As part of the 2022 C&I Industry Leaders Forum, Darren Park, CEO, UCB Stores shares insightful thoughts around how the convenience industry needs to be united in its focus if we want to thrive and prosper.

C&I: What were the highlights for UCB in 2021?

Park: It’s almost like 2020 and 2021 are lumped together – the many challenges of being open and safe for shoppers consumed us all. From an industry perspective, many in the communities we serve came to understand and value what convenience offers, that’s a highlight. Another key highlight is a personal one, where my UCB team were resilient and flexible in keeping up the levels of service our members expect from us. Our office in Sydney was in a locked down Local Government Area. My team responded by creating a new temporary UCB office in a vacant restaurant, in a different suburb, in a matter of days. That’s teamwork!

C&I: What will be the focus for UCB for the remainder of 2022?

Park: As an industry we were exposed to a range of new shoppers and shopper missions over the past two years, our focus is on keeping as many of those as we reasonably can. Also, we must work closely with trade partners to manage price inflation, particularly the possible pricing differentials between customers in the same channel as well as cross channel competitiveness. This is a time for us as an industry to stick together and be strong. This is going to occupy a lot of my actions in 2022.

C&I: How have you noticed the convenience channel evolving in recent years? And how can retailers best prepare themselves for the future?

Park: Let me answer from an independent retail point of view. Retail has dealt with more change in the last two years than in the previous two decades and as a side effect, we’ve all grown more resilient. Spending behaviours are shifting, and people are more willing than ever to buy from businesses that resonate with them because of location, ease of access, safety and solving more shopper missions than we might have previously. Shoppers are also returning to in-person shopping so businesses that know their customers, speak to them, and genuinely listen to them, will be best prepared. As a leading independent buying group, what makes us and our members strong is communication and two-way interaction – we have all learned to communicate across various media, using a combination of print media, email, eDMs, SMS, MMS, social media and we are seeing these capabilities being used with growing effectiveness at store level too.

C&I: What is one challenge you’d like to see addressed within the convenience channel?

Park: Many of our industry trade partners have businesses across multiple channels, from convenience to foodservice and grocery. My largest issue is with pricing conflicts across customers and channels, especially grocery. There are stark differences in convenience vs grocery. In grocery, there are in many cases lower margins, costs of just getting in the door, contracts and terms that strongly favour retailers, logistical issues, costly data access and the list goes on. Convenience is a channel that allows you to build brands, the old brand in the hand argument.

C&I: What do you enjoy most about what you do?

Park: I have worked for nearly my whole career in convenience and petroleum, I’ve seen single site owners build family security or even become multi-site owners, I’ve seen account managers become sales directors and I think I’ve helped pioneer looking outwards as an industry, on what we can do to be better and what are the possible ways of achieving this. Our job is never done, but I am proud of the esteem that convenience as an industry is held in.

C&I: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Park: I really want to reiterate that as an industry, if we want to thrive and prosper, we need to be relatively united in our focus. Product inflation control and supply continuity are crucial to our success. We are a profitable and brand led channel for many trade partners, we can’t be used as a cash cow to balance grocery and foodservice margin squeezes.

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