Nearly three in four (72%) convenience retailers said in-store sales increased over the first nine months of 2018 compared to the same time last year, and more than half (52%) said their fuel sales increased compared to last year, according to a nationwide survey of U.S. convenience store owners conducted by NACS, the trade association that represents the convenience retailing industry. Only 9% of retailers said that in-store sales declined and only 20% said fuels sales declined.

The strong sales so far in 2018 is pushing retailer optimism higher. All three retailer optimism measures that NACS tracks are at record highs: 87% are optimistic about their business prospects for the next quarter, 87% are optimistic about the industry prospects and 85% are optimistic about the overall economy’s prospects.

Convenience store sales are strongest over the summer months as more people enjoy outdoor activities because of longer daylight hours in the summer months and more travel. Retailers most often cite good weather, positive economic news and low gas prices as the top three factors that drive sales, and all of these factors were cited as positively affecting sales over the past three months.

In addition, retailers also cited new programs that are expected to enhance sales for the next three months. New oil and gas exploration and new non-energy businesses in the area are expected to grow the customer base and sales at Grasslands Market (Douglas, WY) and a strong prepared food and craft beer offer is expected to grow sales at Plaza Chevron (Costa Mesa, CA).

However, there also are some challenges that retailers expressed, notably more competition, especially from dollar stores, according to Richard Abel (Fastrip Food Stores in Bakersfield, CA) and new regulations related to wages and tobacco in New Jersey according to Martin Gallagher, who heads up Martin J. Gallagher Inc. (Montvale, NJ). And while the weather largely led to sales growth over the summer months, it wasn’t uniform throughout the country.

“Mother Nature certainly affected Q3 sales in the Mid-Atlantic region with a historically rainy summer that has continued well into September and has been a deterrent to sales,” noted Dennis McCartney with Landhope Farms (Kennett Square, PA).

NACS has conducted quarterly NACS Retailer Sentiment Surveys since 2015 to both track retailer sentiment and survey retailer involvement and interest in a variety of issues related to their businesses. A total of 90 NACS member companies, representing a cumulative 1,494 stores, participated in the September 2018 survey examining sentiment for Q4 2018.