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    CSNews Exclusive: Chevron Streamlines Retail Conference

    In light of the economic climate, Chevron scaled back on the glitz, but turned up the education and business value of its newly named 2009 Retail Summit.

    By Renee M. Covino

    SAN DIEGO -- It is another sign of the times: there purposely wasn’t a lot of glamour and glitz at Chevron’s biennial retail conference—now turned retail-focused summit—held here late last week.

    The last retail convention Chevron held was in Denver in 2007, as it was coming off of its "best year in company history," according to Danny Roden, vice president of Chevron Global Marketing for the Americas. The company didn’t think the former three-day fanfare held then was appropriate in this economic climate, Roden told CSNews Online in a one-on-one interview.

    "We adjusted from a convention to essentially a full-day summit where we were very focused on the business, focused on ways of helping our retailers and marketers to succeed in these tough times," he said.

    The event, with about 700 attendees, kicked off at the "macro level," in Roden’s words, beginning with keynote speaker Robert Reich, former secretary of labor and author, who took the audience through current economic times and a five-year look ahead. He outlined some "good news" for attendees when considering their business and the near future, namely that out of a lot of pain comes a lot of gain, meaning "new products, services and new ways of delivery" will bring opportunities to retailers who anticipate recovery.

    "Everything that goes down, must come up," Reich stated. "A year from now, I think we’ll be in a very good place. It’ll be tough to get through this year, but not as tough as last year."

    Reich also had attendees thinking about the needs of the baby boomer generation as part of their recovery plan. "Younger boomers will especially bring great demand," he stated. "Their needs will generate jobs, products and services."

    Other macro points of view were shared internally by Mike Wirth, executive vice president of Chevron’s Global Downstream, who said, "Chevron has been in business through 13 recessions—over 130 years—and we don’t let economic downturns steer us off course."

    Shariq Yosufzai, president of Global Marketing at Chevron, also addressed macro views of Chevron’s retail business, and said overall sales volumes in the U.S. were ahead of projections, with the East showing profitable growth, Texas and the Southeast remaining vital to strategies moving forward, and the West fighting the effects of the economy, perhaps to the greatest degree.

    California’s $21 billion deficit and 12 percent unemployment rate "indicate the worst is not behind us," Yosufzai stated. Yet "California and the Golden West is the center for innovation for us," he added.

    Regarding alternative fuels, Yosufzai mentioned "Chevron is committed to taking a systematic approach to advanced fuels," but believes "conventional petro-based fuels will drive the business for the next 20 to 30 years."

    "Our most important investment is in the strength of our brands; we have to deliver unsurpassed excellence," he stated, admitting "we can do a better job getting more edgy in our advertising."

    Other external speakers at Chevron’s summit included Phil Lempert, the consumer trend tracker, Ron Insana, a financial industry expert and former CNBC anchor and senior analyst, and Donald Ratajczak, Regents Professor Emeritus of Economics at Georgia State University.

    The summit reached the micro level with Cary Knuth, general manager of Retail Sales West, and Craig Peterhansen, general manager of Retail Sales East, addressing day-to-day retail issues, such as blending requirements and new fuel standards, improving supply reliability, managing credit card programs, the latest on PCI compliance and marketing and advertising initiatives to promote Chevron’s brands and drive more traffic to its stores.

    "We also purposely left large break times in between sessions to allow for a lot of networking," Roden said. "If attendees go away with three or four ideas to improve their business, then we believe they gained some real value."

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