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C-store sales end year on a high note, set tone for Q1 2019

Strong sales in 2018 are keeping convenience store retailers optimistic for the year ahead.

This was according to the “NACS Retailer Sentiment Survey” from the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS), which revealed that 84% of retailers said that in-store sales increased in 2018. Meanwhile, 62% reported that fuel gallons sold also increased.

These strong sales are bolstering retailers’ optimism regarding their business prospects for 2019. In fact, 85% of retailers are optimistic about their first quarter results, the highest measure of optimism for the first quarter in the past five years.

Convenience stores sell nearly 80% of the fuel purchased in the United States, and conduct an estimated 165 million transactions a day. Operators revealed that they experienced strong in-store sales led by foodservice growth (68% of retailers said sales increased), as well as better-for-you items, such as fresh salads and other healthy options (62% of retailers reported sales increases). Beverages were also big seller in 2018, especially among specialty beverages, water and energy drinks, the study revealed.

Services that offer of convenience continue to resonate across the industry, especially with new offerings like mobile apps that enable customers to order food for pickup.

C-store operators do have some concerns as they head into the first quarter. Only 62% are optimistic about the economy, the lowest percentage in 11 quarters.

Not unexpectedly, given the tight labor market, retailers reported that labor issues are the biggest threat to their businesses.

Top concerns cited by retailers for 2019 are:
• Labor issues (59%)
• Regulations/legislation (47%)
• Economic concerns (41%)
• Competition from other convenience stores (39%)
• Competition from other formats (29%)
• Potential decrease in driving/increase in gas prices (19%)

Despite concerns, retailers remain upbeat that 2019 may be a repeat of 2018 for sales—as long as the economy stays relatively strong, the study said.
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