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Tom Trader, former executive for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (RJRT), witnessed many changes to the industry during his 33 years of service with the second largest tobacco company in the U.S., which warrants his nomination to the Convenience Store News Hall of Fame. But what ensures his place among other industry greats was his high level of participation and advocacy to ensure the category remained powerful despite many challenges.
Trader's reach -- which spanned across his role at RJRT to positions on boards at NACS, the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO) and the American Wholesale Marketers Association (AWMA) -- is what nailed his place in the history books with his nomination and subsequent induction into the Hall of Fame by a Blue Ribbon Panel. The group was composed of CSNews' Editorial Advisory Board, industry experts and past Hall of Fame inductees.
"When CSNews called, I was very much caught off guard. It was the first time in a long time that I was speechless. I was overwhelmed," said Trader, who formerly held the position of director of trade relations for RJRT. "Then, after I had processed it, I called my business partner [Mickey Jones], and it was the first time that he was speechless."
Trader said he has one thing in common with this year's other inductee into the CSNews Hall of Fame, Alain Bouchard, chairman, president and CEO of Alimentation Couche-Tard. "We both started at the bottom."
Trader joined RJRT after graduating from Atlantic Christian College in 1973. He was hired as a sales representative based in Richmond, Va., and quickly moved up the ranks, holding positions such as assistant division manager from 1977 to 1980 and division manager, key account manager and Southern sales area manager during 1983 to 1988. In 1988, Trader was promoted to national manager of the trade relations department, later to become director of the department in 1990.
Trader could not choose just one memorable experience to highlight in his various positions with the company. "I have been fortunate through the years to have met and worked with some very special people within RJRT, other consumer product companies and especially our retail and wholesale customers," he said. "These relationships have left me with enough great memories to last a lifetime."
Among his relationships were many within the convenience industry. "It is hands down one of the best trade classes to work with. The retailers were open, genuine and appreciative of our efforts in developing trade programs to maximize sales and profits. Yet, at the same time this process could be very humbling," he said.
He did credit a few colleagues who made it possible for him to achieve such recognition -- Scott Steen, the current vice president of trade marketing for RJRT; Bryn Stockdale, the vice president of marketing operations for RJRT; and Mickey Jones, a longtime friend and business partner.
Trader retired from more than three decades of dedication to RJRT in 2005, and joined Corporate Creative Connection, a consulting firm created in 2004 by Jones, who had retired after 34 years with RJRT.
Trader remains humble when asked about his personal or career achievements, instead emphasizing the need for group effort to achieve success. "I'm not very good at this kind of individual recognition, and I'm not gullible enough to believe you receive this kind of recognition on your own," he said. "I think accomplishing a memorable achievement takes a team effort."
He has also made a number of contributions to the industry through his positions on key industry boards and committees -- including the Food Marketing Institute (FMI); the Lou Bantle Institute; the Convenience Store Education Council; the American Wholesale Marketers Association (AWMA); the California Association of Tobacco/Candy Distributors (CATCD); the National Advisory Group (NAG); NACS; the National Association of Tobacco Outlets (NATO); the National Association of Wholesale Grocers (NAWG); and the Southern Association of Wholesale Distributors (SAWD).
Among his reasons to join NACS' Supplier Board was its importance to the tobacco industry. "The main reasons were the importance of the c-store industry's overall volume and share contribution to our category, plus NACS' ability and experience in fighting federal and state legislation relative to the cigarette industry," he said.
During Trader's time with RJRT, he saw the tobacco and convenience industries overcome many challenges and changes. "The most dramatic were the Master Settlement Agreement with the states, which impacted the price of our products overnight; the change from self-service to non-self-service merchandising; and the evolution of private label and low-end brands -- all contributing to declines in our industry's volume and profitability," he said. Other changes Trader experienced was the shift in volume from grocery and mass merchandisers to convenience stores and the advent of cigarette tobacco stores, he said.
"During the latter part of my career and with these changes, it seemed our company spent most of the time just trying to manage the decline, compared to the new R.J. Reynolds, which has developed a solid growth plan -- both short and long term," he said. "I'm excited for everyone at RJRT and think it's good for the trade, Philip Morris and others to have a strong competitor, and it is certainly good for my pension."
Despite the obstacles the industry faces -- among them potential FDA regulation and likely tax increases -- Trader still sees the future for tobacco as being "bright, although challenging."
"I still remain very positive about the future because of what is happening to the overall tobacco category. Major cigarette manufactures are getting into other areas of tobacco pleasure alternatives," he said, giving examples of RJRT's introduction of Camel Snus, and Philip Morris USA's snus and moist smokeless tobacco products.
"This may be just the beginning of new tobacco innovations. Based on what I've been told, the margins on these new innovations are better than cigarettes," he said. "Even as cigarettes decline, the overall profitability of the category will likely be higher."
Additionally, Trader issued a challenge for the convenience store industry. "Is the convenience store industry prepared to support the new innovations from a retail presence standpoint, and maybe more importantly, to educate consumers on the benefits of these new tobacco innovations?
"Those retailers that fully support the world of new tobacco will win," he said. "They will support continual innovations within their tobacco category, constantly reinventing their approach by having a thorough understanding of their customers' wants and needs."