Atlantic c-stores recognized as important part of community
On August 26, the ACSA held its fourth annual Convenience Store Day in the four Atlantic provinces. As part of the annual event, more than 125 community leaders and politicians volunteered for 20-minute shifts at 49 plus convenience stores throughout the region, raising money for local charity. This year’s event raised over $50,000 for Crime Stoppers Nova Scotia and Children’s Wish Foundation NFLD, NB, NS and PEI.
Much of the news coverage around the event focused on the ways that convenience stores are an integral part of local business and communities.
“People sometimes underestimate how important convenience and corner stores are to a community,” Lawrence Briggs, operator of a local Needs location in Amherst, Nova Scotia said of his participation in C-Store Day. “They are operated by local people and employ local people. They are very important to the community.”
C-Store Day is held annually across the region to raise awareness of the importance of c-stores, while raising money for worthy causes. For retailers, the day is also a way to thank customers for their loyalty and to recognize the contributions of convenience store owners and operators.
“C-Store Day keeps getting bigger and bigger with more participating stores,” says Mike Hammoud, president of the ACSA. “For owners, managers and staff, the event is an exciting way of showing pride in both c-stores and the communities that c-stores serve.”
A variety of community members participated, including law enforcement officers, municipal, provincial and federal politicians, and other community leaders. The timing of the federal election proved to be a great incentive for federal candidates to make an appearance at their local participating c-store.
For Alfred King, chairman of Nova Scotia’s Cumberland County Crime Stoppers, which received a portion of the day’s donations, the day was one in which he could promote the organization and the work it does to help solve crimes.
“It’s great for us because it raises money we can use for our tips program and for promoting what we do in the community and in the province,” said King.
Retail gasoline margin review application to be submitted in Nova Scotia
Following retail gasoline margin increases in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, the ACSA is planning to coordinate the submission of an application to the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board this fall for a retail gasoline margin increase.
“The last retail margin increase in Nova Scotia came into effect in January, 2012,” says ACSA president Mike Hammoud. “But the cost basis went back to 2010 and we all know that the one thing that isn’t decreasing in our business are operating costs.”
Hammoud says that the NSUARB always conducts a formal hearing process for retail margin reviews so it could be the end of the first quarter of 2016 before any approved increase would come into effect.
“There has to be a more efficient way of conducting retail margin reviews. These formal hearings take too long and cost the industry too much money.”
Newfoundland and Labrador provincial election set for November 30
To avoid conflict with the federal election, Premier Paul Davis has announced that Newfoundland and Labrador’s October fixed-date election will be moved to late November.
In the latest party poll by Corporate Research Associates at the beginning of June, support for the provincial New Democrats jumped to 22 per cent, putting the party just five percentage points behind the governing Progressive Conservatives.
The growth in support for the NDP came largely at the expense of the Opposition Liberals, which dropped by six points to 50 per cent.
“Support for the Liberals has hovered between 50 and 60 per cent over the past year,” says ACSA president Mike Hammoud. “It’s pretty hard at this point to see how the Progressive Conservatives will stay in power.”
Nova Scotia and New Brunswick contraband cigarette levels remain high
Levels of contraband cigarettes remain unacceptably high in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick based on contraband cigarette studies conducted in both provinces in June.
In New Brunswick, 27 sites were tested with the range of the mean at the 95 per cent confidence interval being 19.6 per cent to 27.7 per cent.
“No statistically significant difference was detected in the results from this study and the previous New Brunswick study in June 2014,” says David Knight, senior consultant with the ACSA. “What that means is that contraband levels based on this research were high last year and remain high this year.”
Knight says that results from hospitals and educational institutions were particularly important because the overall presence of contraband at six hospital and 12 educational institutions was more than 20 per cent.
“We have one high school where the prevalence of contraband cigarettes was almost 40 per cent. That should be a real concern for tobacco regulators.”
In Nova Scotia, the range of the mean at the 95 per cent confidence interval in terms of the prevalence of contraband cigarettes was 17.9 per cent to 25.7 per cent. As with New Brunswick, there was effectively no difference in overall findings between the 2015 and 2014 studies.
“The studies are showing us that while there hasn’t been strong growth in the overall presence of illegal cigarettes detected between 2014 and 2015, the numbers remain far too high,” says Knight.
The ACSA defends regulated gasoline
It’s not perfect by any stretch, but the ACSA thinks that a regulated gasoline system is critical to the financial viability of many independent and rural retail gasoline sites.
The ACSA recently responded to a story in Nova Scotia’s The Chronicle Herald newspaper by business columnist Roger Taylor that was strongly critical of regulated gasoline in that province.
“Mr. Taylor is certainly free to have his opinion,” says ACSA president Mike Hammoud, “but we took exception to a biased and unbalanced story that was really an opinion piece disguised as journalism.”
“In regulated markets with minimum and maximum pricing, like Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, we know that the intent of the system is working. That intent is to smooth out significant weekly price fluctuations, and to support Nova Scotia’s vast array of rural communities, at a reasonable cost to drivers in terms of pump price.”
Nova Scotia retail gas monitoring update
The ACSA and retailer reps met with Service Nova Scotia in late August to get an update on the provincial government’s Petroleum Product Volume Tracking (PPVT) project. According to Minister Mark Furey, the project is about 6-months away from implementation.
The current plan is that corporate stores will continue supplying data as they do now, and there is no plan now to have the “black box” pump monitoring devices installed at corporate retail sites.
Service Nova Scotia estimates that there are approximately 164 “independent” gas retailers in the province. These operators will have a choice of using a point-of-sale (POS) system that will be developed by the government, or the software/black box device for pumps.
Price spreads on retail gasoline grades hurting Atlantic retailers
The retail price spreads between regular, midgrade and premium gasoline are regulated in all Atlantic provinces. Over the last several years, the regulated spreads have fallen far behind the price spreads in unregulated markets across Canada.
“Through to the end of July of this year, the average regular/premium price spread between Atlantic Canada and the other Canadian provinces was 7.4 cents per litre,” says Mike Hammoud, president of the ACSA. “Clearly there’s no reality in our price spreads when the spreads in unregulated markets are almost double what ours are.”
Hammoud says that midgrade and premium gasoline are estimated to account for between 10% and 12% of a typical retail site’s gas sales, so the spread deficiency in price represents considerable lost sales dollars.
Any changes in the regulated price spreads would have to be made by the regulatory board in each province. In Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, this would require an application going through a formal hearing process. Any application in Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador would likely be reviewed through an informal process.
The ACSA is currently reviewing its options and how best to proceed with winning higher price spreads for retailers on gasoline grades.
Nova Scotia changes finance minister
Premier Stephen McNeil shuffled his cabinet in late July, about half-way through his government’s mandate. The biggest change was Randy Delorey replacing Diana Whalen as finance minister. Ms. Whalen will stay on in cabinet as justice minister and attorney general.
“The ACSA doesn’t get involved in speculation,” says ACSA president Mike Hammoud, “so who knows why the change was made. We had a good working relationship with Minister Whalen as finance minister and we are optimistic that we can continue that relationship with Minister Delorey.”