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LA CROSSE, Wis. — The annual NACS Show signifies not just a gathering of convenience store industry members from across the United States, but a changing of the guard for the NACS executive board, which votes in a new chairman to take up leadership the following year.
For Steve Loehr of La Crosse-based Kwik Trip Inc., his tenure as chairman was an “awesome time and an opportunity to represent both the c-store industry as a whole and Kwik Trip, while also getting an up-close look at the continuing evolution of convenience.”
“I have been in the c-store industry for 25 years. Wow, has it changed!” Loehr reflected. “Kwik Trip has gone from selling cigarettes, beverages and gasoline, to selling fresh salads, soups, fresh meat, bananas, etc. Indeed, this year, we expect to generate more gross profit dollars from food than from gasoline.”
After a quarter-century in the convenience industry, Loehr has had the opportunity to see virtually everything. But as he comes to the end of his year-long tenure as NACS chairman, the vice president of operations for Kwik Trip, has certainly gained a new perspective.
“I was able to travel the length and breadth of our great country and see firsthand the wonderful entrepreneurial spirit that makes our industry so vibrant and sustainable,” Loehr told Convenience Store News.
While he didn’t find any real surprises, he did gain “a much better appreciation of how hard the people in our industry work and how important our stores and co-workers are to the very fabric that makes our American towns and cities what they are today.”
This newly gained appreciation also includes the pioneers and entrepreneurs of the c-store industry who are willing to take risks in order to grow a business, Loehr said, as well as the importance of the suppliers who serve as true partners in ensuring the industry’s success.
As chairman, Loehr’s accomplishments include:
- Promoting the nonprofit Partnership for a Healthier America program to retailers and suppliers;
- Helping lawmakers in Washington, D.C., understand the critical importance of legislative issues such as menu labeling, online lottery ticket sales and credit card fees; and
- Working with supplier groups, such as the National Confectioners Association, and impressing upon them the importance of knowing their retail customers as separate and distinct entities.
“Being chairman, in my view, isn’t about me and my accomplishments; it is about telling the compelling story of the importance of our industry to our suppliers, politicians and other industries around us,” Loehr said. “It gives me the opportunity to tell about individual achievements of our co-workers and the successes the retailers in our industry earn.”
While not all retailers can follow in his footsteps as NACS chairman, Loehr urges his peers to become industry advocates at all levels — local, state and federal. One option for those who need some help developing the skills to do so is to turn to programs such as the NACS Executive Leadership Program at Cornell University, scheduled for July 31-Aug. 4, 2016, with registration opening in January.
“The NACS Leadership Program at Cornell is a very unique program to help nurture and mentor the future leaders in our industry,” Loehr said. “It provides both hands-on practical training and extensive thought-provoking learning sessions as well.”
As he prepares to hand off leadership to incoming NACS Chairman Jack Kofdarali, president of J&T Management, Loehr’s parting advice to retailers is to continue to create new programs that set them apart from the pack.
“Be nimble. Don’t be afraid to try new things,” he said. “There is more opportunity in our industry than ever before.”
However, along with those opportunities come challenges, and c-store retailers must be prepared to meet them. From competing with big-box stores that are adding gas stations, to coping with declining gasoline and cigarette sales, to just being able to find the best and brightest people who can help meet the needs of customers, there is a lot to face.
But according to Loehr, many challenges can be overcome simply by working hard to hire the best and brightest, and treating them like store owners would themselves like to be treated.
“Treat them like they are our best asset, because they are!” he said. “Guess what? If you do that, then they take care of the customers. That equals a successful business.”