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Last year, Sonja Hubbard made history when she became the first woman inducted into the Convenience Store News Industry Hall of Fame. The E-Z Mart Stores Inc. CEO was also the first offspring to be inducted. Her father and the founder of E-Z Mart, Jim Yates, became a Hall of Famer in 1997, just a year before he died in a plane crash.
For Hubbard, the decision to join the c-store industry and the family business came easily. She began working for the company as a teenager. After graduating from college with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration, she worked for two accounting firms and attained her license before returning to her roots at E-Z Mart. She worked her way up from assistant controller to CFO, and assumed the role of CEO following her father's death.
Hubbard also made history, becoming the first female chair of NACS in 2008-2009. She is well-known for being an industry champion and a trailblazer in everything she does. At her induction ceremony last November, she was lauded for being a tireless fighter for the c-store industry, especially on tough issues such as credit and debit card interchange fees.
In honor of the Hall of Fame's 25th anniversary, CSNews took a trip down memory lane with Hubbard, reflecting on her Hall of Fame induction, industry memories and more.
What did it mean to you to be inducted into the Convenience Store News Hall of Fame?
It was a huge honor and very humbling, too. It is rewarding to think I might even be considered in the same league as the others in the group.
What do you remember most about being inducted into the Hall of Fame?
I remember most, the people; those great friends and colleagues who sacrificed of themselves to attend an event in my honor.
What would you say has had the greatest positive impact on the industry in the last 25 years?
The improved level and volume of quality products and services we provide. By being a broad-based provider of quality products that meet our customers' needs, we have moved from the early days as being the "only open option" to a sought-out and integral part of our customers' daily lives.
What has had the greatest negative impact on the industry in the last 25 years?
Excessive governmental regulation has strangled us, and had a negative impact on our businesses. Some regulations are needed to control and police, but some are simply excessive, onerous and very costly to everyone -- ultimately, the end consumer.
How has your company/business evolved over the last 25 years?
We have continued to change and grow, not just in store count, but culturally as an entity. We have learned, grown and matured, such that we are a better retailer, employer and community member.
What is the most remarkable thing you've experienced, seen or learned while in the industry?
The most remarkable thing about our industry is the people and how they share. You can always meet someone new, learn and share with them, and improve our industry. Then, getting to see and spend time with those long lost friends is also very special. Other industries just do not share and work together as we do. It makes us special. It makes us better.
If you were to jump into the convenience store business today, what would be your greatest concern, and what would you see as your greatest opportunity?
The greatest concern is the ever-increasing regulations. Most of our key products are heavily regulated, with no end in sight. This hampers business growth and even makes people question investments in a business where pending and uncertain regulations may thwart expected and needed return on investments.
The greatest opportunity in this business is the consuming public's continued and growing demand for convenience. "Convenience" is the product we sell and what it is continues to change over time, but as long as we cater to that convenience need of our customers, we have endless opportunities for business growth.
What do you foresee for the industry, and your company, over the next 25 years?
I see continued pressures on consumers' time, such that the demand for convenience will not decline but only increase. That provides many opportunities for us, but it also draws the attention of competitors who will continue to enter the convenience market. We will see increased competition from other channels and within our own industry.
I believe we will have an opportunity to expand sales within the growing arena of regulated products. We have proven that we can manage and properly serve as purveyors of heavily regulated and controlled consumer goods. As governmental regulation grows, this actually could provide us opportunities to expand, grow and continue evolving our businesses.
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