“Despite our many challenges, our opportunities are even greater,” said 2008-2009 NACS Chairman Sonja Hubbard, CEO of Texarkana, Texas-based E-Z Mart Stores Inc., as she kicked off the NACS Show opening general session Wednesday in Las Vegas.
“We innovate, seize opportunities and use our engagement and diversity as our strengths,” she said, adding that the industry is about ideas.
“Think about the everyday things, just taken for granted, that were either developed or popularized in our stores – all in the name of convenience. Self-service gasoline, 24/7 operations, pay at the pump, ATMs, self-serve fountain and coffee and so much more,” she said.
The industry’s ability to quickly adapt has allowed it to top more than $600 billion in sales -claiming one of every 23 dollars spent by American consumers in 2008. However, this doesn’t mean that the industry isn’t without its challenges, especially on the legislative front.
“I cannot think of another industry that faces more tax and regulatory challenges than convenience stores,” she said. “Constant excise tax increases, pending FDA regulation [of tobacco], expanding labor laws and new fueling mandates…The poorly thought-out, irrational legislation that is pouring out of Capitol Hill today is a huge threat to our business.”
She urged retailers to engage Congress, to “tell them our story, defend our business and demand a level playing field.” Above all, she said, “Stand up for what you believe in and support NACS advocacy efforts.”
Hubbard mentioned that the retailers are not only fighting for their businesses, but also for their customers. A prime example is the credit card interchange fees the industry pays – $8.4 billion in 2008 alone. “I want you to know that NACS is not taking this lying down. We are fighting so that fair and normal business practices prevail for our customers,” she said.
Hubbard also said that the industry’s openness and engagement makes it unique. “I’ve heard this from our suppliers – and I saw it all year on the road. We share experiences, we mentor and value our relationships and we engage. That’s why I love this industry so much,” she said. Hubbard added that the industry’s diversity gives way to better decisions, experiences and opportunities for growth.
She concluded by discussing how the industry – even in times of adversity – has remained viable and successful by drawing comparisons between today and 1993, the year that her father, Jim Yates, served as NACS Chairman.
“Those were tough economic times, too,” Hubbard said. In fact, there was a workshop at that year’s NACS Show that addressed the top issues facing the industry – a war, a credit crunch, challenging environmental regulations and a recession – some of the same issues we are facing today. But my dad knew it was a cycle – that we were resilient – that we would be just fine, and he said so at that year’s NACS Show,” said Hubbard.
While there are similarities, plenty has also changed since 1993. “Back then, our sales were about $130 billion. Today, they are five times that. Our stores used to be thought of as the last option for many items, but today we are a destination. And back then, our big effort on Capitol Hill was simply to get our foot in the door. It took a lot of hard work by a lot of people, but today we’re invited in.
“So today, I’m here to tell you that not only are we going to be just fine, we are going to be even better,” Hubbard said.