Overcoming Adversity

Good things happen to good people. That’s an axiom we’ve all heard from the moment we were able to distinguish right from wrong. For Jeff Morris, president and CEO of Alon USA, that was a concept he struggled to wrap his brain around eight months ago. Morris has enjoyed a reputation as a great leader and, more importantly, a caring employer.

However, on that fateful day, Feb. 18, he got the call anyone who has ever stepped inside a refinery never wants to hear. There was an explosion and fire at Big Spring, and it was bad. "Your first reaction is just shock. I don’t think I can even really describe it," Morris said. "But your thoughts quickly turn to making sure everyone is OK and taken care of."

Miraculously, the fire at the Big Spring refinery in Texas yielded no fatalities and a half-dozen injuries. "It could have been much worse, but the training, professionalism and dedication of the staff at Big Spring averted a more serious disaster."

While effusive in his praise of refinery personnel, leadership begins at the top. Just eight months later, Big Spring came back online in September, months ahead of schedule, and Alon has pushed forward with its acquisition of the Krotz Springs refinery in New Orleans and the Skinny’s convenience store chain. In the face of adversity, the company rose to the challenge and succeeded at every turn. It’s another reminder that good things do happen to good people.

Tobacco Concerns
Selling tobacco products at retail continues to get harder–this time because of H.R. 1108, the Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act, which passed overwhelmingly in the House on July 30 and would, if it becomes law, for the first time give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulatory authority over tobacco manufacturing and retailing.

Though insiders do not expect enactment in 2008, they suggest that a Democratic victory in the upcoming presidential election would mean eventual passage of similar legislation. The legislation is eliciting a wide range of emotional responses from several different factions. Some industry observers view the bill as a compromise between anti-smoking groups and tobacco companies. Others have suggested that additional restrictions on advertising and sales would benefit those tobacco companies that already enjoy healthy market shares.

Historically, said Jeff Lenard, vice president of communications the National Association of Convenience Stores, NACS has opposed similar legislation "and still does not believe that the federal government should regulate tobacco sales, but given the current political climate it was determined to be in the best interest of retailers to amend the bill so that they were protected."

NACS negotiated with the House Energy and Commerce Committee leadership to include changes that would support the intent of the bill while assuring that retailers were not unjustly regulated. Howard Riell examines how this bill will affect retail tobacco sales beginning on page 52.

Constructing an Image

Retailers have long been developing new stores to steer growth, but a touch of flexibility goes a long way when responding to unforeseen challenges. The successful development of a convenience store prototype is one that can decide a chain’s success or failure for years to come.

"The key, really, is knowing that there’s a place for every type of convenience store," said John Schaninger, vice president of marketing for New Jersey-based Quick Chek Convenience Stores. "An operator has to decide what their vision is for the future and then optimizing it."

What Schaninger and other retailers know is this: Any viable retailer can polish a store brand to adapt to a volatile market, but a prototype concept is successful not just by capturing the brand identity, but by building in enough flexibility to handle the inevitable variables. Learn more about developing a prototype in Shawn Foucher’s Building and Construction story here.

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