In the December / January issue of C&I Retailing Magazine, we spoke with a number of petrol and convenience retailers to find out how they overcame the challenges of 2020 and hear their outlook for 2021.

For the second in our series of interviews, we chat with Darren Park, CEO of UCB Stores

C&I: What were the main highlights and challenges for UCB Stores during 2020? 

Darren: 2020 for me was about toilet paper panic buying, social distancing, lockdowns, hotel quarantines, Perspex safety screens, super enhanced personal care, elbow-bump greetings, grocery power games, border closures, floods, bushfires, Zoom meetings and virtual trade shows. The challenge has and is about our ability to respond in a way that is appropriate and effective.

It’s been (and will always be) about people. My UCB team members and their families, our UCB members, their teams and their families. UCB Trade Partner friends and their families too. When things get tough, we gravitate to those that we care for.

C&I: Have you noticed any new trends emerging over the past six to 12 months? 

Darren: The trend that many of us in convenience are experiencing is the renewed trust that shoppers have for our trade channel. With shop transaction counts holding firm or rising, basket sizes growing and holding items from more categories and promotional item basket penetration growing, our channel is seen as a safe, credible and relatively speedy place to shop.

C&I: What will be your immediate focus in 2021?

Darren: To work with our Trade Partners to ensure we maintain and enhance shopper value in our trade channel. There’s quite a dynamic environment in play right now, with the shopper favouring our channel for many of their needs. It’s such a brilliant opportunity for big brands to present their brands in a relevant way. We need to help drive the right big brand availability coupled with sensible affordability.

C&I: What will be the major challenges and opportunities for UCB Stores in 2021?

Darren: UCB wants to continue to push harder into our data and insight programs. 2019 and 2020 has taught us a great deal about how our shoppers and big brands behave in metropolitan and regional environments. The challenge is not one of UCB motivation or energy, it’s managing to execute the right objectives as well as we possibly can.

C&I: Have you noticed a shift in consumer behaviour? Do you predict it will continue into 2021? 

Darren: I think we will see some of the online channel penetration success of 2020 give some of that opportunity back to physical stores. That’s why we need stores to look great, keep food offers appealing, offer safe shopping services and activate promotional activities. We need to keep those shoppers that we have won in 2020 and give others compelling reasons to make us part of their shopping opportunities.

C&I: How do you predict petrol/convenience retailing will evolve in 2021?

Darren: Assuming we don’t see a repeat of 2020, I think we’ll see independent retailers invest again into their retail offers. There’s so much pent up innovation in this part of the convenience channel, it will need just a glimpse of clear air.

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

Darren: We need to recognise publications such as C&I who give many in our industry a voice. I want to say thank you. Every year typically has a few defining moments and for 2020, it’s was about seeing how good we are when we work together. It’s with this in mind, what I’m truly looking forward to in 2021, is getting together in May for our Annual UCB Member Conference and Trade Show on the Gold Coast.

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