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A standing-room-only crowd of retailers, suppliers and other convenience industry executives filled the Thomas Murphy Ballroom yesterday morning for the opening general session of the 2013 NACS Show.
Dave Carpenter, the 2012-2013 NACS chairman and president/CEO of J.D. Carpenter Cos. based in West Des Moines, Iowa, welcomed the group, noting that his reign as chairman was both educational and inspiring. Carpenter chose to talk about two areas he feels are crucial to the future of the convenience store industry: its image and its people.
“Your image is your business,” he said. “And sometimes it’s true that perception is more important than reality.” He noted that the industry, with NACS’ support, has done a lot to change the market’s negative perception of convenience stores and gas stations as unattractive, dirty, polluted and attracting “shady characters.” However, as the owner of 12 7-Eleven convenience stores in the Denver area, he still encounters community opposition to building new c-stores in that market.
Even though today’s new c-stores are more attractive and appealing than in the past, communities still react more negatively to a new gas station even though these same communities are aggressive in trying to attract other businesses such as shopping malls. He argued: “How will existing stores get better if competition doesn’t force them to?”
Carpenter said he keeps thinking the next store will be easier, but it never is.
On the image front, he pointed out that NACS is ready to help other c-store operators with a customizable toolkit for regulators, zoning boards and community organizations.
“Today, we are not demonized like we were several years ago,” said Carpenter, pointing to the fewer stories about price gouging that came out in the media following Hurricane Sandy last year in comparison to Hurricane Katrina several years ago.
As part of the changing image, he also noted how c-stores are being forced to change due to declining tobacco sales and fuel volumes, more competition from quick-service restaurants (QSRs), new expenses from the Affordable Care Act, and higher costs for PCI (payment card industry) compliance.
“We need to keep our core,” said Carpenter, noting that c-stores as an industry now generate more than $31 billion in foodservice sales, the equivalent of No. 1 foodservice operator McDonald’s, and as much as the No. 2 through No. 4 QSRs in the country combined.
“We are only at the beginning of this next phase of our development as an industry, and I truly believe [foodservice] is our biggest opportunity,” he continued.
The outgoing chairman concluded with a more personal vow to change the way he deals with people-building at his own company. “[Since] I sold my business in Iowa and started over from scratch, I have put more emphasis on finding the right people to grow my company,” he said.
He noted that he was inspired by La Crosse, Wis.-based Kwik Trip Inc. “They give 40 percent of their profits back to their employees." That largess results in low turnover and shrink, and people who “know how to read a P&L statement and know the cost of building a new store.” Creating better people will create better stores, according to Carpenter.