Honoring Our Past

This month begins a very special year for Convenience Store Decisions. Throughout 2009 we are committed to recognizing the leaders and innovators that have shaped the convenience store and petroleum industry and helped create this multi-billion-dollar retail sector.

Legends in Retailing will focus on the challenges operators faced in the early days of the industry, the steps they took to overcome adversity and discuss what they learned and how it benefited them.

But what makes a legend? A legend is much more that someone that has hung around the industry for 30 years. It’s someone that has contributed to the growth of the industry as a whole, someone whose tireless efforts have made an indelible impression not only on store design, retail technology or merchandising, but on today’s retail leaders that are carrying the torch of the generations before them.

We are proud to profile as our first “legend,” Bob Seng, an energetic industry icon responsible for developing the Busy Bee and Pump N Pantry convenience store chains, and the New York Association of Convenience Stores (NYACS) in 1985. He did all this, by the way, after a 20-year career with Shell Oil.

Now 85 years young, Bob continues his work to advance the profile and the overall success of the convenience store industry. He is a volunteer for the Service Core of volunteer executives (SCORE) and recently completed his first book, “How to Buy a Small Business and Let the Government Finance It.” He is also currently developing an online convenience store prototype to help retailers operate more efficiently.

Special Influence

Bob retains the quick wit, high character and magnanimous personality that made him a popular industry figure. I first met him at a NYACS show in 1995. I was under orders by my editor to seek out Bob and introduce myself, and to listen closely to everything he had to say. Finding Bob would be fairly easy, she said, he’ll be the one wearing the bright sports coat, a Seng special. For those of you interested, it was lime green, and it was bright.

What I remember most about that show is that it was my first assignment in the industry. Though I had years of experience at a daily newspaper, I was somewhat intimidated by a roomful of people in an industry I knew very little about. The bright green sports coat didn’t make it any easier. But when I introduced myself to Bob and told him why I was there and who sent me, it was as if I was family. He boosted my ego, squashed my fears and welcomed me to what would become my career for the next 14 years running. How do you thank someone for that? In Bob’s case, I’ve learned you get in line and wait behind the countless number of others he’s embraced that are also searching for the right words to express their gratitude. I’m but one of the many people fortunate enough to cross his path and I can honestly say I’m a better man for it.

“Bob Seng was and remains the greatest influence on my career,” Jim Callahan, director of marketing for Green Oil in Fairburn, Ga., told me recently. There’s no better way to sum it up.

In typical Seng fashion, he remains humble and focused on the future. “I have been so fortunate to meet so many wonderful people and watch the industry flourish,” he said. “But there is still quite a bit of work to be done and I plan on accomplishing a lot more before I retire.”

There are many inspiration figures whose influence permeates the industry and we plan to reach as many of them as possible. If you have a mentor you would like us to recognize in an upcoming issue, please send me an email at jlofstock@csdecisions.com.

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