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In 1989, as president of Busy Bee Food Stores Inc., Bob Seng was the third retailer inducted into the Convenience Store News Industry Hall of Fame -- the first small-chain executive.
Bob recently finished writing "How To Buy a Small Business and
Let The Government Help Finance It." He operates several Web sites including www.realestatefame.com, home of The Real Estate Hall of Fame. Seng is working on an Internet program for the c-store industry that would "increase sales outside the box" and occasionally works as a consultant to the industry. He also volunteers for Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE).
"It's a fairly active schedule -- and I still try to get in my two-mile walk each day," Seng said.
What was your first experience in the c-store industry?
In 1973, Busy Bee bought a service station in Newark, N.Y. But before we could get it open, gasoline rationing began. We decided to sell groceries and vegetables, but eventually converted the site into a convenience store. We copied the store layout of other stores in the area. We needed something to offset the [lack of] gasoline income, so we started to sell subs and other fast foods.
Why did you stay in the c-store business?
We found the industry exciting and profitable -- and we were impressed with the cooperation of other c-store companies and the sharing of information.
What is one of the most remarkable things you've seen in the industry?
The remarkable growth of companies like Quik Trip, Sheetz, Wawa and Casey's General Stores, all of which had exceptional leadership and people of vision. These companies and several others helped improve the image of convenience stores, which greatly benefited the rest of us.
As a c-store operator, what was one of the funniest things you saw?
Steve Sheetz, now chairman of Sheetz Inc., trying to jump over the net after a tennis match at one of our conventions.
In what ways that you didn't anticipate has the industry changed?
I didn't anticipate the degree to which about half the industry has not changed. Usually the industry follows the leader fairly rapidly; however, for every location that has been built, rebuilt or remodeled to provide a modern and attractive image, there are two or three that still look like 1973.
What are some of the biggest changes you've seen in the industry?
The expansion of the gasoline offering, the increased number of pumps serving the public and the size of current properties.
What has made the biggest impact on the industry in the last 40 years?
The introduction of gasoline has had the biggest impact.
What has disappeared from the industry that you'd like to bring back?
I don't think there is anything I would bring back. We live in a constantly changing world and we change with it. We still are in a thriving industry; we must have made the right decisions.
What c-store product did you like the most?
In-house fast food preparation. We started making subs of all types, then later introduced a roast beef sandwich, similar to Arby's, and had southern Bar-B-Q shipped in weekly from Walterboro, S.C. All were big successes.
What c-store product did you most dislike?
I didn't like lottery tickets. They were expensive to handle and there were other ways we could attract new customers.
Who in the industry do you most admire?
QuikTrip Inc. founder Chester Cadieux set the blueprint for all of us to follow.
I first met Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes Inc. Founder and President John McDougall when he was applying for a job; 25 years later he is operator of 100 successful stores and has been a credit to the industry.
Jim Callahan of Geo. H. Green Oil Inc. faced many obstacles in his life, but just kept fighting, always maintaining a positive attitude, always creating new ideas and never forgetting friends -- a rare quality.
Do you have any Convenience Store News memories you'd like to share?
Former Editor Maureen Azzato was one of two people who took the time out of a busy schedule to fly to St. Louis for my wife Emmy's funeral. I was impressed. The late Hedy Halpert, who was publisher for many years, suggested starting the 365 Club when I was chairman of NACS' NACSPAC committee, and it was a great success. Then editor-in-chief Barb Francella, who currently is a senior editor, was able to call my wife 25 times to arrange for my induction into the Hall of Fame, without me ever having any suspicion.
Do you have a memory or fun anecdote to share? Visit the Spare Change blog section dedicated to the past 40 years in convenience retailing by clicking here.