Why CPG Brands Shouldn’t Only Focus on Big-Name C-Stores

As we trudge through the pandemic, c-stores are becoming more valuable than ever before. 

Lori Stillman, vice president of research at NACS, says that c-stores are, “uniquely positioned to lead the economic recovery of retail,” noting the industry’s ability to serve half the U.S. population per day at 153,000 locations.

“We’re where consumers need us to be,” she said, adding that few channels have the potential to change shopper loyalty the way c-stores do. 

That said, many CPG brands still aren’t getting the most out of the channel. There’s a tendency to focus only on big-name stores, ignoring the smaller players. 

In other industries, this might be a good strategy. But with the c-store industry, the top ten brands account for only 27% of all locations, meaning the vast majority are single operators or small chains. 

In case that’s not enough to convince you, here are six more reasons CPG brands shouldn’t only focus on big-name c-store chains. 

1. 62% of c-stores (over 95,000 of them) aren’t owned by big-name brands

Image credit: NACS

The simplest reason to look beyond big-name chains is to expand your reach. As you can see in the chart above, 62% of all stores are single operators. 

Because of the sheer volume of locations, that’s over 95,000 stores. To put that in perspective, there are only 40,000 grocery stores in the entire country. And that’s including everything from specialty stores to conventional supermarkets to warehouse clubs. 

In addition to the single operators, another 11% of c-stores are small mom and pop chains. 

Convenience Store News Editorial Director Don Longo says, "Single-store operators still make up the lion's share of all industry stores, and small chains — consisting of two to 20 stores — continue to represent significant sales revenue across all key categories, from fuel to foodservice." 

So if you’re only focusing on the big names, you’re missing out on the vast majority of the channel. And that’s a huge missed opportunity for reaching your customers. 

2. It’s not a big struggle to reach small stores anymore

You’re probably thinking, "This is all well and good, but how am I supposed to reach all these little stores? It’s just not cost effective to spend time building relationships with thousands of small, individual retailers."

And you’re right. The c-store channel is large and fragmented, making it difficult and expensive to navigate. 

But we have a solution. 

We’ve built a network of over 45,000 c-store locations and we use it to connect brands and retailers. We can help you: 

  • Engage hard-to-reach c-store shoppers with promotions on any digital channel.
  • Secure new distribution channels to drive product trial, awareness, and sales. 
  • Make data-informed decisions by evaluating consumer patterns across products, stores, and channels.

Don’t take it from us, though. Here’s what Nestle’s Senior Account Manager said following a successful campaign: 

“The Koupon Network and their account relationships were key to securing an additional 1,000 points of distribution for our Acqua Panna’s launch in c-store.”

Want to learn more about the Acqua Panna campaign? Check out the case study here.

3. Save on advertising costs by reaching more consumers in small stores

Image credit: Forbes 

Why is ad spending at its lowest point in the U.S. since the 1950s? 

Because digital marketing is SO MUCH CHEAPER.  

According to Statista, advertisers paid an average CPM of $17.50 for cable TV ads for the 2018-2019 season. National broadcast was about $32. At the same time, the average CPM on Google was $2.80. 

And while costs for email and SMS marketing vary, they’re also low compared to traditional ads. 

So if you expand your reach into smaller c-stores, an opportunity presents itself. You can use their retailer-owned digital channels to reach more consumers at a lower cost. 

These retailer-owned channels include loyalty apps, social media feeds, email lists, and SMS marketing. 

4. More measurability on revenue channels

The more you expand into the c-store channel, the more you can measure which retailers are driving the best and worst revenues. 

You can then identify where you're succeeding, where you're falling short, and focus your efforts to gain a competitive advantage. 

At Koupon, for example, we aggregate billions of rows of purchase data to help evaluate your overall performance. 

You can use this information to: 

  • Understand the impact of your campaigns in specific stores and forecast future performance.
  • Benchmark your performance against others in the industry and/or region.
  • Take steps to optimize and improve distribution, promotions, and more. 

5. Expand more into a (very) loyal customer base

Image credit: NACS

More often than not, convenience stores are the closest retailer to home for many Americans.

For those in rural areas, 86% are within 10 minutes of a small c-store and it’s typically the only place in town to buy groceries and other essential items. Many rural stores even provide essential services like mail pick up and banking. 

These little stores are often the community gathering spot. Store operators know their customers personally and will stock specific items for them, resulting in especially high customer loyalty. 

Take Jiffy Trip, for example, where the majority of their stores are located in small communities in Oklahoma. “In many cases, we’re the grocery store, emergency supply, gas station, and a good place to have lunch,” said Becky Treece, Jiffy Trip’s marketing manager.

“There’s something unique about the small-town c-store,” continued Treece. “It’s a special place to customers. Many of our stores have small seating areas. We have our regulars who come in every morning, like farmers who come in after the first feed. 

Some stay for hours to drink coffee and talk. A few of our stores are located near high schools, and students come over and eat. We are a favorite stop for multiple generations, which is hard to find in today’s society.”

By partnering with these small stores, your CPG brand can tap into a very loyal customer base. 

6. Connect with customers during COVID

Image credit: CS News

Small operators are facing many challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, from distribution and supply chain breakdowns to staffing issues. 

However, they do have one significant advantage in this climate — adaptability. 

"Adaptation is a huge advantage of the small operator over larger retailers," said Roy Strasburger, president of StrasGlobal. "We can improvise and pivot quickly and if something doesn't work, we can change it just as quickly."

Many of StrasGlobal’s stores, for example, are changing their layout and bringing in different products to better meet the needs of local customers during COVID. 

"We're trying to become more of a provider of things people need when they're at home, so we're going back to what c-stores were like in the 1960s and 1970s, acting more as a bodega than just a snack shop by supplying more of the items we were moving away from, like cooking supplies or household items and pet care.”

Small stores are also adapting to solve problems related to the supply chain. StrasGlobal, for example, worked with local restaurants and farmers’ markets during the lockdown and sold perishable products in-store on their behalf.

These actions are clearly beneficial in the short term, but they’re likely to help in the long-term as well. 

According to McKinsey, “actions taken during crises can help build trust and reinforce brand values. So companies that show their commitment to the communities in which they operate could build a more loyal customer base in the long run.”

CPG brands can piggyback on this loyalty by partnering with these small, innovative stores to connect with customers during the pandemic. 

Conclusion

To maximize success in the c-store channel, we recommend participating in the channel as a whole. 

Here’s a recap of six reasons that CPG brands shouldn’t only focus on big-name c-stores. 

  1. 62% of c-stores (over 95,000 of them) aren’t owned by big-name brands
  2. It’s not a big struggle to reach small stores anymore
  3. Save on advertising costs by reaching more consumers in non-big-name stores
  4. Increase measurability on revenue channels
  5. Tap into a (very) loyal customer base
  6. Connect with customers during COVID