The U.S. convenience store count increased to a record 154,535 stores as of December 31, 2016, a 0.2% increase (340 stores) from the year prior, according to the 2017 National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS)/Nielsen Convenience Industry Store Count.


The industry store count has increased by 63% over the last three decades. At year-end 1986, the convenience store count was 95,000 stores; at year-end 1996, the store count was 104,600 stores; and at year-end 2006, the store count was 145,119 stores. Over that time frame, there have only been five times when the store count did not set a record, the latest being year-end 2008 and 2009 during the Great Recession.


“Nielsen data shows that the U.S. convenience store channel continues to be an industry of opportunity,” said Rob Hill, Executive Vice President of Retail Services at Nielsen. “The current consumer climate has created favorable conditions for c-store sales growth, contributing to a positive, long-term outlook. Nielsen understands the importance of the convenience channel and is committed to accurately tracking convenience store growth for our partners and clients, both chains and independent stores.”


Within the retail universe that Nielsen tracks, convenience stores account for more than one-third (34.1%) of all outlets in the United States. In fact, the convenience store count alone is 25% higher than the combined store counts of superettes, supermarkets and supercenters (51,191 stores), drug stores (43,636 stores) and dollar stores (28,832 stores).


Overall, 80.1% of convenience stores (123,807) sell motor fuels, a decrease of 0.6% (or 567 stores) from 2016, with the single-store motor fuel segment dropping by 604 stores. “This decline could be something to watch. It’s likely that some stores have stopped selling gas for reasons such as the cost of payment card industry (PCI) compliance, competition from quick service restaurants (QSRs), as well as industry consolidation,” said Bob Swanson, Director of Research and Statistics for NACS.


The convenience retailing industry continues to be dominated by single-store operators, which account for 63.1% of all convenience stores (97,504 stores total) and 42.6% of store growth in 2016. A small operator himself, NACS 2016 – 2017 Chairman Rahim Budhwani, CEO of Hoover, Alabama-based 6040 LLC, stated, “Our continued annual growth in store count shows that our industry’s core offer of convenience strongly resonates with time-starved customers, while our channel continues to innovate with new formats and offers to stay relevant and vibrant.”


Among the states, Texas continues to lead in store count with 15,671 stores—or more than 1 in 10 stores in the country. The rest of the top 10 states for convenience stores are California (11,774), Florida (9,930), New York (8,570), Georgia (6,761), North Carolina (6,306), Ohio (5,635), Michigan (4,833), Pennsylvania (4,787) and Illinois (4,737). As overall growth in the channel was fairly small during 2016, 23 states experienced declines in total store count from the prior year. The bottom three states in terms of store count are Alaska (217 stores), Delaware (348) and Wyoming (354).