When NACS was founded in 1961, the convenience and petroleum retailing industry didn’t fit any molds, and didn’t get much respect, said NACS 2008-09 Chairman Sonja Hubbard in accepting the gavel as the new NACS Chairman
“How things have changed,” said Hubbard, CEO of Texarkana, Texas-based E-Z Mart Convenience Stores Inc. “Today, we’ve earned respect from our customers, from our suppliers, with the media and even on Capitol Hill. The respect we have today is the result of years of work. And we can never lose sight of how quickly it can disappear."
Hubbard, daughter of the late Jim Yates, the industry pioneer that founded the E-Z Mart chain, also highlighted one significant change within the industry since NACS was founded. There is “one obvious difference between me and all the NACS chairmen of the past,” she said. “I am the first to accept the gavel wearing a dress,” noting that she is the association’s first female chair.
NACS and the industry have clearly earned respect, but it is equally important to give it to those who helped earn it.
“Our employees are truly the people who make this industry tick. We must constantly recognize their value and give them the respect, tools, and support they are due,” said Hubbard.
Customers, the industry’s 160 million daily patrons, deserve the industry’s respect. “We must never forget that while the customer may not always really be right, giving good customer service is always right,” Hubbard said.
Suppliers also deserve the industry’s respect. When NACS was founded, stores essentially sold grocery-store products in take-home sizes.
“We now sell $577 billion in goods and services. That’s more than the supermarkets have in sales. That’s more than the nation’s restaurants have in sales. And that’s nearly double the sales of drug stores,” said Hubbard, stressing that suppliers are a big part of the industry’s success.
“The biggest, best, and most innovative companies in the world are developing products to specifically serve our channel and work as our partners,” said Hubbard.
The industry also has gained respect on Capitol Hill and with the mainstream media.
“While we used to have to fight to have our voices heard, today our voices are sought out. We have an established reputation for being knowledgeable, reputable and fair. Congress asks us to testify to explain issues so that they can make informed decisions whether on motor fuel sales, or credit card fees or any number of issues our industry faces,” Hubbard said.
The respect the industry has on Capitol Hill was years in the making, stressed Hubbard. “My dad [Yates, who served as the 1992-93 NACS Chairman] was passionate about his business, this industry, NACS and especially our political efforts,” said Hubbard. “He and so many other NACS leaders saw the need for us to defend our businesses from irrational unfair legislation. They committed lots of time and money to get this organization noticed. And it has paid off.”
The respect the industry has earned presents enormous opportunities.
“We can–and should–play more of a leadership role in our communities. We must continue to grow and aspire to be the type of business that new generations, of all genders and races, continue to see, just as we did, as an industry exploding with opportunity," Hubbard said. "We need to continually be not just good citizens, but great citizens. We need to not just talk to our customers, but to talk with them. We need to not just give back, but to redefine how we serve our communities."
NACS continues to play a central role in the respect the industry has earned, Hubbard said, and she urged attendees to be a part of its future success. “Help us grow the respect that we continue to cultivate,” she said.