Express opportunity evident in C-store total

While Walmart continues to fine tune its small format Express concept, ample opportunity awaits in the C-store space.

The latest data from Nielsen shows the number of U.S. convenience stores continues to expand and last year set a new record with 149,220 units. Roughly 63% of those units are independent operators who presumably charge higher prices than what would be available at Walmart’s convenience stores.

The total C-store figure is up 1,094 units from the prior year so the increase amounts to only a 0.7% gain, according to the 2013 National Association of Convenience Stores/Nielsen Convenience Industry Store Count. Even so, the growth is noteworthy at a time when overall expansion of selling space in the broader retailer industry has remained stagnant even though the recession officially ended in 2009.

"Our continued growth shows that our core offer of convenience resonates with customers, whether a fill up, quick snack or drink or for fill-in groceries or take-out meals for time-starved consumers," said Dave Carpenter, chairman of the NACS trade group and president and CEO of Denver-based J.D. Carpenter Companies Inc.

The convenience retailing industry continues to be dominated by single-store operators, which now account for nearly 63% of all convenience stores, but the fastest growing segment of the industry is among operators with more than 500 stores. The store count among companies with more than 500 units grew by 8.9% to 21,738 stores, compared to the less than 1% growth that saw units operated by independents increase to 93,819 stores.

Convenience stores now account for 34.8% of all retail outlets in the United States, according to Nielsen, and the total count of slightly more than 149,000 units is double what it was in 1982.

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