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C-Stores Invest in Themselves as Customers Note Their Benefits

C-stores were once seen as a place to grab grub on the go, but recently, operators in the industry have begun to propel the traditional c-store format to something that is closer to a grocery store or restaurant. Whether the store sells fresh produce or has a full kitchen for foodservice, customers are starting to rely upon these formats for some of their daily food purchases. And c-store operators are now investing in themselves at near-record rates.

In 2015, the U.S. convenience store industry invested nearly $6.3 billion to upgrade stores across the nation, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS). During the year, the average cost for a store remodel was about $409,500, representing a 40% increase from the cost reported in 2011. That increase is likely due to the aforementioned focus chain operators are placing on healthier food items and expanded foodservice capabilities.

Remodels weren’t the only expense: the industry also spent billions of dollars on new store builds. The cost to build a new convenience store in a rural neighborhood was $4.36 million in 2015. The cost to open a convenience store in an urban market was roughly $500,000 more per store than rural locations, averaging $4.87 million, mostly because of higher real estate costs, even though the lots and stores typically are smaller.

These new stores were most likely welcomed by the neighborhoods they were built in, according to a separate NACS study. The organization found that 71% of Americans think c-stores are a good fit with their community’s values. Seventy-seven percent said they would feel “very” or “somewhat” favorable about a new convenience store opening in their area.

The second study found that younger consumers are much more favorable toward c-store formats than older generations when it comes to a store fitting in a community. Eighty-two percent of customers between the ages of 18 and 34 noted a favorable response about c-stores being a good fit with a community’s values. The cohort often cited more competition, greater convenience and positive economic effects as their reasoning for why the c-stores fit in their communities.