It’s a central challenge in the convenience store industry: What consumers consider convenient today will soon feel slow and inadequate. To stay ahead of the curve, companies must make the strategic technology investments that allow them to transform every consumer touchpoint and deliver on expectations.
For RaceTrac, the Atlanta-based convenience store company with nearly 800 stores across 12 states, this challenge is compounded by its own ambitious expansion. After years of primarily serving the American Southeast, RaceTrac has recently opened stores in the Midwest, with plans to enter other new and underserved markets. That means expanding its base of operations while also redefining the convenience store experience.
To meet the needs of this rapidly evolving customer base, RaceTrac has embarked on a digital acceleration journey that will enable it to provide a vast range of state-of-the-art customer and employee experiences, reimagining what a convenience store can be. To help drive this evolution, RaceTrac is partnering with Comcast Business to ensure it has the advanced technology and infrastructure it needs. “We want to lead the convenience store industry from a technology perspective,” says Tyler Grubbs, RaceTrac’s Executive Director of Store Systems and Technology. “In fact, we want to outpace it and grow past the rest of the market. And that requires investment and a clear plan of attack.”
“We want to lead the convenience store industry from a technology perspective. In fact, we want to outpace it and grow back the rest of the market. And that requires investment and a clear plan of attack.”
— Tyler Grubbs, RaceTrac
The heart of any fuel-retailing convenience store is the pump, and customers need to know that when they pull up, they can seamlessly get what they need. RaceTrac has a robust data pipeline that tracks every aspect of its pumps. “We have the real-time status of every pump, every hose, and all the transactions that run through that ecosystem so we can have a clear view of what’s happening,” says Grubbs. RaceTrac then translates that data into action. “We've built a set of decision criteria that says if we see this alert or lack of data, here are your troubleshooting steps, or we automatically dispatch an error code to the local tech to resolve.” Such automation has helped speed RaceTrac’s adoption of more modern pumps and expand into new kinds of fuel, including diesel for commercial trucks and EV charging stations.
“Our tagline is ‘Whatever Gets You Going,’ and we see consumers expecting a frictionless experience. However, many of our customers can define that differently,” says Grubbs. For some, it’s the ability to use self-checkout lanes in the store, or digital kiosks that allow them to order without waiting for an employee. For others, it’s the ability to place a mobile order ahead of time and pick up goods curbside—a development that not many in the convenience store category would have predicted five years ago.
When fuel transactions are frictionless, there are opportunities to create positive experiences for customers, Grubbs says. Offering a coupon at the pump to entice in-store traffic is practically table stakes among fuel retailers. RaceTrac is focused on using real-time data to hyper-personalize such offers. If RaceTrac can recognize not only the customer based on loyalty information but also that traffic patterns are tough one day, an offer for free coffee can acknowledge the customer’s experience. “It’s about surprising and delighting customers with offers that make sense for them in that moment,” says Grubbs.
Running a convenience store is a complex business, where employees are processing transactions, managing inventory, preparing food and regularly cleaning, among other tasks. In many cases, a very small team is responsible for handling all aspects of the store. Through data analytics, RaceTrac is working to help employees prioritize tasks, streamline operations and automate routine tasks, in turn freeing up employees to provide customers with even better service.
“Historically in this industry, you may have a piece of paper that gives employees a set schedule of tasks for the day,” says Grubbs. “We’re questioning whether that’s the right way to operate. Real-time data from the point-of-sale platform, for example, can tell us that a store sold out of pizza two hours ago,” he says. “Using this information, we can guide employees to focus on making more pizzas to ensure guests have what they’re looking for.”
In the digital age, nearly all businesses must consider whether they have enough bandwidth to power current and next-generation customer experiences. For a convenience store, that means having the capacity to enable digital interactions that will help drivers get what they need and get back on the road as quickly as possible.
Whatever the specific applications, the growth of digital and data-driven experiences has created a greater demand for fast, reliable connectivity at the network edge—something that is always front of mind for Grubbs, particularly as he looks to a future with expanding AI and streaming video use cases. “If you’ve got a higher demand for connectivity, you’ve got to find a partner like Comcast Business that can provide the right infrastructure,” he says. “That’s critical for us as we think not just about today, but the next 15, 20, 30 years, because we’re only going to put more strain on that network over time.”
It’s that kind of forward-thinking mindset that will ultimately determine which convenience stores remain truly convenient for customers. For Grubbs, like a growing number of technology leaders today, his role is evolving as a strategic leader for his company, not just an IT troubleshooter. That means ensuring that his company is working with a technology partner that provides more than just a strong network.
“Comcast Business understands the unique needs of our convenience store business, helping us accelerate key use cases to meet our customer and employee needs. They’ve helped us build the foundational technology ecosystem that sets us up for success,” says Grubbs. “They’re not just a network provider, to us, they’re a strategic partner.”
Learn how real-time data and a powerful network can help redefine the customer experience.