By 1974, with roughly 20,000 stores operating in 48 states and generating nearly 4 percent of total grocery sales in 26 of these states, the convenience store industry had solidified its presence as the fastest-growing retail channel in the United States. Several factors helped the industry's growth:
Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency and Congress passed the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1970. This established controls for sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, ozone and permitted the regulation of fuel additives, leading to the phase-out of lead from gasoline and the introduction of MTBE into gasoline to maintain octane quality.
Congress later passed the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, establishing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards. And in 1977, legislation established the Department of Energy, consolidating the energy work of multiple administrative offices into a single, cabinet-level organization.
In April 1979, President Jimmy Carter began a phased deregulation of oil prices. At the time, the average price of crude oil was $15.85 per barrel (42 gallons). Deregulating domestic oil price controls allowed U.S. oil output to rise sharply from the Prudhoe Bay fields, although oil imports fell sharply. Long lines once again appeared at gasoline stations and convenience stores, just as they did in 1973.
Cost of Doing Business
The 1970s also marked a decade of higher operating costs: High interest rates affected bottom lines; more regulations were imposed by federal, state and local governments; and there was, in general, an increased cost of doing business. Stores were adding new items like coffee, sandwiches, frozen novelties and prepared foods. Operators were also making the stores more capital and labor intensive with the addition of microwaves, fountain drinks and fryers.
The growing number of stores selling gasoline also increased the importance of convenience stores as retailers of motor fuels. Large chains such as Tulsa, Oklahoma-based QuikTrip realized the profitability of gasoline, and its ability to generate store traffic. More than 80 percent of stores built during the 1970s were equipped to sell gasoline. Self-serve at the pump took off in the 1970s, with more than 35 percent of stores offering self-serve by 1975 (up from 1 percent in 1969).
Also in the 1970s, the amount of convenience store crime, such as shoplifting and armed robberies, became an emerging problem, which put the spotlight on store security.
In a decade of rapid changes and a dynamic business climate, the need for convenience store operators to reduce and control business costs, attract and retain customers and stay ahead of the competition became an omnipresent objective for NACS.
NACS As An Educator
By 1970 the convenience store industry was flourishing, but the next decade brought forth a host of new operational challenges. For NACS and the industry as a whole, the need for education became essential in facilitating convenience store growth.
In 1969, Dr. Sykes E. "Si" Trieb, a business and marketing expert, previewed a series of training films to the NACS Board of Directors. (Trieb later became an educational advisor to NACS.) What transpired were four, 10-minute employee training films that demonstrated best practices in customer service, as well as defining the growing scope and importance of the industry. By 1978, a total of 13 training films were available to NACS members.
In 1974, NACS hired Terry Burns as director of education. By the end of the decade NACS was offering members access to seminars, workshops, briefings and a library of training films and slide cassette programs designed for everyone from store supervisors to corporate executives. Topics ranged from leadership training to the state of fast foods to real estate management and selling motor fuels.
As the industry grew, so did robberies and hold-ups. NACS hosted six security workshops in 1971, including the "Why Hold Up Convenience Stores?" workshop that featured a panel of six ex-convicts — including Ray Johnson, who became the first maximum-security prisoner to escape from Folsom Prison. Johnson was also an anti-crime consultant for Southland Corp. and an anti-crime lecturer. Today, many of the panelists' recommendations still ring true: keep windows clear from clutter, minimize the cash on hand, and place the checkout area at the front of the store, visible from the street.
NACS marked the decade with the inaugural "State of the Industry" report in May 1970, marking the industry’s first compilation of U.S. convenience store sales and net profit data. That first report showed total annual sales of about $1.1 billion. By comparison, in 2009 the convenience store industry sold $1.1 billion in goods and services — every 18 hours.
Also during the 1970s the NACS Show — still known as the NACS Annual Meeting — was steadily becoming the industry's must-attend event. In 1970, 1,109 attended; 1979 attendance had more than doubled to 2,812. The expo was first added in 1976, dubbed the "Education and Equipment Show." Speakers throughout the decade included actress Joan Crawford, Hawaii Senator Dan Inouye and then-former California Governor Ronald Reagan.