The convenience store industry is going back to university to help it embrace innovation and prepare for the future.
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In the annual Convenience Innovation Challenge, an initiative of the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS), undergraduate students around the country will be asked to present their ideas on ways to move the industry forward.
The overall winner will receive a cash prize of $5000 while the second and third placed contestants will get $2500 and $1500 respectively.
AACS executive director Jeff Rogut tells StartupSmart that the competition plays an important role in linking universities with operators to drive innovation in the industry.
“Our sector tends to move at a slower pace than our counterparts in other countries,” he says.
The competition, now in its third year, will see students search the world for ways to enhance the convenience experience in Australia.
“It’s designed to get some innovative ideas from people not connected directly with our industry,” he says.
Rogut, a strong advocate for industry-university engagement, says the competition helps operators consider “fresh ideas” to overcome growth barriers like government regulation and high labour costs.
He says it also generates outside-the-box solutions for the convenience sector to think about as it adapts to various changes.
“For example, tobacco accounts for about 25% of profitability and with increasing health awareness, the industry needs to address this in the long-term,” he says.
Some of the most innovative ideas Rogut has seen include getting convenience stores to accept bitcoin and install 3D printers so people can walk in and use them.
“They are non-traditional ideas that strike resonance with operators,” he says.
In this year’s challenge themed “inspiring change”, applicants are asked the following question:
“Drawing on local and overseas examples, what innovation/s should be applied in our market to enhance the convenience experience, to meet future needs and to increase profitable sales?”
Applicants can apply by submitting a 2000-word essay or 15 PowerPoint slides through their tertiary education provider.
Rogut encourages applicants to think about ideas that can change the way convenience stores operate from a customer point of view.
“Be as creative as possible and don’t be encumbered by current thinking or practices,” he says.
Select finalists will have the opportunity to present their ideas to a panel of judges comprising representatives of some of the country’s largest convenience chains.
In previous years this has included 7-Eleven head of marketing Julie Laycock and Caltex Australia merchandise and marketing manager Karim Sumar.
In addition to prize money, winners receive publicity and exposure to high level networks and future career opportunities.
“It’s an opportunity to be recognised by the industry and it puts students in front of real life operators,” Rogut says.