Photos by Brandon Gray
From the fight for beer and wine sales in c-stores and the looming threat of a plastic bag ban in Toronto, to the increasing concern over contraband tobacco and tragic incidents of fuel theft, 2012 was a tough year for Ontario c-store owners.
But it was also a time of opportunity for the industry. The Ontario Convenience Stores Association (OCSA) continues to be at the forefront of these issues as it raises awareness, lobbies the government and speaks to retailers at the store level to build a community of engaged members.
OCSA CEO Dave Bryans says that each file the association manages is unique, with a different set of opportunities and challenges, but each demonstrates the important role c-stores play in every community across the province.
Here’s what the OCSA is working on:
Free our beer
The campaign to open up the alcohol retailing system in Ontario is picking up steam and making headlines in major newspapers across the province. Bryans calls the fight for beer and wine the “most exciting and interesting file the OCSA works on” and says that it’s definitely the category all c-store retailers would like to be able to feature.
The movement, called Free Our Beer, stems from a petition started in a c-store in the hamlet of Vanessa, Ont. After just a few weeks, the petition had a record-breaking 112,500 signatures. Bryans presented these signatures at a press conference at Queen’s Park in Toronto on July 25, 2012. The petition requested that the provincial government consider opening up the alcohol retailing system to include convenience and grocery stores.
In an interesting move, Ontario’s Liberal government announced in December 2012 that it would introduce 10 LCBO Express kiosks in grocery stores across the province. The announcement, made by finance minister Dwight Duncan, is meant to make shopping for beer, wine and spirits more convenient for Ontarians. But this announcement is still not enough, as it doesn’t include c-stores.
Bryans urges retailers to get involved in the fight. “We are meeting with various politicians on the file and would ask all c-store retailers to start a dialogue with their local MPPs especially as we anticipate another Ontario election,” he says.
Bryans is quick to point out that the sale of beer and wine in a c-store would be a privilege and not a right. “I must remind all retailers that they need to ensure they are part of the OCSA We Expect ID Program, where their employees have proven they can sell age-restricted products, as we look at the who, when and how of selling alcoholic beverages. You don’t want to miss this opportunity,” he says.
Plastic bag ban
The OCSA has been at the forefront of the fight against the proposed plastic bag ban in Toronto, and even threatened legal action to stop the bylaw from taking effect. Before legal action became necessary, though, Toronto City Council decided to withdraw the controversial bylaw, which was set to begin on January 1, 2013.
“This bylaw was [proposed] without any public or business input or consultation,” says Bryans. “All types of plastic bags would be exempt, except for the bag used at the cash to take home your purchases.” This bylaw would have had a detrimental effect on c-store sales, as most customers make unplanned purchases and rely on plastic bags for items such as milk, beverages and snacks.
The OCSA will continue to keep an eye on this file. “As pleased as we are with the present situation, we also realize that the city of Toronto will revisit bag ban options in June 2013 and allow for proper industry input and consultation,” says Bryans. When this issue comes up again, the association will be ready to stand up for its members.
The OCSA spent much of 2012 meeting with various city council members and local retailers to speak about the dangers of contraband tobacco.
In order to find engaged retailers, Bryans and Len Birch, regional communications manager for the OCSA, travelled across Ontario to speak with c-store owners face to face. They asked these engaged retailers to speak with their local government to let them know how contraband tobacco is hurting their business and their community.
Bryans calls it a very successful and engaging program, saying that many retailers throughout Ontario have successfully contacted their local councilors for support and involvement. “Obviously this is not an easy file to correct, but we need more retailers to scream out and we appreciate the support of those who we’ve engaged to date,” he says.
Fuel theft is a crime
In association with Toronto Crime Stoppers, The Canadian Independent Petroleum Marketers Association, and the Canadian Fuels Association, the OCSA recently launched a public awareness campaign about the dangers of fuel theft.
The campaign features mug-shot images of three different individuals who are holding their licence plates. The posters read “Stealing gas is a crime” and “A gas thief is easy to find”.
“We believe it’s important to educate the public and the politicians on the issue and have our customers call Crime Stoppers to report any type of theft,” says Bryans, who believes awareness will be more effective than imposing mandatory pay-at-the-pump bylaws.
“Proposing mandatory pre-pay at the pump will not solve planned thefts,” he adds, explaining that he’s also concerned about the potential detrimental effect on in-store sales. “In BC, in-store sales have fallen by 15% and have never recovered,” he says. Pre-pay was mandated in the province roughly five years ago.
Bryans says this campaign will raise awareness and ensure c-gas customers feel safe at Ontario gas stations.
Bryans says a main focus for the OCSA this year and beyond will be age verification, and he’s currently pursuing all avenues of funding, as well as partnering with the Ontario government to ensure employees are properly trained. “We are determined to work with health promotion to ensure no one under the age of 19 ever has access to tobacco, making retailers’ part of the solution, not the problem.”
Bryans also says the association will place a greater emphasis on the obesity file throughout 2013. “We have had preliminary discussions with the Ministry of Health Promotion on the issue and hope to work with them on an in-store education campaign and other areas where we can influence choice.”
It will certainly be a busy year for the OCSA, so, as Bryans says, it’s important for retailers to contact their local governments and get involved in the association so they can continue to see positive developments.
To learn more about getting involved in the Free Our Beer campaign, visit the OCSA booth at The Convenience U CARWACS Show Toronto, or visit conveniencestores.ca.