As part of the 2021 Industry Leaders Forum, Robert Anderson, Director, APCO Service Stations, tells C&I why he has never been more passionate or excited to be a part of the convenience channel.
C&I: What do you most enjoy about convenience and what is one challenge you’d like to see addressed in the industry?
Anderson: I enjoy the collaboration of this channel, which exposes us all to new opportunities for growth. We are such a unique sector with incredible diversity, a mix of retailers and trade partners, both large and small, willing to network and share best practice to leverage our individual businesses, meanwhile strengthening our industry together.
Most of what APCO delivers to market has been learnt from my shared experiences alongside industry peers, colleagues and long-term strategic supplier partnerships and I trust these valuable partnerships will be the enabler for more growth opportunities in convenience.
One challenge continues to be attracting and retaining quality employees within our retail stores. We don’t offer a perceived ‘valued’ career path and the biggest industry void is providing a quality, recognised and ‘accredited’ retail training program that embraces all facets of our retail operations including hospitality, through to people management. The convenience industry is not taken as seriously as it should be, simply because we are not recognised as a unique, quality, and exclusive workforce.
C&I: Highlight one achievement at APCO you’re particularly proud of from over the past 12 months.
Anderson: It’s difficult not to mention COVID-19 and the impact this had on all our people and in particular our retail partners and their store teams. Despite being one of the lucky essential services to remain open for trade, this inherited responsibility to keep the doors open placed increased burden upon everyone and I’m enormously proud of their extraordinary effort to not just overcome the obvious challenges, but to haul us through achieving sales growth beyond all our expectations.
You know what they say luck is: “Luck is what happens when hard work and preparation meets opportunity.” In my view, our achievements over the past 12 months demonstrate the exceptional retailers and people we have working with us at APCO.
C&I: What is the focus for APCO in 2021?
Anderson: The immediate focus is business as usual and the outlook is well, hopefully more of that ‘luck’ I’ve just mentioned. We have solid plans for growth in the key areas we have been working hard on for many years. Coffee and foodservice have been our passion and we are continuing along that focus with essential training and re-training to improve the quality and consistency of our offer and service.
I am optimistic about the outlook for APCO and the convenience channel overall in 2021. We’ve never had such growth and customer numbers entering our stores, it reminds me of the early pioneering convenience days in the late 80s and early 90s, before deregulation of shopping hours when shoppers ‘shopped’ all our aisles for basic groceries and essential items.
Convenience is still our core strength. It will remain our strength and we are the channel to watch.
C&I: How do you envision the next six months for convenience?
Anderson: I’ve been in convenience for more than 32 years and I’ve never been more passionate and excited about this channel and our opportunity for growth.
If the past six months is anything to go by then we’re in for a good ride and convenience retail will continue to outpace the rest. It will be up to convenience to ensure we capitalise long term on the changed consumer behavioural trends due to COVID-19. Let’s hope the channel continues to inspire, innovate, and keep aligned with consumer value perception to ensure we keep these shoppers in convenience.
C&I: How do you see the retail and food service model through P&C evolving to meet changing consumer needs?
Anderson: I’m a firm believer in the bricks and mortar traditional convenience model with good old fashion customer service. That’s our core strength and we should continue to play to the model that has served us well for decades. In saying that, I expect the trends in retail and foodservice to continue with an emphasis on evolving technology and healthier choices.
E-commerce within P&C has emerged more rapidly than I ever expected, and we are perfectly placed with small format, local neighbourhood stores with quality facilities operating 24/7 for online ordering and delivery.
This digital reach is introducing new convenience customers and incremental sales in day parts where we have been traditionally less busy, therefore online is a natural step and highly complementary to P&C.
Obviously, evolving our foodservice menu throughout all day parts will enhance the e-commerce opportunity, particularly for evening mealtime as this is when the consumer is prepared to spend more on themselves and family.
Healthier alternatives and choice are also key to meeting consumer needs and there is significant work to be done in P&C to help change consumers perceptions that we are not just a sweet and treat stop. This task is a huge investment and growth mindset for P&C, as consumers still love the fat, sugar, and caffeine, which contributes most of our profits. However, to remain relevant and competitive within the market, P&C must be prepared to commit to the investment and effort required.