As both NACS chair and CEO of TXB, he’s also focused on technology, emphasizing the need to lean in and advance the industry’s technology skills, equipment and endeavors.
Earlier this year, NACS began pilot tests of TruAge, a digital identification solution designed to enhance current age-verification systems, while protecting user privacy.
“Nobody sells more age-restricted products than the convenience store industry,” he said, explaining that he thinks TruAge is going to be needed due to existing and potential new restrictions on certain items. “I think this is another step toward showing we are the most responsible industry in selling age-restricted products.”
TruAge will also prepare the industry for a potential future where sales of cannabis products become widely legal. C-stores cannot currently sell such items, even in states where cannabis products are legal, but Smartt is thinking long-term and preparing for change.
“We think this at least gives us a seat at the table in the future,” he said.
What Comes Next
In the years to come, technology will continue to be important at TXB, where Smartt and his team are working on putting numerous innovations in place. The company relaunched its mobile app with an enhanced loyalty program in spring 2020, yet TXB continues to evolve its digital program alongside the evolving expectations of consumers. It is currently testing mobile food ordering through the app, which the retailer hopes to have live by the end of the year.
“It’s a big thing for us,” Smartt said. “We visualize that happening as both in-store pickup and as home delivery.”
TXB will also add a food locker in new builds. Customers who order online will be able to scan a QR code on the locker, which will be placed at the front of the store and unlock their food. This will free up space in the foodservice area for customers ordering in-store and the employees assisting them.
“We’re excited about that,” he said. “We think it’s a little bit of future-proofing, if you will, in terms of where we’re going.”
New TXB stores will also be built in a way that allows them to add a drive-thru one day if necessary, enabling the company to save money now but get into the drive-thru business quickly if it eventually makes sense. There are no current plans to add curbside pickup.
“We like [the food lockers] a little better than curbside,” Smartt said, noting the importance of his stores’ limited parking spaces. “We think customers will appreciate it from a convenience standpoint; of being able to come right in the door, get the food out of the food locker, and leave.”
Another impending innovation is new fuel dispensers that feature a large digital touchscreen and no buttons. “We hope to integrate that, so once you start fueling, it looks like our app on the screen,” he said.
If all goes well, customers will be able to order food at the pump, too, just like in the app.
As for the food offering itself, Smartt strongly believes that TXB can compete with fast-casual and fast-food operators, as well as other convenience stores. The key, he says, is to never stop looking for ways to improve what’s on the menu.
“Our team is constantly thinking about innovation that we can execute at a store level, things that our consumers are looking for,” he said.
As Smartt prepares for the next stage of his company’s existence, he recognizes the many ways the c-store industry has changed since the start of his career — and the ways it hasn’t.
“There has been a tremendous amount of change but, at the same time, some core things are still the same,” he said. “Technology has dramatically changed the convenience store world. It’s changed retail in general.”