On your corner, in your corner: Fighting for Canada’s convenience channel

Anne Kothawala
President & CEO, CICC
Anna Kothawala

Resilient. There’s no better word to describe how our industry has weathered the pandemic.

Customer behaviour changed. Health and safety protocols drove up costs. Traffic and sales declined. Labour issues and supply chain challenges arose. Combined, those have created a perfect storm for Canada’s convenience store industry.

Despite those challenges, our members were there, on Canadians’ corners, keeping doors open to serve their communities. So many went above and beyond, from our distributors to our retailers, both corporate and family-run stores, with the support of our vendor partners.

As the association representing the channel, the Convenience Industry Council of Canada also had to pivot. We were there for our members, helping them navigate ever changing regulations and raising the industry’s profile with governments and other stakeholders. Our mission is to “Champion the convenience industry’s role in our communities and work for a business environment where all convenience businesses can succeed”.

Our strategic priorities are focused on building influence by raising awareness of the convenience channel and its role in our communities, advocating for the right to operate, and strengthening relationships by promoting learning and celebrating achievement.

Advocacy is critical. We need governments to be active partners working with us as the industry evolves. Why? They have a vested interest in the survival of convenience stores, especially in parts of rural Canada where we are often the only retail outlet.

The numbers speak for themselves and they are essential in telling our story to governments. That’s why CICC continues to invest in our annual State of the Industry Report which provides an overview of the significant economic contribution of our industry. Canada’s 25,000 c-stores contribute $55 billion per year to the economy and employ more than 212,000 people. In 2020, we collected more than $23 billion in taxes – almost half our sales – which translates into every Canadian convenience store collecting close $1 million in taxes per year.

That’s why CICC is the industry’s lone united voice to governments at all levels. We are in your corner, fighting for you on the issues that impact your bottom line.

It’s our responsibility to connect the dots for governments and demonstrate how their policies impact our ability to survive and thrive.

This is important as we are a highly regulated industry, and we need to remind governments that regulations have a direct impact on overall viability of our stores as well as the communities they serve. These regulations need to be effective and efficient and should promote growth, competition and a more favourable business environment.

While there are many issues that affect our industry, our work focuses on three areas: taxation and credit card fees, the expansion of the range of products that we can sell and encouraging smart regulation.

Unique impact of taxation

The convenience industry collects far more tax than other retailers, because some of our products attract heavy excise taxes. Since 2014, the tax collected by our channel has increased by more than twice the increase in inflation.

The combination of rapidly growing tax revenues, increases in credit card usage, and high interchange fees means that convenience store owners are paying more for the privilege of being a tax collector.

CICC will continue to advocate that future consumer tax increases be linked to inflation and that payment processors be prohibited from charging excessive interchange fees.

Expansion of product mix

One constant in our industry is that our customers’ needs are always changing. In an effort to best serve them, we must be innovative and introduce new products to meet that demand.

To that end, CICC has been working with provincial governments to modernize the sale of beverage alcohol to provide customers with the convenience and choice they deserve. Based on the findings of our recent State of the Industry Report, we know that consumers in Quebec are increasingly turning to their local dépanneur to buy beer and wine. According to 2020 data from Nielsen, beer and wine sales registered double-digit growth – growing by 25 and 40% respectively. Beer was also the second highest overall sales category nationally, which is astonishing considering the Nielsen data only tracks sales from Quebec.

That’s why we are working with provincial governments to encourage them to give our stores the ability to sell beverage alcohol. In Ontario, we launched our made-in-Ontario campaign to build support for the sale of locally made beer, wine and coolers in c-stores. We are also working with governments in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, PEI, Alberta and Manitoba on this issue.

Smart regulation

Fighting for common sense, more streamlined regulations for our members is a major advocacy pillar. It’s our goal to ensure that CICC members spend more time selling products than filling out paperwork.

During the early days of the pandemic, we were successful in delaying regulations that were inhibiting our members’ ability to operate efficiently including provincial restrictions on the sale of vape products and new packaging requirements for miniature cigars.

In Ontario’s recent Fall Economic Statement, the government listened to our call to action and announced the creation of a “single window” for business. This is a single point of entry for any business to access government information and services.

Part of the reason that CICC is sought out by governments is the investment we have made in reminding them about our contribution to communities. It’s our mission to educate elected officials and civil servants on the impact we have and the role we play in the daily lives of Canadians and how we are more than just local businesses on the street corner, but the epitome of “where convenience and communities come together.”

Over the past 12 months, we have been successful raising awareness about the importance of the industry in several key areas:

  • Passage of the Ontario Convenience Store Week Act, 2021 to proclaim the last week of August as Ontario’s Convenience Store Week
  • Recasting National Convenience Week to meet public health requirements while still raising more than $180,000 for Make-a-Wish Canada
  • Celebrating our frontline workers and their immense contributions to the wellbeing of their communities by launching CICC’s Frontline Heroes Awards.

As we look forward to 2022, there remain storm clouds on the horizon and the year will be filled with uncertainty. Nevertheless, we start the new year with one constant – CICC will be there, in your corner, fighting for you.

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