Members of the fledgling Atlantic Convenience Store Association are meeting in St. John’s this week discussing contraband tobacco, debit card fees, security and other issues affecting their businesses.
They also took the opportunity to consider their collective political muscle.
The regional association had its first full year of operations in 2009. It now represents 400 members in Newfoundland and Labrador — store owners, managers, suppliers and employees with independent convenience stores, as well as in the Needs, Circle K, North Atlantic, Ultramar, Marie’s Mini Mart and QuikWay chains.
According to the association’s State of the Industry Report 2010, its first regional industry report, convenience stores in Atlantic Canada employ nearly 18,000 people, providing more than $220 million in wages.
In total, 75 per cent of all lottery tickets sold in Atlantic Canada are sold through convenience stores and 66 per cent of all tobacco. Those sales result in the collection of tax dollars, said association president Mike Hammoud.
“We’re soon going to be collecting a billion dollars a year in Atlantic Canada for governments on an annual basis,” he told the gathering of about 75 association members at Clovelly Golf Club Tuesday. “That’s what I said, billion with a ‘b’.”
Considering what convenience store businesses add to the region, Hammoud said, the association plans to be more vocal in advocating for its members over the next year.
“Overall, as small business owners, our costs are going up faster than our sales. Our wages, our utilities, our insurance costs, and the other costs have been rising sharply. We have had more regulation, more inspection and more paperwork thrust upon us,” he said.
According to the association’s report, stores were closing across the region in 2009. “In Newfoundland and Labrador we saw a drop of 6.3 per cent (to 654 stores) and while this was a drop, the level of decrease was better than the mainland, likely indicating the stronger provincial economy here in this province,” he said.
Even so, he said politicians in this province can expect to hear about the concerns of convenience store representatives.
“For the first time as a convenience store industry, we are organized,” he said. “We have created industry goals and objectives, we are being very proactive.”
Industry award for Breen’s Convenience
Following Hammoud’s presentation, store owner John Breen of Breen’s Convenience Stores, was presented with an award for outstanding convenience store operator of the year.
Breen began in the business in 1979 with Ultramar stores on Topsail and Hamlyn Roads. In late 1986, he moved to the Pleasantville Ultramar, where he created “Breen’s famous turkey sandwiches.” The sandwich, said Breen, helped grow his business.
He was also recognized for his community involvement, including his support for local soccer and hockey and his investment in the development of the new indoor soccer facility in Pleasantville. The facility opened in July.
“John Breen’s commitment to excellent service and quality in his stores and his involvement in the community is a testament to his character,” stated director of marketing with Browning Harvey Ltd., Blair Patrick in support of Breen’s nomination.
“For the first time as a convenience store industry, we are organized.” - President of the Atlantic Convenience Store Association, Mike Hammoud
Premier Danny Williams presented Breen with his Atlantic Convenience Store Association award.
“This is an exceptional individual,” Williams said. “I would not miss this. If anybody deserves the award, it’s John Breen and his family and (Breen’s wife) Judy and everybody else who has been involved.”
Breen acknowledged the assistance of his customers, family, suppliers and others in his acceptance. He also thanked Ultramar for letting him start in the business. “It’s been nothing but great ever since,” he said.
Convenience in Atlantic Canada
In comparing convenience stores in Atlantic Canada to those in the rest of the country, the Canadian Convenience Stores Association found in the region are:
— Employing more people per store.
— More likely to have a restaurant or gas station attached.
— Less likely to be a franchise.
— Larger, with an average amount of seven per cent more floor space.
— Servicing fewer people per store (as we have more stores per person).
(Source: Presentation by Atlantic Convenience Store Association president Mike Hammoud)