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Building on the foundations laid by dairies, gas stations and fuel distributors, c-stores emerged last century, growing quickly from an innovation to an indispensable part of American life.
Many of the pioneers who shaped the industry have begun to retire, entrusting businesses to family members.
In a panel moderated by Sonja Hubbard, president of Texarkana, Texas-based E-Z Mart's Stores Inc., and daughter of E-Z Mart founder, the late Jim Yates, the heirs to what one audience member described as "industry legends" discussed growing up in a family c-store business.
"You have to prove yourself every day," said Chet Cadieux Jr., vice president of sales at QuikTrip Corp. and son of Chester Cadieux, chairman and president."The expectations placed on family are much higher. You have to be prepared to set the standard."
Other pressures are involved as well. Work-related disagreements with family are occasionally unavoidable, and leaving the job at the office can be very difficult, members of the panel agreed. Due to these additional strains, the panel noted that their families had never pressured them into the industry.
Still, after joining the business, family members were required to work their way up the ladder. "You can't get enough exposure to the different levels of the business," said Thère du Pont, vice president of safety, quality and supply chain at Wawa, Pa.-based Wawa Inc. and nephew of Richard D. Wood Jr., president and CEO. "There's a point where you run out of time, and six extra months as a store manager will always help later."
Of the challenges ahead, such as perpetual staffing difficulties, du Pont said that "it's a different set of challenges; I can't say if its harder or easier now."
Cadieux, however, pointed out that some aspects of growing and maintaining a business were simpler than building from the ground up.
"I know that my job is going to be easier than my dad's was," he said. "I'm fortunate to be working with level after level of extremely qualified people. He had to build that team."