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FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Fred M. Higgins, manager of Bowling Green, Ky.-based Girkin Development LLC d.b.a. Minit Mart, was recently named 2008 Convenience Store of the Year during the 67th Kentucky Grocers Association (KGA) & Kentucky Association of Convenience Stores (KACS) annual meeting, held Nov. 12.
This year marks the first time that a separate Convenience Store of the Year award was presented. Up until this year, a single "Grocer of the Year" had been awarded to a grocer, convenience store operator, or a supplier partner. Higgins was the KGA/KACS "Grocer of the Year" award winner in 1996, according to the organizations.
The KACS/KGA offered the following biography on Higgins:
Higgins, who served as 1995-1996 chairman of NACS: the Association for Convenience and Petroleum Retailing, began his career in 1967 with his father, Ralph Higgins, who previously owned the first Stuckey’s franchise in the country.
At the time he formed the company, Fred Higgins was attending law school at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. By the time he graduated in 1969, he expanded the operation to six stores in the Lexington area.
In 1972, after Higgins served in the U.S. Army and returned to Bowling Green, Minit Mart Foods was incorporated with 16 stores and began a planned growth program, acquiring single c-stores and selecting sites on which to build new Minit Marts. In 1988, the business expanded to Tennessee when it acquired 19 Bread Box stores there.
During this time, Minit Mart continued to build on its reputation as a pioneer in the convenience store industry by adding delis, game machines and videotape rentals in its established stores. Minit Mart was among the first convenience stores to add gas pumps, an innovation that has changed the way Americans buy gasoline.
By 1998, the Minit Mart banner was flying at more than 87 stores in Kentucky and Tennessee. The volume of the operation was in excess of $250 million dollars annually with approximately 1,200 employees.
Upon losing his wife of 25 years to a lengthy battle with cancer in 1998, and given the industry consolidation in 1999 and 2000, Higgins and the management team felt it was time to look at merging or selling the company. After considerable study, Coopers & Lybrand, outside accountants, recommended leasing the assets to Clark Retail Enterprises Inc.
That deal was completed in April 2001 whereby Minit Mart Foods retained ownership of the assets while leasing them to Clark. Besides operating their original 600 stores, Clark acquired several other chains in the Midwest area growing to roughly 1,200 stores.
Competition in Clark’s area became very intense, and it wasn’t able to adapt fast enough. This inability to react led to their bankruptcy. During bankruptcy, Clark was able to sublet 47 of the stores to T-Mart of Sturdivant, Wis. (T-Mart has now gone bankrupt). The remaining 37 stores were returned to Minit Mart with Higgins starting his second career in the industry.
Today, the stores are a combination of convenience and grocery shopping, and 24 locations offer O’Deli’s subshops and Godfather’s Pizza. All 33 stores offer Marathon gasoline that now offers a Marathon branded MasterCard that gives customers a 5 percent discount on gasoline purchases. This is a strong offering allowing Minit Mart to compete with other discount fuel retailers, according to the associations.
During his acceptance speech, Higgins credited his success directly to the Minit Mart management team and employees surrounding him along with his family.
Higgins is actively involved in the community and his church through monetary donations and volunteering. He has been on several mission trips to Guatemala and is devoted to his family including his 10 grandchildren.
The KACS and KGA is a joint, statewide trade association representing approximately 450 member companies operating 3,300 retail locations across the state. Membership includes retailers, wholesalers, distributors, and related suppliers to the grocery, supermarket, and convenience store industries.