching out to their customers across the country to share information about operational plans—including store and forecourt sanitization, employee leave flexibility and supply chain robustness—in the face of the fast-moving coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) that has largely tapped the brakes on public life as usual in hopes of slowing its spread. 7-Eleven, Casey’s, Sheetz and Wawa are among the retailers who have contacted customers via email or social media in recent days to communicate their plans, along with in-store discussions with concerned customers and employee team members. Wawa CEO Chris Gheysens said in a message to customers Thursday, “We recognize that things are changing rapidly now. But please know one thing—We will do our best to be there for those that need us, when they need us, as long as we can.” The Pennsylvania-based retailer has partnered with the Red Cross to provide customers and associates with health and safety tips to limit the spread of any virus or infection. The tip sheet is available in all stores and can be downloaded here. “For the past month, our team members have been operating with heightened attention to actions like store cleaning and more frequent handwashing,” Darren Rebelez, president and CEO, Casey’s General Stores, shared in an email to the Iowa-based c-store chain’s customers Thursday. “This includes being diligent with fundamental actions like increasing the frequency of cleaning food prep equipment, counters, restrooms and fuel pumps as well as other high-touch surfaces throughout our stores. As always, our team members are staying home if they are sick.” For store operators, NACS e-learning partner Ready Training Online (RTO), which provides online training solutions for the convenience, restaurant, and retail industries, has created a free seven-minute training module on how to help prevent the spread of illness and disease at businesses. The training covers best practices and the basic techniques frontline staff can implement immediately to protect themselves and others from the spread of illnesses such as the common cold, flu and the current outbreak of COVID-19. Click here. Beyond practicing good hygiene, sanitizing high-touch areas and making hand sanitizer stations available for customers and staff, many c-stores are suspending the use of refillable tumblers and mugs, eliminating food and beverage samples, considering limiting certain foodservice operations and expanding delivery services, including pump-side delivery. On the forecourt, customers at many retailers will find plastic gas mitts, and some retailers are offering to pump gas for their customers, where staffing and local regulations allow. Kenosha, Wisconsin-based Lou Perrine’s Gas and Grocery in a Facebook post reminded customers that the c-store delivers: “Corona Virus got you on lock down? Need a pack of smokes and some Mt Dew? No need to get out of the house, just hit us up and we will come to you!” The c-store also offers to pump gas and deliver in-store goods to customers on the forecourt in its “You Call We Pump” service. (For more on forecourt delivery, see “Pump-Side Delivery” in the August 2019 issue of NACS Magazine.) Joe DePinto, 7-Eleven president and CEO, in an email Friday reminded customers that delivery is available to more than households through the 7NOW delivery app. He announced that starting this week, 7-Eleven will offer a contactless delivery option in response to CDC recommendations and customer requests. Concerns about spreading germs via hand-to-hand contact when paying with cash has some retailers encouraging customers to pay by other means. “We request that payments are made by contactless card/phone where possible,” U.K.-based Applegreen said in a tweet. Retailers also addressed supply chain concerns. DePinto said 7-eleven is “working with vendors and suppliers to stock stores with high demand, essential products and making them easy for you to find.” Hy-Vee, the West Des Moines, Iowa-based grocery and c-store chain, said it is “working closely with our suppliers to make sure we have enough supplies to meet our shoppers’ needs. We are reaching out beyond our traditional supply channels to make sure we have the items you want. Our employees also are increasing their stocking efforts as we keep up with customer demand.” In addition to meeting the needs of their customers, supporting their employees is top of mind for NACS members. With schools closing across the country and public gatherings limited in size, parents are scrambling to secure backup childcare. For employees, Wawa said it is offering enhanced leave to provide flexibility and support. (For more on helping employees find child care, see “The Child-Care Crunch” in the March issue of NACS Magazine.) Sheetz is providing up to an additional two weeks of paid time off to any team member who contracts the virus or has to quarantined due to exposure. The Pennsylvania-based retailer also is reassuring employees with pre-exisiting health conditions or compromised immune systems who are especially vulnerable to the virus that they are eligible for leave without fear of losing their jobs. Sheetz President and COO Travis Sheetz in a message to customers raised the possibility that some c-stores may need to close as a last resort. “As you well know, Sheetz team members weather some pretty big storms, but these are unchartered waters for all of us,” Sheetz said. “While we are driven to remain open and available to you, we will not jeopardize anyone’s health or safety in that effort and must follow the direction of local, state and federal health agencies and officials. As a last resort, some stores could close. At a minimum, you may experience staffing shortfalls, so we thank you for your support of our team members as they work tirelessly to continue to provide the TCF [Total Customer Focus] you are accustomed to at Sheetz.” From NACS Read Full Article