Jimmy McCarthy III, vice president of sales and operations for Tom Thumb Food Stores, still remembers the Saturday morning his dad, Jim McCarthy Jr., owner and president of Tom Thumb, woke him up to begin his career in the convenience store industry.
“He said, ‘wake up, you’re not going to sleep all day.’ I said, ‘but dad, its only 7:30.’ He said, ‘well, get up. It’s time to go to work.’ I said, ‘but Dad, I’m only 12.’”
Age turned out not to matter, and from that moment on his dad’s intention was clear—it was time he officially entered the workforce, McCarthy remembered fondly.
Excited at the prospect of shadowing his dad around the Tom Thumb offices, McCarthy found he was in for a rude awakening when his father instead dropped him at one of the company stores, determined his son would learn from the ground up. There, McCarthy’s education of the c-store industry began as he stocked shelves, stacked returnable glass bottles, cleaned the store, made coffee and even removed bottle caps lodged in the asphalt outside the store with a screwdriver.
Today, McCarthy and his brother Tom take pride in the work ethic their father taught them. Over the past 25 years the brothers slowly assumed management responsibilities and four years ago took on full leadership of Tom Thumb—which runs 16 stores in Florida. Jim McCarthy Jr. remains president of the company but is semi-retired and their mother Sandra acts as vice president. Tom holds the role of vice president of marketing and petroleum.
Finding the Right Road
Jim and Sandra McCarthy began the company when Jimmy McCarthy was just a year old, and he and Tom grew up visiting stores and attending grand openings. Still, McCarthy wasn’t always certain the c-store life was for him.
In high school and college the brothers worked for their father and also tried other jobs around town from stocking shelves at Winn-Dixie supermarket to filling in for vacationing salesmen at Nabisco.
“I always wanted to work for dad, but he’s a pretty tough guy. When we were younger dad was so afraid of nepotism that he’d have us doing jobs like managing stores or supervising stores and we would outperform our peers, yet he would pay us less than others. It was very frustrating.” McCarthy added, “it was hard putting your time in and trying to decide if you really wanted to stick with it. We both left a few times.”
In 1993, McCarthy joined the company in earnest, supervising nine stores in the Florida Keys and later overseeing stores in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale before moving into the office and assisting the director of operations. When the company was making leadership changes in 1999, his father asked him to be director of operations.
“He thought I was going to be ecstatic, but I said, ‘we need to talk about this,’” McCarthy said. When his dad agreed he was looking for a leader and not a yes man, McCarthy jumped onboard.
Working directly beneath his father was initially frustrating. “I’d do what I thought we needed and I’d get in trouble for not getting his approval,” McCarthy laughed. “But he knew I was doing what needed to be done.”
Now at the helm of the company, the brothers are focused on designing a uniform store image and growing their foodservice operations from three Subway restaurants to seven, as well as opening a Noble Roman’s franchise.
The company is fiscally sound thanks to their parents who were disciplined about paying down debt over the years.
“When it’s right we’ll make an acquisition,” McCarthy said. “I’m excited about the future of our company and working with my brother. We make a lot of decisions together. That bond between us never comes into question and it makes us stronger.”