U.S. C-store Count Grows as Innovation, Offer Drive Demand

The number of convenience stores in the United States rose to a record 154,958 locations as of Dec. 31, 2017, according to the 2018 NACS/Nielsen Convenience Industry Store Count.

This marks an increase of 0.3 percent, or 423 stores.

“Our continued store growth suggests that the convenience and fuel retailing industry’s core offer of convenience continues to resonate with customers,” said Chris Rapanick, director of business development at NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing. “Convenience stores are the destination of choice for the more than 160 million customers who frequent their community convenience store each day to refresh and refuel, whether it’s to grab a quick snack and a beverage, or a fresh-prepared meal.”

The c-store count is significantly higher than other channels of trade and accounts for 34.4 percent of the brick and mortar retail universe tracked by Nielsen in the U.S. With the exception of the dollar store channel, all other major channels had fewer units at the end of 2017 compared to the end of 2016, according to NACS.

“Convenience stores saw solid growth in 2017 due to an increased focus on innovation, improved customer experience, assortment variation and healthy investments in food services,” said Jeanne Danubio, executive vice president of retail lead markets at Nielsen. “All of these factors have enabled convenience stores to meet the needs of consumers, stretching far beyond the pump.

“This shift must continue to further expand c-store’s relevance in today’s changing retail landscape. As more retailers across channels try to cater to convenience seeking consumers, c-stores will need to continue to innovate and evolve and grow to stay ahead of the curve,” she added.

The number of single-store operators within the c-store retail space also rose 0.14 percent, or 139 units, in 2017. The total number rose from 97,504 stores at the end of 2016 to 97,643 stores at the end of 2017.

Nearly eight in 10 (79.1 percent) of c-stores, or 122,552 stores, sell motor fuels, down 1 percent from 2016, with the single-store motor fuel segment falling by 2015 stores. The drop in the number of c-stores that sell gas reflects the evolution of retail models to focus more on in-store foodservice, new store formats and the establishment of brands in more urban, walk-up locations.

State by state, Texas continues to lead in store count at 15,813 stores, or more than one in 10 stores in the U.S. It is followed by California (11,946), Florida (9,891), New York (8,725), Georgia (6,687), North Carolina (6,235), Ohio (5,686), Michigan (4,962), Pennsylvania (4, 855) and Illinois (4,759). The bottom three states in terms of store count are Alaska (217 stores), Wyoming (355) and Delaware (344).

Over the last three decades, the U.S. c-store count has increased by 55 percent, NACS noted. At the end of 1987, there were 100,200 stores; at the end of 1997 there were 108,800 stores; and at the end of 2017 there were 146,294 stores.