Steve O'Toole C-Store & Fuel

Shifting Lanes in Everyday Spend: a Conversation with Steve O’Toole of Stuzo

“Everything we’ve talked about up till now in the conversation and everything we’re going to talk about, is what are we doing to deliver the outcomes for customers. Because when those are right then everything else follows behind it.”

Steve O’Toole recently joined Stuzo as VP of Sales and Business Development. Steve is a veteran of the C-Store & Fuel world having spent the better part of his 25 year career working for several of the biggest technology providers in that space. We had the chance to sit down with Steve and talk about what he has seen in this industry over the course of his career, what changes he sees in the near future, and what it was that moved him from what is arguably the largest tech player right now – over to Stuzo.

Here is the full transcript of our conversation:


I’m Mike Giambattista with TheCustomer and today I’m honored to be speaking with Steve O’Toole who is, depending on how you want to put it, a veteran of the industry – which can sound really good or really bad – but has an awful lot to say because he’s been around the c-store and fuel space for quite a while. He recently joined stuzzo and uh, Steve I’d love to hear more about your perspective on things – we’ll talk about that in a minute – but first welcome and thank you.


Steve O’Toole

Hey, good morning Mike. Thanks, I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you today. You’re right, I’m a veteran of the industry – something like 25 years of experience so i’ll tend to take that as a positive having been around.  I’ve recently joined Stuzo as the Vice President of Sales and Business Development where I’ll work to build out the customer base and the partner network.



So let me just throw this out to you because you’ve been around the space for quite a while. Because it is such a dynamic space, you’ve seen probably a whole series of macro changes in the industry and I think it’d be really interesting to hear your perspective on what some of those changes have been over the past, I don’t know, 20 years if you want to go back that far. Because I think that’s going to tee up an even more interesting conversation about what’s coming down the road. So, having been here for quite a while in this space, what are some of the major changes that you’ve seen take place within the industry through the years.


Steve O’Toole

I think, just to preface it, it’s always been about the customer and what the customer needs in the convenience and fuel retail industry – how to make their journeys easier, how to get them the right things at the right time. So it has this kind of foundational piece that I see all of the innovation really being tied to the customer. So if I go all the way back to the early days, you know, things like scanning merchandise, just getting in and out of the store with an accurate price on an item, and doing it quickly. The emergence of pay at the pump where it became, you know, you don’t run in and drop cash at the counter and then go out and pump and then come back and get your change. That was a significant innovation and it also, I think, complemented the inside the store of sales where it allowed the store to be freed up to not just take transactions for pay at the pump. Food programs have come a long way, right, trying to get more out of the inside of the store, higher margin of course for the retailer and giving them the chance to connect with their customers in a different way.

And as you know we’ve all talked about loyalty a lot through the years. It really started cash back perhaps, or price roll back at the pump. Not very insightful – just show up a bunch of times and get discounts – not really that impactful for either customers or retailers. So as I see those types of major trends happening I think that leads into what’s going to be important now and into the future and I think some of the areas are around mobile connecting to the customer digitally through the phone, in a more personalized way and having more ways to connect with customers and drive experiences and things like self-checkout and frictionless and connected car – all the different ways that a consumer might engage with a with a retailer beyond just when you walk into the store.



So, I think it’s a very exciting time in the convenience and fuel retail industry and I think there’s a lot more to come in that area as well when I think about personalization and the way retailers are getting to know their customers better and building journeys that may start in one place and end in another. You know – start at the phone, move to the pump, go into the store. Continue to engage, continue to entice to add additional offers in the mix as you go.

Everything we’ve talked about up till now in the conversation and everything we’re going to talk about, is what are we doing to deliver the outcomes for customers. Because when those are right then everything else follows behind it.

Steve O’Toole

I think we’ll see a lot more continue to evolve in those areas and one of the really important things that’s going to be required for that is more openness between the retail technology companies using APIs to enable the seamless exchange of data, so that these cross-channel journeys can be accomplished in a way that doesn’t feel like each time you engage in a different place, you’re in a completely new world, and it’s, you know, like starting from the beginning. So I do believe we’re at a point where the cross-channel seamless journey is going to be the way of the future.



It’s been the brass ring for the past 10 years or so to be able to create that kind of seamlessness. But honestly, it does seem like technology is to the point now where we can actually enable that in an absolutely frictionless manner for the customer. They don’t have to know or see all the mechanics – or feel all the mechanics – that are happening in the background to affect their convenience.


Steve O’Toole

Yeah I think you’re right there. And just to kind of build on that, there’s hundreds of retail technology types of companies out there, each with a different aspect of engagement of the offer to make available for retailers. And each retailer has its own relationship to customers, you know, it might be around their food offer, it might be convenience, it might be anything – something that makes them special. And different technologies are going to play to different retailers and their objectives with their customers in different ways. So it’s really on us as the the technology providers in the industry to make it easy to provide what’s needed and make it easy for all of it to interact.

Yeah and we may – for the first time ever – actually be able to achieve that kind of thing – that omnichannel kind of buzz of about five to ten years ago. And it really never materialized in a way that that provided that sort of seamless journey that’s really, the like you said, the holy grail.



Interestingly, I was talking to a couple of colleagues – this is probably about two years ago now -and, we were having this discussion about the complete uselessness of the term “omnichannel” at that point. You know, why even bother with the concept anymore and I think it was right around that moment in time that the technology started emerging which really just enabled that kind of level of connectivity to it, to empower retailers to do that kind of thing. So it’s still a thing and it’s still a thing that we can achieve. And I think that technology is right around the corner

I wanted to talk a little bit about how the pandemic affected the world that you live and work in. You know, everyday spend, as a category, was affected differently than so many other categories out of the necessity of what the products are. They didn’t go away – these were not nice to haves these are, for the most part, need to haves. And I’ve spoken to a handful of brands in the space and outside of that, that had to kind of figure out on the fly how to adapt so quickly to the changes that the pandemic brought on and I would love to just get your perspective on how c-store and fuel, as a whole, navigated that crazy radical change. And if you see or saw any commonalities – any common threads between the people who did it well and the people who, you know, kind of struggled through it. And we don’t have to name names here.


Steve O’Toole

Yeah, so it’s interesting. So we all know the stats right. Fuel sales went down significantly and inside sales went up. And in some in some cases, dramatically, as consumers opted to stay away from the big box stores and the grocery stores and instead went to the more convenience and the more, the smaller convenience stores. So that’s kind of the simple way to look at it.

But actually, I think COVID accelerated a number of trends that were already kind of in the works, right. So, the need to engage in a different way, not spend a lot of time in the store, not spend a lot of time close to other people, kind of led to the increase in the click and collect, you know, the order ahead, even you know, the delivery services that have been kind of tied to convenience.

And you know, you can think of the major delivery order aggregators there when I mentioned that. So, I think those changes are staying. We see much more in the way of self-checkout, more retailers are doing frictionless type technology. There’s more and more investment in digital commerce and creating the offers that consumers want so they can engage beyond the confines of the four walls of the store and you know, think about what they might want. Get to the store, pick it up again, add to that basket and get on their way, and do it in a quick, efficient way. And social distancing you know, for a while there it looked like we were coming out of COVID and it wasn’t going to be as important again maybe that was a bit premature. So the idea of minimizing, you know, the amount of close interaction is also still an important part of it.



Interesting. Yeah I know that certain technologies that were kind of just at the early stages of adoption really blew up in a hurry. I’m thinking of contactless payments – something that you know had been adopted fairly heavily in certain sectors but was kind of sputtering in others, suddenly became a must-have technology.


Steve O’Toole

Yeah I think contactless is certainly here to stay and it’s going to continue to grow. Some of the the projections I’ve read – so it’s going to be the most prominent way of paying very soon. The retailers that I’ve seen that did the best in the pandemic were the ones that kind of spotted the trend that the inside of the store matters again, right. There was a time when the staple goods and other things weren’t very sexy, and they were kind of pushed out you know, and the focus was more on the food service and other aspects of the offer. Well, the center of the store matters again. Convenience stores are selling soap and toilet paper, right, because that’s what people need.

And so, the ones that kind of latched on to the idea that consumers need something different from a convenience operator are the ones I think that had the had the best results through the pandemic.



Do you have any brands that come to mind who did that especially well?


Steve O’Toole

So, one that comes to mind is Casey’s. Casey’s has won in a way that’s very, you know, unique in the convenience and fuel retail industry. They’re a rural operator. They’re the pizza kings of middle America, and they’ve found a way to really drive increases in inside sales through the pandemic as they’ve evolved to meet their customer needs. So that’s one that jumps to mind, having read their recent earnings report.



I wanted to jump topics a little bit here and talk about Stuzo – not to just throw you a series of softballs to promote Stuzo. But I happen to know those folks. I’m a fan of who they are and what they’re doing. But and again, we won’t name names but you came from a very large technology provider in this space and, as you said, spent quite a bit of time in this space. Stuzo, I think likes to bill themselves as kind of an outsider, which I find interesting because they’re they’re connecting some pretty big wins. So pretty soon you won’t be able to say you’re an outsider. At some level you’ll cross that threshold. But if you can, without saying anything disparaging about about where you came from, what is it that attracted you or what’s the secret sauce, if you will, that attracted you to Stuzo – what is it that they’re doing that you see a future in?


Steve O’Toole

So. kind of just going to the beginning of the question, yes, I’ve got a long career in the industry. I’ve worked with, and for, a number of the world’s most innovative convenience and fuel retailers. For the past several years I’ve been with probably the world’s leading technology provider in the space, so I’ve got a pretty good perspective on what works and what the industry needs. And when I see Stuzo, I think it starts with Gunter Pfau, the CEO. He’s got an amazing focus and passion and drive and it just kind of pulls you in. So I’ve known Gunter for a number of years and I’ve admired what he’s been building at Stuzo and I kept an eye on it. And what I’ve seen is he’s taken his passion and he’s built out a leadership team that’s second to none – people that share his drive and vision and what they like to call their “maniacal focus on customer outcomes”. And when I hear that term that resonates with me because ultimately, that’s what this is all about. Everything we’ve talked about up till now in the conversation and everything we’re going to talk about, is what are we doing to deliver the outcomes for customers. Because when those are right then everything else follows behind it.

Steve O'Toole of Stuzo - C-store & fuel

Photo by Jannik Selz on Unsplash

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