Convenience stores have long relied on males to pay the bills, but female shoppers tend to bring a higher ring and wield more influence
There are certain facts that convenience industry insiders have come to accept: a store should be open 24/7; it must be stocked with coffee, cigarettes, beer and lottery tickets; and the majority of customers walking through the door will be males in the 18-to-30-year-old age group.
That does not mean things can’t change, however. Last year, Pacific Convenience & Fuels LLC (PC&F) opened two new ground-up locations with a different consumer in mind. While no one would mistake either store for a day spa, they are both designed to attract the same demographic – females.
The new stores come at a time when the West Coast convenience store chain is looking to expand its reach to not only include females, but also the younger generations.
“Our customers are 60 percent male and 40 percent female, but we want to expand our demographic overall,” explained Chris Wilson, general manager for PC&F. “The female customer spends more per transaction – about $2 to $3 more – than their male counterparts. They also buy higher-margin items like bottled water. So, we want the female customer for what she is buying and how much she is buying. Also, they usually have kids in the car and they are our future customers.”
Females are a valued customer to The Parker Cos., operator of Parker’s Convenience Stores in the Southeast, as well. “Attracting more female shoppers has been key to our success at Parker’s,” said Greg Parker, president. “We all know ‘Bubba’ is our No. 1 customer, but we focus our attention on the working mother. She’s the lens through which we view everything we do because she’s the most time-starved and the most-demanding customer.”
Many retailers acknowledge the importance of the female consumer, but at the same time, most do not know how to attract her. And of those who try, only a few seem to be doing it well.
“The female shopper is far more important than most of the operators have realized,” said Jim Calvin, president of the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS). “She is hard to attract and even harder to keep.”
Why? As Calvin explained, female consumers expect more than male consumers.
“In my observation, many women are professional shoppers. They have done it a lot; they are very discerning. Their expectations are high and they are hard to win over,” he said.
Jim Tudor, president of the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores (GACS), acknowledged that convenience store operators have been talking about the importance of the female customer for more than 30 years, but to date, the majority of operators he sees have not done a good job executing a successful strategy to attract her.
“Thirty years ago, we were in meetings at 7-Eleven talking about strategies to market to ‘active females,’ whatever that means,” noted Tudor, who has been in the c-store business for 36 years, the first 10 years with 7-Eleven.
Wilson of PC&F noted that convenience store retailers such as Sheetz and Wawa stand out on the East Coast; however, no West Coast retailer has been able to go after women shoppers well. They are still very much marketing to the blue-collar male – the beer and cigarettes buyer, he said.
“Convenience stores are fighting traditional stereotypes,” he added. “A lot of companies have done a good job attracting female customers, but not the majority.”
PC&F hopes it is heading down the right path with its two new stores. “In the past year, we built two ground-up stores really with the female customer in mind, but we also kept in mind that we didn’t want to alienate the male customer,” Wilson said. “And in these stores, anecdotally, the customer mix is 50-50.”
Recipe for Success
Over years of trial and error, a few “musts” have emerged when it comes to attracting the female consumer to convenience stores, according to the industry insiders.
“Feeling safe is an absolute must,” Calvin said. “So is a clean, well-lit, organized store with friendly customer service, competitive pricing, fresh products and a community connection. It is not just one thing. All those things rolled together contribute to a woman feeling as if she wants to shop at a particular store.”