A Convenient Truth
By Seth Mendelson

Is the convenience store a threat to the retail pet business? Before you completely shrug off the concept, walk into one of the growing number of c-stores populating the country and you will quickly understand what is happening here.

The c-store is today’s corner grocery store. Gone are the days of catering to underage teenage boys looking for beer, cigarettes and adult magazines. Now the major convenience store chains are going after mom and catering to her growing desire for a place to quickly shop for basic family needs.

Those needs, apparently, include the family pet. C-stores have always stocked a small array of pet food products, usually a couple of facings of wet dog and cat food and some dry dog food. Cat litter also got a facing or two in many c-stores over the years.

Many c-store retailers are now asking for “convenience-sized” packaging for more and more pet food products, as well as pet supplies such as shampoos and other grooming items, and leashes and collars. Some c-store merchants are even stocking larger pet-related items, such as beds and litter boxes. The theory is simple. By developing a well-merchandised pet section, c-store retailers may be able to convince consumers that they can forego a trip to a pet store or supermarket for their pet needs. The fact that the category is extremely popular right now and produces strong sales and profits is certainly playing a role in this corporate thinking. 

C-stores are the current hot segment in the retail world. Chains such as 7-Eleven, Circle K and Wawa, not to mention a bevy of independent operators, are opening up stores at a rapid clip wherever possible. In New Jersey, for example, the major chains have opened more than 20 new c-stores in the last 18 months. Many of these units feature in excess of 5,000 square feet of selling space, offering just about every major supermarket department, with the exception of produce and fresh meats.

Stocking more pet products makes sense for those c-store operators that hope to compete with other retail segments.

What is the best way for pet store operators to fight back? Well, the good news is that most c-stores price their products–including pet supplies–at higher rates, assuming that consumers are in too much of a rush to look at price points. Offering fair prices on the right merchandise is a good start. Making it easy to get the consumer in and out of the store is just as important. Finally, staying true to the pet category may be the best solution of all.