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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- More than 100 convenience industry executives joined together March 31-April 2 in St. Petersburg, Fla., to explore what it takes to be successful at a time when the economy is weakening and new competition is trying to muscle in on the channel.
The 14th annual Convenience Store News Future Forum was, in the words of CSNews editor-in-chief, and conference master-of-ceremonies, Don Longo, a "perfect combination of blue sky thinking around future trends, grounded in the everyday operational practices and challenges impacted by those trends."
Among many highlights:
-- BP Global Strategic and Sustainable Projects director Mark Lester and manager Vinita Ramnani showed how "going green" isn't just an Earth-friendly thing to do. The savings from implementing just a few of the environmental practices utilized at the company's innovative Helios House store in Los Angeles can save an operator thousands of dollars a year in energy costs.
-- Gulf Oil president Joe Petrowski outlined his vision for the future of the iconic motor fuel brand, and explained why the industry's future depended on improving its retail operations.
-- ACNielsen senior vice president Todd Hale made a data-packed presentation outlining the strengths and weaknesses of companies in the grocery, dollar store, drug store, supercenter and warehouse club industries as retailers in those industry's step up their attempts to service consumers' convenience needs.
-- Consumer strategist Art Turock shared his personal strategy on how to unleash innovative thinking and how to bring that thinking to bear at your company, and he led an entertaining consumer focus group session in which c-store shoppers gave attendees an earful about what they don't like about their stores, especially in the area of foodservice.
-- In breakout sessions, Longo partnered with Alon USA general Judge Dobrient and Smoker Friendly vice president Mary Szarmach to discuss the sales forecast for motor fuels and tobacco, respectively. At the same time, CSNews managing editor Tammy Mastroberte partnered with Michael Zielinski, president of Royal Buying Group, and Matt Paduano, vice president, Nice N Easy, on presenting CSNews' forecasts for the confectionery/snacks and beer/packaged beverages categories, respectively.
-- Many more good ideas were presented by retailers themselves in a session titled, "Ideas to Maximize Your Bottom Line." Jenny Bullard, CIO, Flash Foods, showed what her company is doing to combat and actually reduce credit card fees. Hal Adams, vice president of merchandising and store development for Valero, showed how an effective private label program can not only increase margins, but also enhance your brand image. Ben DiDonato, supply chain replenishment director for Wawa, spoke about the wonders achieved by the company's new streamlined inventory ordering and accounting system. Steve Larkin, director of real estate for Village Pantry, gave an inspiring presentation on the how strategic thinking can optimize your real estate acquisition strategy. And, Randy Fulkerson, former chairman of Huck's Food Stores and currently a management consultant, gave example after example of simple things stores can do to reduce labor costs.
-- Pioneering entrepreneur Gary Hoover provided great examples of how successful business enterprises learn from other industries.
-- Marc Slutsky, COO of Streetfigher Marketing, gave 10 low-cost ways a retailer can be a "streetfighter" and take market share from its competition. On the same panel, Rick Cummings, director, refined fuels marketing for CHS Inc., showed Cenex's new commercials and its strategy for revitalizing and updating its brand. And, John Call, managing partner of CF Capital Asset, provided very real world examples of how smart retailers in the c-store business keep things simple and have a passion for the business.
-- George Nauman, principle with store design firm, Chute Gerdeman, provided the thinking behind redesigns of Thorntons and 7-Eleven, followed by presentations by Bill Reilly, chief marketing officer, The Spinx Co., Scott Shakespeare, marketing manager, Maverik Inc., and Marc Jones, owner, Verona Depot -- all of whom showed off photos of their recent award winning retail formats.
This year's Future Forum was sponsored by Altadis USA, Chester's, El Monterey, McLane, PhilipMorris USA, Hershey's, Procter & Gamble and Tidel. Association sponsors were the Florida Petroleum Marketers Association, the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores, the Neighborhood Market Association and NACS, the Association for Convenience and Petroleum Retailing.