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Eyvind Dahl owns Dahl's Coin Laundry & Convenience in Renfrew, Ont.

The ups and downs of tobacco 

After a surge in sales during the COVID-19 lockdown, how do c-stores keep smokers coming back for more?

Eyvind Dahl owns Dahl's Coin Laundry & Convenience in Renfrew, Ont.

Eyvind Dahl owns Dahl’s Coin Laundry & Convenience in Renfrew, Ont.

As Canada locked down in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Eyvind Dahl noticed something at his Renfrew, Ont. c-store went up: tobacco sales. 

Dahl, the owner of Dahl’s Coin Laundry & Convenience, attributes the increase in tobacco purchases to the closure of First Nations’ borders in the province, a protective measure to fight the coronavirus. “When they closed the reserves, our tobacco sales more than doubled,” says Dahl. 

He notes that sales of Imperial tobacco alone jumped from 50 to 100 cartons a week. Hand in hand with that increase in business came a surge in impulse purchases. “All my categories shot up,” says Dahl. “We were so busy it was crazy.”

 Surge then slide

Screen Shot 2020-10-27 at 10.40.46 AMDahl was not alone in seeing a surge in tobacco. According to a survey conducted by the Ontario Convenience Stores Association (OCSA), retailers throughout Ontario showed an increase in tobacco sales that ranged from 10% to more than 30%. The survey of the association’s 6,000 members also found that proximity to a reserve played little role in the booming business. Sales increased across the board, and almost half of the stores surveyed were more than 30 kilometres from the closest reserve. Dahl’s Coin Laundry & Convenience is an hour away from the nearest First Nations community. 

The boom has been temporary, however. “Now that the reserves are back open, sales are going down, down, down,” says Dahl. “It’s going back to normal, which shouldn’t be normal.”

The issue of contraband tobacco has been a significant one for retailers, particularly in Ontario. “The illegal cigarette market has been left unchecked for far too long,” says OCSA CEO Dave Bryans, who is based in Oakville. “This can’t go on. In Ontario, 30 to 60% of butts swept are contraband.”

The OCSA is calling on the provincial government to develop an integrated plan to address contraband concerns and other tobacco issues. “The survey demonstrates a need to work with the Ontario government to develop a tobacco strategy from pricing, formats, promotions and incentives to protect small businesses as well as government’s health policies,” says Bryans.

The Convenience Industry Council of Canada noted a similar surge amongst its members. During a recent interview with CSNC, president and CEO Anne Kothawala said CICC is engaging “Ernst & Young to put together a comprehensive study on contraband tobacco across the country. We need much stronger public policy to address this issue.”

 Competing with contraband

Until then c-stores are looking for ways to enhance tobacco sales. In the current environment, productivity is paramount, says Anthony Ruffolo, vice president, McCowan Design & Manufacturing Limited in Toronto. “Plain packaging has definitely made it more difficult to vend the product quickly. You need to be more efficient and organized.”

Products like McCowan’s secure undercounter tobacco cabinets can help. This may also free up the back wall for new opportunities, space often previously dedicated for tobacco products. “There is an ability to generate profits off the back wall. You may even be able to sell advertising,” says Ruffolo. 

Sara Clarkson, president of Storesupport Canada in Mississauga, points out that helping people work through the plain packaging maze will build customer loyalty. “There is still lots of confusion regarding cigarette brands with the start of plain packaging. Knowing what brands to recommend is key and ensuring stock is available of those brands for your regular customers is also of huge importance.”

Bryans recommends c-stores promote the least expensive products they have in inventory as a way of competing with First Nations’ retailers at a basic level. 

While that will attract some new customers and keep others coming back, there is no way c-stores can compete head on with contraband sales, notes Dahl. A carton of cigarettes from the reserve is $20. His cheapest brand is $120. “It’s a huge difference. I can sympathize with the customer.”

The focus on tobacco sales includes another harsh reality for c-stores: the category is declining.

Bryans notes that c-stores sell 99% of all legal cigarettes and sales are declining 1.5 to 2% a year. “That is a huge concern for the channel. The time has come for a task force to review the tobacco business in Canada.”

Filling the void

One solution is to look for options that can replace tobacco. Vaping seemed a promising category and the profit margin is greater than tobacco. The product is also very popular, but there are concerns about safety and increasing regulations that are undoubtedly affecting retailers.

Many would like to see c-stores be able to sell alcohol, and the industry has been lobbying the government and raising public awareness for the last seven years to encourage a move to an open retailing market. Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government has promised that market will soon be a reality in Ontario, but the wait continues.

Ruffolo also recommends retailers look for products and services that set them apart, such as foodservice or local products. “You need to draw in new customers. The more you know your customers, the more you will be able to retain them.”

It’s also critical to remind customers—through signage, conversation, and any other means—that c-stores offer what competitors, from larger stores to smoke shacks and vape shops, do not. That message resonates more clearly and convincingly in a COVID-19 world, notes Clarkson. “With access to grocery stores being more difficult with line-ups and extra time needed to shop, quick convenience is more important than ever. Ensuring staples are in stock and healthy snacks will promote a quick stop at the convenience store.” 

 

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Forecourt’s new normal

COVID-19 has created tremendous change in the marketplace

Screen Shot 2020-07-16 at 2.20.39 PMCanadian convenience, car wash and gas businesses worked hard to keep staff and customers safe during COVID-19. Behind the effort has been a push from major retailers to enhance operational practices and from equipment manufacturers that sped design and production to meet the public health challenge.

Canadian Tire was an early adopter of PPE for customers. When the virus hit, Canadian Tire sites used disposable glove dispensers to help customers stay safe at its gas bars. At Petro-Canada and 7-Eleven sites, they didn’t offer gloves, but fuel dispensers came with a placard that asked customers to use paper towels to keep hands from touching gas dispenser nozzles. At 7-Eleven operators also changed how they handle cash. Certainly, customers can utilize the pay-at-the-pump features at the dispenser, but in-store, customers are asked to place cash on counters so that hands do not touch. When the sale is complete, staff sanitize the area ahead of the next customer.

Shell is another major that has taken action to safeguard staff and customers. According to Shell Canada spokesperson Kristen Schmidt, the company has installed plexiglass at payment counters, added floor signage to maintain physical distance, and enhanced cleaning procedures. “We also have the Shell app, available in the Apple app store and Google Play store, which includes Shell EasyPay. This is a secure and touchless way for customers to pay for their purchases at the pump or in-store. We recognize that customers may wish to limit interactions at this time and practice safe social distancing, which can easily be accommodated through Shell EasyPay.”

Other Shell initiatives include recommendations laid out by the World Health Organization and the Public Health Authority of Canada. Schmidt points to six key items.

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At Esso and Mobil stations the company worked alongside its independent branded retailers to ensure the customer experience was safe and convenient. Imperial Oil is present in the market with 21 fuel terminals and more than 2000 Esso and Mobil sites across Canada.

Screen Shot 2020-07-16 at 2.19.38 PMAccording to Jon Harding, public affairs advisor, Imperial Oil, Esso and Mobil service station personnel have been tasked to make sure sites in Canada are frequently cleaned and sanitized – from fuel nozzles to store countertops to door handles. “When at the pump, we encourage customers to leverage the mobile payment option through the Speedpass+ app to reduce contact with surfaces.  We also recognize the importance of and, where appropriate, are striving to provide services to essential service providers, such as truck drivers. Specific to cardlock sites, we enhanced our online Esso cardlock locator tool for truckers and made it easier to identify cardlock sites and call ahead for information about facilities.”

Help at hand

Like retailers and fuel distributors, equipment manufacturers have been quick to come forward with much-needed innovation. These products have greatly helped retailers keep up their guard on cleanliness and site performance.

Fixture fabricator Gorrie RCP, a frontline company that designs, develops, and builds tailor-made waste and recycling management products as well as amenity fixtures and merchandising displays, got to work early on a range of personal protection equipment (PPE) for staff at c-store, car wash and gas bar. According to Gorrie’s business development manager, David McLean, the company had to speed up production to meet the sudden demand.

“Normally we take about four weeks to design, engineer and manufacture a product. We cut that down to two weeks. Many of our customers are essential services and we had to get products to them to keep them safe,” says McLean mentioning that face shields were the first offering followed by hand sanitizing stations. “At first people were looking for temporary solutions, but as the challenge grew it could be seen that more permanent solutions were necessary. The COVID-19 crisis is one that will be with us for the next couple of years at least. We are seeing that consumer behaviours have changed and retailers need to offer a higher level of safety to make customers feel secure. Our teams are actively looking at not only what is needed now, but we have to look to the future for products that will be needed tomorrow as well as we continue to face great change in our society.”

Gorrie RCP offers a range of PPE that includes distancing signage, clear plastic partitions, sanitizer gels and hand washing stations as well as masks and face shields.

RTS Retail is another manufacturer that came forward quickly with protective equipment during COVID-19. According to Darren Norley, national accounts manager, RTS Retail, the company has been making protective gear for years before the novel coronavirus made itself known. One example is Citrus Wirx a line that has been helping grocery and convenience shoppers keep carts and baskets virus-free for years. Now, this product is at the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. “In the last three months we have seen demand soar for sanitary wipes and other items,” says Norley remarking that sales for things like Citrus Wirx have climbed 700% over the past three months. “We have been able to supply our regular customers with PPE, but even with three factories (Canada, US, China) demand was so great we had to step up production and it was a challenge to fully meet this increase.”

RTS Retail also offers Grab Wirx, a protective glove system that is ideal for gas stations where dispenser and windshield wiper handles can carry COVID-19. Grab Wirx dispenses up to 200 gloves in a touch-free environment. 

“We are seeing sectors such as grocery retail now preparing for future health crisis scenarios similar to the current COVID-19 problem,” says Norley. “They don’t want to get caught empty-handed again without proper PPE.  The cost is small compared to the size of the problem to business.”

McCowan Design and Manufacturing, a Canadian leader in-store fixtures and displays for convenience, gas bar and foodservice as well as a range of other retail environments, quickly added new virus safety-related products to their lineup. Helping staff work safe McCowan now offers acrylic screens for retail and service desk personnel as well as stands and supports for hand sanitizers.

The new hand sanitizer stands can accommodate a variety of hand sanitizer bottle sizes and can be set up as a freestanding or wall-mounted unit. Stands can also handle dispensers or bottles and stands come with the ability to lock sanitizer into place to prevent thefts. The acrylic screens are made using 1/4-inch acrylic sheets and come with a solid metal base. Overall size is 40” X 23” X 12” with a large 8.5” X 12” pass-through.

“The ways that convenience store and gas bars offer safety and protection to their customers tell people volumes about the overall service at hand,” says McCowan VP Anthony Ruffolo. “Having a prominently displayed hand sanitizer during these challenging times is a simple way to tell customers you value their business and you are a responsible community member. It’s not an expensive service add on and it says you care.”

Originally published in the July/August issue of OCTANE. 


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McCowan’s latest freestanding hand sanitizing station puts customer safety first

In an effort to build customer confidence and stop the spread of COVID-19, sturdy hand sanitizing stations are an essential line of defence for c-store, gas and car wash sites.

McCowan’s latest design is an elegant freestanding unit that sends a strong message to customers and staff that their safety is of upmost importance to your business.

 

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Please contact us at:

416-291-7111   sales@mccowan.ca

www.mccowan.ca

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McCowan’s hand sanitizing stations help operators safeguard staff and customers

Screen Shot 2020-06-05 at 3.52.25 PMIn an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19, hand sanitizing stations are a must-have for c-store, gas and car wash sites.

From freestanding to wall- or counter-mounted stations, McCowan offers a variety of affordable designs and solutions to help keep your staff and customers safe.

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Please contact us at:

416-291-7111   sales@mccowan.ca

www.mccowan.ca

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McCowan’s acrylic screens protect checkout staff and customers

Screen Shot 2020-03-24 at 6.51.10 PMAs c-store operators work hard to keep businesses up and running during the COVID-19 outbreak, reducing risk for frontline staff and customers is vital.

In response, McCowan Design & Manufacturing has created an easy-to-install solution that creates a barrier between customers and operators.

The safety screen is made of ¼” thick clear acrylic affixed atop a solid metal white base with double-sided tape: See details below.

 

For immediate inquiries contact 416-291-7111 or sales@mccowan.ca


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McCowan: Secure tobacco merchandising is our business

image001Secure tobacco merchandising is an important factor in the Gas Convenience business! McCowan has been at the forefront of designing secure tobacco merchandising solutions that meet “Dark Market” regulations.

Security will always be on the minds of retailers who are concerned about the safety of their employees and the control of their inventory. In addition to tobacco merchandisers, McCowan manufactures backroom lock-ups, vape merchandisers and pass-through boxes for retailers who serve late night shoppers.

 

Secure counter top tobacco cabinet.

Secure counter top tobacco cabinet.

  • Industry Standard. McCowan Tobacco Merchandisers and Security Products have been an industry standard for 25 years. More than 10,000 Secure Tobacco Merchandisers have been sold!
  • Floor, Counter Top and Under Counter Solutions. McCowan offers secure tobacco merchandising solutions to accommodate any space. Floor models are 72” tall, counter top models are 52” tall; both are available in 36” and 48” widths. Under counter models are designed to fit seamlessly under your cash desk counter.
  • Pushers & Dividers for Easy Vending. McCowan provides pushers and dividers to keep tobacco or vape inventory organized for operators.
  • High Capacity. McCowan Tobacco Merchandisers are designed to hold a large inventory of tobacco products and manage multiple SKUs.
  • Anti-Theft Lock System and Security Door. The McCowan anti-theft lock system and security door have been tried and tested in the market for 25 years.
  • Dark Market Regulations. McCowan Tobacco Merchandisers meet all provincial regulations.
  • Vape Merchandising Solutions. McCowan offers locking cabinets with clear or frosted glass doors to merchandise vape products.
  • Backroom Lock-Ups. McCowan offers high capacity backroom lock-ups with anti-theft doors and locks.
  • Secure under counter tobacco cabinet with door closed.

    Secure under counter tobacco cabinet with door closed.

    Pass-Through Boxes. McCowan offers pass-through boxes to assist operators in safely serving late-night customers.

  • Built to Last. Made from high quality materials and finished with a durable powder coat.
  • Industry Leading Turnaround Times. McCowan has a long history of consistently delivering to stores in unrivalled lead times.

Call 416-291-7111 or e-mail sales@mccowan.ca for a catalogue!

For more information, visit our website.

Under counter cabinet with door closed and door open

Under counter cabinet with door closed and door open


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McCowan: Gas convenience is our business

image001Unlike other store fixture suppliers, McCowan is focused on serving Gas Bar and Convenience store operators. McCowan’s products and services geared specifically to the needs of our market.

  • Durability. All McCowan products are made from high quality metal and are powder coated to reflect your brand. Our product holds up in extremely high use, high traffic environments and withstands water/moisture and winter conditions. Our products keep your stores looking better for longer!
  • Consistency. When deployed across a vast network of stores McCowan product will be 100% consistent store-to-store and year-to-year. This makes for easier brand management and easy upgrades in the future.
  • Modularity. Our products are modular and can be customized to fit any space using our library of standard parts. Products can be easily reconfigured should the stores needs change.
  • Merchandisable. Integrated merchandising solution – all standard McCowan shelves will fit into the front of the cash desk and gondolas. Large library of standard components that are available to customers at all times.
  • Expandable. Cabinets can be easily reconfigured. System of interchangeable components and accessories can be ordered as operational needs change. Changes to doors and counter tops can be made easily should your look change in the future.
  • Industry Expertise. McCowan offers a vast knowledge base of the Gas Convenience industry having 25+ years of experience serving the market.
  • Industry Leading Turnaround Times. McCowan has a long history of consistently delivering to stores in unparalleled lead times.
  • Integrated Domestic Manufacturing. Access to over 200,000 square feet of manufacturing capability. Products are produced in house; there are never interruptions due to importing.
  • Easy Assembly. Our product assemble with minimal tools and do not require carpentry to take place on site. This saves time and cost. All units include standard grommet holes and  plumbing/electrical access points.
  • Reduced Shipping Cost. Our product ship knocked down, reducing the space required on for shipping on trucks. No Shipping air.

For more information, visit our website.

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