Jeff Rogut has always been a retail man. Starting out on the shop floor more than 30 years ago, he’s since worked his way through every aspect of the industry, as well as every consumer category. In short, if something’s sellable, then there’s a high chance that Jeff has sold it.
Then, 13 years ago, Jeff took some time out from the ‘selling’ side of things to begin a new role as the Executive Director of Monash University’s Centre for Retail Studies. He spent three years running the industry-renowned Strategic Planning and Management in Retail and describes it as an experience he thoroughly enjoyed.
“This program is almost like a ritual for everybody in retail – I did the course myself back in the mid-90s! The three years I spent at Monash were a terrific experience because I was able to bring my practical and industry experience into a university setting,” he says.
“It worked really well for both parties. From their point of view, they were able to tap into my knowledge and, for me, I was intellectually stimulated every day I was there.”
In 2011, following his stint at Monash, Jeff was approached by the Australasian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) to join as CEO. “It was an opportunity I jumped at because in the late-80s my wife and I actually bought, and ran, a convenience store. It was a 7-Eleven and we operated it for a number of years,” he laughs.
“That passion for convenience stores has never left me and I still believe it’s an industry with enormous potential. Running my own store, as well as a previous role with Shell where I ran 720 Shell shops, gave me the experience I needed to take over as CEO.
Plus, I also used to head up merchandise and marketing for 7-Eleven and so, from the late-80s to the mid-90s, I was deeply ingrained in the world of the convenience store.”
In 2020, the AACS marks its 30th anniversary and, while the retail industry may have changed considerably since it was established, the need for convenience stores has never wavered – something Jeff puts down to their inherent community focus.
“Your typical convenience store is open over extended hours – some are even open for 24 hours – and they tend to offer so much to the local community. The majority have petrol and offer a range of on-the-go food, beverages and services such as ATMs, but the biggest seller these days is coffee,” Jeff explains.
“In the old days, convenience stores would do video rental and all these other things but, today, coffee’s the main destination driver for a lot of the stores. Essentially, the main role of the convenience store is to serve its community, including the truckies and travellers who use the larger convenience stores on the freeways.”
Jeff admits that retail is a constantly shifting industry and he discusses how AACS is helping store owners stay two steps ahead.
“The industry has changed enormously since I started out and I have experienced that firsthand. When we had our 7-Eleven store in Glen Waverley, Melbourne, we were the pilot store for scanning. Before that it was all hand-pricing and cash registers,” he says. “The constantly changing nature of the industry is why AACS does study tours every year.
“Last year, we took members to the US, where we visited a number of frictionless stores like Amazon Go. These stores work by putting the Amazon Go app on your phone, tapping it on the barrier when you reach the store and then once you’re in, you pick up everything you want, put it in your bag and simply walk out. The technology is the same as what’s used in self-driving cars and it can tell what you’ve taken. Your Amazon account is then charged and you’re emailed a receipt. That’s the future of retail.”
The future of Australian retail, however, looks a little different and Jeff and the team at AACS will be spending the next 12-18 months helping members navigate the challenges created by COVID-19 and understand the new opportunities for convenience stores to add value to their local communities.
“When the pandemic and subsequent social distancing orders started, we played a key role in discussions with the government around ensuring convenience stores were classed as an essential service. Obviously, police, firies and paramedics all fill up at our service stations and grab coffee and food late at night, so they needed our stores to stay open,” he says.
“But it’s been tough and some store owners are really struggling. Our aim for the foreseeable future is to keep supporting our members and guiding them through the situation as best we can.
“The convenience industry has a reputation for adaptation and the value proposition we provide consumers has been made very clear as the coronavirus pandemic has played out. The latest AACS State of the Industry Report showed the industry achieved solid growth of 2.1% in merchandise sales (excluding petrol) in 2019, and while the landscape for everyone has changed in 2020, we still have every reason to be confident in convenience.”