What is a Convenience Store?

The following information is taken from the NACS research report Convenience Store Industry Marketing Strategies and Store Formats prepared by Gene Gerke of Gerke & Associates, Inc. It describes the characteristics of the different types of convenience stores represented by the data in this report.)

In the not too distant past, every convenience store looked about the same -- 2,400 square feet of packaged consumer items. Today, companies in the industry are approaching markets with different types of stores and different product offerings. There are mini-convenience stores under canopies, conventional size stores with expanded foodservice, and even hyper-convenience stores with the extensive variety of product offerings and in-store seating for foodservice. The fastest growing segments of the convenience store market are considered by many to be "nontraditional" stores. That is, store formats other than 2,400 square feet, either larger or smaller.

The changes in store formats have implications for all elements of the industry. Retailing executives are concerned with competitive impact and their marketing strategies and niches. Product suppliers want to be aware of format variations as they dictate requirements for appropriate product packaging, promotion and distribution for the stores. Equipment and systems vendors want to design their equipment and systems to fit the various types of store formats. Investors and financial analysts want to understand the economics of the changes taking place and the likely impact on the convenience store industry. Finally, the various governmental agencies--local, state and federal--need to understand the various store formats.

Based on this research, six formats were identified as representing trends in the convenience store industry. The six convenience store formats are:

  • Kiosk;
  • Mini Convenience Store;
  • Limited Selection Convenience Store;
  • Traditional Convenience Store;
  • Expanded Convenience Store; and
  • Hyper Convenience Store.

A general description of each type is provided below.

This format is less than 800 square feet and is intended to provide some additional revenue beyond gasoline sales. Gasoline is always the focus of this operation with the owner usually being an oil company or petroleum marketer. The store sells only the fast-moving items found in traditional convenience stores (tobacco, beverages, snacks, and confectioneries). Grocery items are conspicuously absent, as is any sort of foodservice. Store sales may be only about ten percent of revenues in such locations. Parking is usually only at the pumps. Hours vary widely depending on the location and the inclinations of the owner. Typical customers are transients and locals stopping in to buy gasoline.

Mini Convenience Store
This store format, usually 800 to 1,200 square feet in size is extremely popular with the oil companies and the emphasis is on gasoline sales. However, in such locations, the owners view store sales as an important part of of the revenue and margin picture. Grocery selection is usually very thin and foodservice beyond prepared sandwiches. There usually is not any parking other than that at the pumps, although some locations do have modest striped parking. Open hours usually range from 18 to 24 hours. Customers are usually people buying gasoline. However, there are stores of this size in urban areas which may or may not sell gasoline.

Limited Selection Convenience Store
These stores, which range from 1,500 to 2,200 square feet, are becoming more numerous. They are often affiliated with oil companies and are in the size range of a converted two-bay service station. Both gasoline and store sales are generally important parts of profitability. They differ from the "mini convenience store" in a broader product mix and grocery offering (although still somewhat limited by traditional convenience store standards). Also, simple foodservice (hot dogs, nachos, popcorn, etc.) may be offered. Although gasoline buyers are normally still the main part of the customer base, traditional convenience store patrons are important. Striped parking and extended hours are common.

Traditional Convenience Store
Most of the original convenience stores fall into this category. They are about 2,400 to 2,500 square feet in size and offer a product mix which includes dairy, bakery, snack foods, beverages, tobacco, grocery, health and beauty aids, confectionery, and perhaps prepared foods to go, fresh or frozen meats, gasoline, various services, and limited produce items. Most stores of this size have 6 to 12 striped parking spaces or some form of convenient pedestrian access. Hours are extended compared to average retailers with a large percentage open 24 hours per day. Such operations are normally owned by convenience store chains, but oil companies have also built or acquired stores of this size.

Expanded Convenience Store
Growth is occurring in the number of stores in the 2,800 to 3,600 square feet range. Such stores can accommodate more shelving for additional grocery products or room for significant fast food operations and seating. Stores using the space for more grocery items are taking advantage of the niche which has developed as supermarkets increasingly move above the 40,000 square foot range. A few large chains are using this "superette" approach. A greater percentage are using the space to take advantage of the high profit margins in fast foods. As the number of smaller operations proliferates (largely as a result of the oil companies), many convenience store chains apparently view the move towards increased fast foods as essential. In terms of other products and services, such stores usually carry the traditional convenience store items. Parking is important with most having about 10 to 20 marked spaces. Hours are extended. Such operations not only attract the typical convenience store customer but also more families, women, and senior citizens.

Hyper Convenience Store
These very large stores (4,000 to 5,000 square feet) usually offer an array of products and services arranged in departments. For example, such stores may offer variations such as a bakery, a sit-down restaurant area, or a pharmacy. Many of these locations do sell gasoline. The number of employees per shift can be large, particularly if a small restaurant is present. The number of parking spaces is substantial, especially since the amount of time the average customer spends in such an establishment can be significant. Hours are extended. Here again, as in the case of the Expanded Convenience Store, families and senior citizens as well as traditional convenience store customers are patrons. In some locations, such stores are mini-truck stops which obviously affects product mix and the customer base.

According to NACS Constitution and Bylaws, the NACS Definition of a Convenience Store is:

"...a retail business with primary emphasis placed on providing the public a convenient location to quickly purchase from a wide array of consumable products (predominantly food or food and gasoline) and services."

While such operating features are not a required condition of membership, convenience stores have the following characteristics:

  • While building size may vary significantly, typically the size will be less than 5,000 square feet.;
  • Off-street parking and/or convenient pedestrian access;
  • Extended hours of operation with many open 24 hours, seven days a week;
  • Convenience stores stock at least 500 SKUs; and
  • Product mix includes grocery type items, and also includes items from the following groups: beverages, snacks (including confectionery) and tobacco.