Founded in 1961 as the National Association of Convenience Stores, NACS (nacsonline.com) is celebrating its 50th anniversary as the international association for convenience and fuel retailing. The U.S. convenience store industry, with more than 146,000 stores across the country, posted $511 billion in total sales in 2009, of which $328 billion was motor fuels sales. NACS membership includes 2,100 retail and 1,600 supplier member companies, which do business in nearly 50 countries.

NACS serves the convenience and fuel retailing industry by providing industry knowledge, connections and advocacy to ensure the competitive viability of its members’ businesses. In 2007, the association shortened its name to NACS to reflect its global scope and expansion beyond the convenience store industry into all elements of convenience retailing. NACS also added a qualifying statement that better defines its presence at the retail fueling level: The Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing.

While 48 of the top 50 convenience stores in the United States are members of NACS, the majority of its members are small, independent operators. More than 70 percent of its total membership is comprised of companies that operate 10 stores or less.

This membership base roughly tracks the industry as a whole. Of the 146,000-plus convenience stores in the United States, 63 percent are owned and operated by someone who only has one store.

The number of U.S. convenience stores grew 1.2 percent over the past year and stands at 146,341 as of December 31, 2010. This increase reversed a rare two-year drop in the store count and is the highest number of stores ever recorded, eclipsing the 146,294 stores from the 2008 count.

The increase in store count shows that the interruption of service in many areas, caused by many traditional fuel-based operators exiting the industry, turned around. Those locations are now in the hands of capable retailers who see the consumer demand and are willing to fill it.

With the U.S. Census Bureau data showing the U.S. population at 308.7 million, there is one convenience per approximately every 2,100 residents. The convenience retailing industry has seen remarkable growth over the last three decades. In 1981, the store count was 67,500 stores, in 1991 the store count was 105,800 stores and in 2001 the store count was 119,800 stores.

Despite extreme price and profit volatility for motor fuels, convenience store retailers consider motor fuels operations to be important. A total of 117,297 convenience stores sell motor fuels, a 1.7 percent increase over last year. The increase in the number of stores selling fuel (1,957 stores) was greater than the increase in overall store count (1,800 stores), with the remainder being convenience-only stores that added fueling or gas stations that added convenience operations. Overall, 80.2 percent of all convenience stores sell motor fuels.

Texas once again led in terms of overall stores, with 14,466 stores, nearly one-tenth of all U.S. convenience stores. California was ranked number two in store count at 10,581, followed by Florida at 9,348.