Busy trade show floor at The 2023 Convenience U CARWACS show.

Highlights and photos from the 2023 Convenience U CARWACS Show

Canada's largest convenience, gas and car wash event ramps things up with back-to-back education, networking and a buzzing trade show floor showcasing the latest product and equipment innovations.
Daniel Reale-Chin
Associate Editor, Convenience Store News Canada
Daniel Reale-Chin, a young man with a beard, smiles at the camera

The Convenience U CARWACS Show made a big return March 7 and 8: After a three-year hiatus, the event returned to its original March time slot. This years’ show welcomed more than 50 new exhibitors, who joined industry staples in showcasing innovative new products and equipment. 

This year, Canada’s event for convenience, gas and car wash was at the International Centre in Mississauga, Ont. It offered unique education, a buzzing trade show and the chance to rub shoulders with the people important to the industry. Exhibitors commented on the quality of networking they did this year and were impressed with the leads they were able to make. The crowd itself was enthusiastic, with lineups of people eager to learn about and sample the latest offerings in beverages, snacks, ready-to-serve food, vapes, lottery and more. OLG’s Bigger Spin wheel was a bigger hit with crowds looking for a chance to win a spin at the lottery counter.

Class is in session

This years’ show featured back-to-back mornings packed with original education sessions. The two-morning C-store Conference was sold out and the new format touched on the issues that readers and attendees said were most important to them: shopper insights, combating illicit tobacco, marketing and business strategies, technology, the future of vaping, foodservice, security, new opportunities to drive revenue and important discussions about the big issues impacting the channel. 

Sandra Parente, senior vice-president, grocery and convenience for EnsembleIQ opened the show and thanked industry leaders and supporters. 

Michelle Warren, editor and associate publisher of Convenience Store News Canada, welcomed eager listeners to the conference with a reminder of why c-store operators attend the show yearly: “It’s a chance for all of us to discover, to grow and to connect.”

Tara Spencer-Nairn on stage at the show
Tara Spencer-Nairn

Tara Spencer-Nairn emceed this years’ conference. Spencer-Nairn used her experience as Karen Pelly, the muffin-stealing junior police officer in Canadian sitcom, Corner Gas, to liven the morning’s program. 

“Convenience stores have been at the heart of multiple shows and movies. There’s a reason for that: convenience stores are the gathering spots for our towns,” said Spencer-Nairn.

Beth Brickel, vice-president of research at Ensemble-IQ shared insights from this years’ 2023 C-Store IQ National Shopper Study, released for the first time at the show. The consumer-survey study included exclusive insights into how customers define convenience stores, differences in shopping habits between Gen-Z, millennials, Gen X and boomer generations, and insights about trends in the industry. 

“Younger shoppers are more likely to browse and hang out,” says Brickel, adding “Store organization and ‘fun to shop’ are important to younger consumers.”

This was the third report of the annual study. 

Beth Brickel on stage at the show.
Beth Brickel

John Richard Penney, manager of the Anti Illicit Trade Operations at JTI led the sponsored tutorial; "Supporting the convenience store industry: How JTI is working to support retailers in our markets". Penney identified 83 contraband tobacco brands in Canada.

“Canada is a source country for contraband tobacco,” said Penney, who explained that JTI collects data for law enforcement and the government on behalf of retailers.

Daniel Tsai on stage at the show.
Danile Tsai

Daniel Tsai, a man with many names, including lawyer, business executive, educator and columnist; shared insights from his success in operating a c-store and gas station in British Columbia. Tsai grew up in the c-gas business and shared how he saved the family business from the “Costco effect” by reinventing his offering to include healthy and artisanal options. 

“This to me was the ultimate business lab,” he said of efforts to try new things, from shaking up his product mix to updating the store aesthetic and pricing. “If a product doesn’t work, change it.”

Partnering with a new fuel supplier (Parkland) led to a major turnaround and he is now serving 1,000 to 1,500 customers a day. In his community of 15,000, 3,000 people follow his store on Facebook.

Jeff Dover on stage at the show.
Jeff Dover

In "Maximize your earnings and boost your foot traffic: Hosting a Bitcoin ATM for retail operators", a tutorial sponsored by Localcoin, Tristan Fong discussed the benefits of generating passive income and attracting new customers with a Bitcoin ATM that takes up very little space and is fully supported by LocalCoin marketing efforts.

Jeff Dover, president of fStrategy, discussed the labour advantage and simple ways for c-stores to get in on the foodservice game in his session, "Feed your bottom line". For instance, “fountain beverages are way more profitable” than selling cans and bottles. He stressed the importance of considering store design to take customers on a journey through your store and purchase more items on the way.

Car wash education

Day 1 of the CARWACS show featured top education for Canada's car wash industry. The Canadian Car Wash Association kicked off the first day with breakfast and networking, followed by "Strategies for maximizing your site: Choosing the ideal express tunnel location". Patrick Conium, analytics team leader at NCS and Alison Tilley, strategic operation support manager for NCS led the discussion.

The "Ask me anything panel" featured industry leaders Mike Black from Valet Car Wash, Duro Bicanic from Bicorp Design Group Ltd., Paul Harkins from Sonny's Enterprises Inc., and was moderated by Michael Howe from Washlinks. The panel opened the mic to an engaged audience curious about gaining and maintaining car wash customers, permits for operators looking to open a car wash and water and energy consumption in car washes. 

"You need both aesthetics and proper working machines to grab and maintain customers," said Bicanic. 

When choosing a good destination for your car wash, Harkins suggests operators "choose a loctaion that's close to a destination point: malls, close to shopping or offices," and to "look at traffic and consider whether people are driving 25 or 60 kilometres an hour, because it makes a difference." 

Duncan Hannay
Duncan Hannay

Networking

Day 1 closed with a fun networking reception that was packed with exhibitors and attendees eager to reconnect. 

In addition, OLG president and CEO Duncan Hannay delivered the keynote at the sold-out Ontario Convenience Stores Association industry dinner. Hannay spoke passionately about the important role that c-stores play in OLG’s business and in giving back to the people of Ontario. 

Charles de Brabant on stage
Charles de Brabant

Convenience U: Day 2

Charles de Brabant, executive director of the Bensadoun School of Retail Management at McGill University kicked off day two of the C-Store IQ Conference with "The evolution of convenience: Practical insights from the Retail Innovation Lab", a simulator and working c-store part of McGill University. 

“Frictionless stores have friction,” said de Brabant, adding new technologies work only “if they are relevant and intuitive.” On contactless stores, de Brabant says he likes the idea of contactless stores in smaller communities, where family-run c-stores are essential, but owners don’t have the staff or inclination to stay open 24/7. 

“Physical retail is not dead, especially when it is relevant and innovative.”

Gero Petrolito, national accounts manager at Pacific Smoke International, shared strategies that c-stores should implement to maintain profitability and long-term success in: "Adapting to emerging regulations in the vaping section," Sponsored by Pacific Smoke International. 

When it comes to the future of vaping, “disposable are the next opportunity for c-stores,” with sales increasing 150% in the last five quarters, said Petrolito. 

In "Increase your security, increase your sales: Responding to escalating violence in retail", Sean Sportun, vice-president of national accounts and community engagement at GardaWorld, shared harrowing numbers on the rise of violent crime in c-stores. 

“There is a lot of crime that is not being reported,” says Sportun, who encourages c-store owners to report all crimes to police and tap into Crime Stoppers’ resources. Sportun is also a board member of Crime Stoppers.

He shared several important tips with attendees, from improving lighting to sight lines and implementing cash control measures. “Having clear visibility is a crime prevention tactic.”

Anna Kothawala and Michelle Warren on stage.
Michelle Warren and Anne Kothawala

Anne Kothawala, president and CEO of the Convenience Industry Council of Canada sat down with Michelle Warren for this years’ fire-side chat. 

“Canada’s c-store industry represents $54 billion in sales, 201,000 jobs and 23,500 stores nation-wide,” said Kothawala, speaking about the importance of convenience as an industry in Canada.

Kothawala and Warren discussed CICC’s role in advocating for c-stores nationwide in a state of rising credit card fees for retailers, lobbying for liquor licenses and protecting the interests of the industry.

Mike MacKay and Tiina McCombie from National Energy Equipment ended two days of packed programming with a lunch-and-learn on EV charging at c-store/gas stations. 

MacKay said that electric-vehicle sales will reach “1.6 billion in Canada in 2023,” with the industry growing to take close to 9% of the market share. By 2035, the Canadian government wants all light-duty vehicles sold to be electric, so the reasons are many to add EV-charging to your store’s offering. 

CARWACS show board

CARWACS: Day 2

Day 2 of the CARWACS conference began with an education session, "Reducing your car wash insurance claim". Brent Taylor from BrotherLink delivered the best tips for car wash operators. In "Safety compliance for your business", the Workplace Safety and Prevention Service's Pam Patry offered poignant advice from her experience with WSPS, their training health and safety training for businesses and the certifications they offer to owners and operators. 

Again, the Trade Show was busy from 12 to 5 p.m.

Save the date!

Next year the 2024 Convenience U CARWACS Show will be back at the International Centre on March 5-6. 

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