"AN OUTSTANDING LEADER," "INNOVATIVE," AND "A TRUE VISIONARY." Such high praise could only describe the outstanding leaders guiding the convenience store and petroleum industry during a period of economic turmoil. Convenience Store Decisions is proud to recognize these titans of industry in the second annual Power 25 issue.
These influential business leaders were selected for the lasting contributions they have made to the convenience channel and the impact their influence has on shaping the future of convenience retailing.
Each member of the Power 25 demonstrates extraordinary vision in shaping their company’s future and exudes confidence in their ability to satisfy customer needs, whether it’s a fresh sandwich at 11 p.m. or a warm smile with their morning coffee. Plus, each leader is quick to deflect attention from themselves in order to focus on their loyal customers and the outstanding work done every day by their dedicated employees.
"The industry has been very good to us," said Rutter’s Farm Stores CEO Scott Hartman, a Power 25 leader featured on page 26. "It would be easy to build stores and not give anything back, but I feel it’s my responsibility to be thankful for what we have and give back to the industry."
The Power Process
Our methodology was simple. We whittled down a list of nearly 100 executives from convenience store and petroleum chains, supplier companies, wholesalers, industry associations and lawmakers and asked the industry to cast a vote for the top executives of 2008. The survey received several hundred votes over a three-week span from Sept. 19 to Oct. 10.
During the voting, we learned winners were selected for a variety of reasons. Retailers have unveiled groundbreaking prototypes; industry associations have pushed for reforms on key issues like credit card processing and taxes; and suppliers and wholesalers have worked together to help retailers reduce operating costs and run more efficient stores. These are just some of the influential leaders you’ll get to know on the next several pages, so jump in and power up!
President and CEO
Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc.
During Alimentation Couche-Tard’s general meeting in September, President and CEO Alain Bouchard laid out a chart that exquisitely captured the Canadian company’s ability to thrive in just about any macroeconomic environment.
The chart listed four different years—1997, 1999, 2002 and 2003—and four trends that corresponded to each of those years, respectively: A Canadian downturn, the dot-com bubble, a U.S. recession and a wickedly difficult unemployment period.
In every one of those years, Couche-Tard was always able to grow its holdings. In 1997 it acquired 195 stores; in 1999 it added 980 stores; in 2002 it was 546 stores; and in 2003, a staggering 1,663 stores were added.
So, even with all the concern over the current world economy, only a fool would wonder if Couche-Tard is faring well. Sure, the company saw its bumps and jiggles on the stock market this past year, but all told, Couche-Tard continues to come out on top.
At the end of fiscal 2008, Couche-Tard reported $15.4 billion in annual revenues and a total store count of 5,416, more than 80% of which are company-operated. The company’s retail brands include Circle K, Mac’s and Couche-Tard.
With more than 3,000 stores in 33 states, Couche-Tard dominates the convenience landscape in the U.S. while continuing to hold its position as the largest convenience chain in Canada.
Bouchard, who founded Couche-Tard in 1980, led the company to another period of outstanding growth this past quarter when revenues were up more than 30%. He attributed the recent gains to increases in gross margins on fuel in the U.S., which more than offset a 10.6% decrease in same-store motor fuel sales caused by supply issues and less U.S. fuel demand.
"It’s been quite a while since we last had the satisfaction to capitalize on motor fuel gross margins that turned to our advantage," Bouchard said, adding that the company is fully prepared to handle any economic challenges.
Chester "Chet" Cadieux III
President and CEO
It’s been another banner year for one of the industry’s premiere convenience store chains. QuikTrip Corp. celebrated its 50th anniversary in September, a milestone few retail companies ever get to reach. But this is no ordinary company. QuikTrip is an integral part of the communities it operates in. It’s a core principle the company has believed in since it first opened its doors in 1958.
QuikTrip now operates 500 stores in nine states. What makes the chain so special is how it replicates its outstanding culture from store to store. The chain has dedicated virtually all of its 50 years to cultivating this bond between customers and employees. It’s the very essence of what the company does.
"It is extremely important to give back to the communities where QuikTrip has a market presence. We recognized a long time ago that making a difference and extending a helping hand was simply the right thing to do," said Chet Cadieux, president and CEO of the Tulsa, Okla.-based chain. "QuikTrip sets aside 5% of net profit each year for charitable giving. We also encourage all of our employees to volunteer their time for a cause they believe in. We want to make sure that we are giving back to the communities that make us successful."
Being a private company affords QuikTrip the opportunity to move at its own pace, but it also allows the company to sustain smaller profit margins in part to pay its work force better.
"We are very particular about who we hire. Then we provide effective training, pay them well and promote them based on their job performance. As a result, we are blessed with great employees that embrace our cu
lture," Cadieux said. "In all reality, they truly have a very hard job and they make it look easy. I am very proud of the customer service that QuikTrip provides day in and day out."
President and CEO
Joe DePinto is the president and CEO of 7-Eleven Inc. He first joined the Dallas-based chain in 2002 and has held several executive positions within the organization. In the top post, he leads the most recognized convenience retailing brand in the world. 7-Eleven operates, franchises or licenses approximately 7,600 7-Eleven stores in North America. Globally, 7-Eleven operates, franchises or licenses more than 34,800 stores in 17 countries.
DePinto, a straight-shooting convenience industry veteran with a firm West Point military education, has brought a no-nonsense management approach to the chain. While committed to learning from franchisees and customers, his goal is clear: to turn the entire organization into a franchisee-based business.
This involves two fundamental challenges: executing the plan by franchising company-operated stores to new and existing franchisees and growing the network by attracting new operators to convert to its branded retail network. The chain’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. 7-Eleven was recognized as the No. 1 franchise opportunity in Entrepreneur magazine’s "Annual Franchise 500" rankings for 2008. This is an enormous honor for a variety of reasons. For starters, it validates the hard work 7-Eleven has been doing under the leadership of DePinto. It was the first time a convenience retailer has captured the top spot and recognizes 7-Eleven for its accelerated franchising activity, expansion and solid business system.
"Our franchisees do a tremendous job operating stores and taking care of customers," DePinto said.
The chain’s franchisee conversion plan was born out of practical necessity. "For years we were operating as two different companies. We were half franchised and half corporate, so we were developing programs and systems that supported both. It was, in essence, doing two times the work," he said. "We felt that we could not only be more efficient as a franchise organization, but that we could deliver better on the customer experience because of the close relationships franchisees have with their customers."
President and CEO
Rutter’s Farm Stores
If there’s one word that captures the atmosphere at Rutter’s Farm Stores this past year, it’s "expansion."
Not expansion for expansion’s sake, mind you, but controlled growth that aligns with CEO Scott Hartman’s strategy to build bigger and better convenience stores that offer upscale foodservice and facilities to customers who want more in their shopping experience.
After announcing their ambitious growth plans just 11 months ago, Hartman and his team at York, Pa.-based Rutter’s Farm Stores are on track to build one of the most enviable brands in convenience retailing.
The family-run chain is on path to operate 58 stores in six central-Pennsylvania counties by the end of this month, an accomplishment that required a $55 million commitment and the creation of a prototype store to guide its growth throughout. Central to the new stores is the increased size—they range from 5,300 to 5,800 square feet—and the emphasis on new technology, energy efficiency, foodservice and upscale amenities like state-of-the-art restrooms.
Hartman has been a stalwart for innovation in convenience store technology, evidenced by his 2007 chairmanship in the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) and his 2005 chairmanship in the Petroleum Convenience Alliance for Technology Standards (PCATS).
Perhaps most impressive is Rutter’s endless innovation in foodservice. The centerpiece of the chain’s new foodservice program is its stir-fry menu, where customers can customize orders and design oriental dishes with chicken, pork, beef, fried and white rice, noodles, vegetables and more. There are more than half a dozen subs and ciabatta rolls to choose from, as well as custom steak, chicken and veggie fajitas. Every made-to-order menu item is in the customer’s hands in about three minutes.
More than just a retailer, however, Rutter’s is a tremendous supporter for communities in which it operates, donating thousands of dollars to nonprofit and healthcare organizations, the arts and other entities.
E-Z Mart Convenience Stores Inc. and 2008-09 Chairman of the National Association of Convenience Stored (NACS)
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 on October 7.
"How things have changed," said Hubbard, CEO of Texarkana, Texas-based E-Z Mart 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, whose father Jim Yates was one of the most revered leaders in the convenience store industry, is the association’s first female chair. While the industry continues to evolve, Hubbard urged NACS members to share the wealth.
"Our employees are truly the people who make this industry tick," Hubbard said. "We must constantly recognize their value and give them the respect, tools, and support they are due."
Customers—the industry’s 160 million daily patrons—also 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.
The respect the industry has earned presents enormous opportunities.
"We can—and should—play more of a l
eadership 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. We need to continually be not just good citizens, but great citizens," Hubbard said. "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."