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His family has been in the fuel and convenience business since creating J.D. Carpenter Cos. Inc. in 1935. Now, the president and CEO of the West Des Moines, Iowa-based company, Dave Carpenter, who started in the quick lube business, is assuming the position of NACS chairman for the 2012-2013 term.
Two years ago, Carpenter sold his ShortStop convenience store chain to Casey's General Stores Inc., and he is now building new 7-Eleven stores in Colorado. He will have eight in total by the end of this year.
His first involvement with NACS came when the association contacted him in 2000 to film his company for an Ideas 2 Go session, highlighting the chain's loyalty card program. This was the catalyst for his further involvement with NACS.
"That opportunity really got me more involved with NACS, and I was able to meet new people. I got invited to the Leadership Forum," Carpenter explained. "I joined the board a couple of years after that."
When he first joined the board, he was dealing with time constraints and a "young family," but he eventually became involved with the executive committee. He said he is honored and excited to take on the role of chairman this year.
Convenience Store News caught up with Carpenter to find out how he is preparing for the role, what he sees as current challenges for the industry, his view of the future, and what he plans to focus on in the year ahead.
CSNews: What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing the c-store industry today?
Carpenter: There are two big challenges -- fuels and payment issues. NACS has always been involved with fuels, but I don't think our industry has really had enough of a proactive say when it comes to what fuels are selected, pushed or mandated for us to sell.
We sell 80 percent of the fuel in this country, but we have auto manufacturers, environmentalists, oil companies, the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and government agencies creating fuel and standards self-servingly. Then, they push it through the legislative process and sometimes our elected officials don't even know what they are voting for because they are pushed from so many directions.
As energy gets more heated, it's even more critical that we take a very active role -- more than in the past. NACS will have much more involvement with fuel. We will get an independent analysis of these agencies and review all of the independent agendas to create reports and studies to publish a real world analysis. This will help with things like pushing E15, which has huge consequences. Also, we have had 60 different types of boutique fuels, and NACS will uncover what happens when this occurs, and how we can prevent it. Hopefully we will be the go-to source for the government and the media so they will have an independent review of all the different agendas.
In terms of payment issues, NACS has been very engaged from the legislative and litigation perspectives with credit cards and the monopolies and unfair behaviors of the credit card industry. We have done a good job of reining in those practices from these standpoints, so now we are going to enter another phase.
I was in Silicon Valley recently and met with leaders from some of the best technology companies. They challenged us to challenge them. They explained we need to take a more active role in challenging the tech firms to help us solve our problems, including mobile payments. The next big thing is Google Wallet, but did we ever go talk to Google and say here are the issues we have with this? It's about getting more engaged with these firms.
Payments are not just a cost issue. It's also a technological issue, and we need to be involved with the new technology created for how customers pay. If Steve Jobs were alive and looking at designing technology for our industry, he would look at a lot of our processes as archaic. He would challenge us on how things are being done. So, NACS needs to really get engaged with this and look to Silicon Valley to help us fix our current issues. When I was out there, I couldn't believe the number of huge companies and retailers who actually have offices in Silicon Valley.
CSNews: What changes within the industry do you think retailers need to prepare for the most?
Carpenter: The same two -- fuels and payments. Those are really huge issues for us. E15 is being pushed down to our industry now and that comes with a whole set of issues and challenges, plus all the new mandates that are set, which I don't see us meeting. Also, whatever happens with the election will have an effect on the industry. Romney wants us to be more energy independent, but if he doesn't get elected, it could go a different way.
What retailers can do to prepare is to get involved with NACS and help us shape the future. We can't do it without people getting engaged. Member engagement is so critical because every time you get new people involved, you get better ideas and better solutions.
CSNews: What are some of the issues you plan to tackle as NACS chairman?
Carpenter: I am most passionate about the two things I mentioned -- fuels and payments. They are my hot buttons, and they have all been discussed. Now, it's the time to start firing on all cylinders and take things to the next level.
CSNews: What personal insights or knowledge do you think you can lend to the role and to the industry?
Carpenter: I think I tend to be more on the cutting-edge of thinking. I like to get things done. I don't like to sit on the side and wait for things to happen. I will obviously continue to push to the next level. You get handed the torch, and it's your job to keep that fire alive and make sure we are looking at all angles. When you become chairman, it's like an internal switch -- you just automatically start to become more engaged. It's already happening and I haven't even taken the post yet.
Thankfully, we have a great staff at NACS, great leadership and a great board of directors. It's my job to expand what we are doing and look outside the box as much as possible.
CSNews: In taking on the role of NACS chairman, what are you looking forward to the most?
Carpenter: Being a part of some of these changes with fuels, payments and other innovation is a lot of fun, but I think one of the biggest benefits in this position is being able to meet so many people. It's the connections you make, and as you travel the country, and in some instances the world, you learn so much about business and about life in general. You really have to embrace this experience, and that is what I look forward to because it will go fast and then the next thing you know, you are passing the torch.
It's about slowing down from an awareness standpoint to make sure you take it in and maximize the interaction with the people you meet.
CSNews: How are you preparing for the role?
Carpenter: I've already met with Tom Robinson, the outgoing chairman, and have also talked to chairmen from the last several years to get their insights.
CSNews: Looking toward the future, what do you think the c-store industry will look like five years from now?
Carpenter: I think we will have a better grasp of what the future of fuels will be and we will see a dramatic change in payments; how customers interact with us and how they pay for products -- not just at pump, but also in the store. I believe there will be some dramatic changes and a more seamless interaction with our customers overall.
I also think we will offer more personalized service and will know customers are on-site through either a Wi-Fi connection or payment device. There is already technology available where a customer can pull up to the pump, select the pump number, pick fuel, authorize the pump, activate a loyalty card and set up a credit card before they even get out of the car. At some point, they will be able to pick a product from inside using the phone, pay for it and then just pick it up in the store.
The industry will also see continued consolidation, and it needs to elevate standards in terms of cleanliness, healthy food choices, appearance and quality facilities. There is still a long way to go for many people and the pressure will be on those who need to convert to higher standards because that is what people are expecting. If they don't change, they will fall further and further behind.