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IRVING, Texas — When Nancy Smith went to work for an oil company right out of college, she never realized she was actually entering the convenience store industry. She graduated from Oklahoma State University and started in the management trainee program of Cities Service Oil and Gas, which eventually became CITGO Petroleum Corp. Four years in, Southland Corp., now 7-Eleven, purchased the retail and refinery business.
“When you went to school in Oklahoma, you either went to work for a bank, phone company or oil company,” she explained. “After joining the management trainee program, I went to work running a sub-group of 10 Quik Mart stores in Dallas.”
Following the 7-Eleven acquisition, Smith moved around in the company — including physically moving to Chicago in order to run gasoline pricing and construction for a division of Quik Marts that 7-Eleven purchased. From there, she transitioned into merchandising and became a buyer.
“Almost every two years, I did something different and I’ve physically moved seven times with the company,” she said, noting she is now back in Dallas for her current role as senior vice president of merchandising, fresh food and proprietary beverages.
She leads the teams responsible for all the new fresh-food innovation work at 7-Eleven, including partnerships with 14 commissaries and 14 bakeries across the United States. She’s also in charge of the budget and results of merchandising in these categories for more than 8,500 7-Eleven stores throughout the U.S. and Canada. Her team employs chefs, food scientists, food engineers and Ph.D. cuisine specialists.
“Since last year, we have been setting up a new merchandising team in each zone and they will be tasked with sourcing and developing more regional products because we want the right product assortment at the local level; not just one big national assortment throughout the U.S.,” Smith explained, citing examples such as the kolache at participating stores in Texas, and the Faygo Rock & Rye Slurpee in Michigan and Ohio. “My team is coaching them on how to find products and develop them.”
In fact, coaching and training other people is one of her favorite things about her job, and she is grateful to have talented people on her team. While she is not a chef or a foodie, Smith says she’s learned so much in her role, which is another perk of the job.
“Our industry is really an early predictor of trends and what is going on with the economy, and that is one of my favorite things about it,” she added. “We see it quicker and can respond quicker because we see so many people, and so many of the same people every day. The industry is pretty quick to respond and it’s a very nimble and fast-paced business. I’ve always enjoyed being part of the changes. You never know what will happen the next day, and I have always found that very interesting.”
One of the things she is most proud of is leading the team that acquired White Hen Pantry in Chicago and getting all those stores remodeled and converted. Within 16 months, the division doubled its size. Smith is also proud of the last couple of years in terms of the evolution of the fresh-food space in 7-Eleven, particularly the last 12 to 18 months.
“We have customers crediting us for having food that tastes really good, made with great quality ingredients, and that has been really rewarding,” she shared.
According to Smith, while at 7-Eleven, she has always been surrounded by women in the business, including in management roles, as 24 percent of the company’s market managers are currently women — a shift she has seen even more now than ever, as fathers are leaving their franchised 7-Eleven stores to their daughters.
“We now have a lot of women who are franchisees,” she said. “My advice to both women and men is always the same: At some point in your career, if not more than once, you should take a job because you want to work for the individual in charge. Choose someone you are curious about or respect because even if it’s not the exact job you want, you will learn so much and [it] will make a difference in your career.”
Smith is one of five Women of the Year and among 62 female managers, directors and executives working in the convenience store industry who are being honored in the third-annual Convenience Store News Top Women in Convenience awards program this year. An awards reception will take place Wednesday, Oct. 19 in Atlanta, coinciding with the 2016 NACS Show.