Multiculturalism in the Marketplace

With the election of the nation’s first African-American president, the time is right to get a better understanding of our consumer base to make sure we’re meeting their needs.

Things have been quite difficult for most Americans this holiday season. There have been thousands upon thousands of job layoffs, though the retail sector has weathered much of the storm relative to other industries such as the financial sector, which has taken a huge beating. As I reflect on the economy’s state of turmoil, one sign of the times changing for the better crosses my mind: 2009 begins Barack Obama’s tenure as the 44th president of the U.S.

Like the nation, the convenience store and petroleum industry has seen many changes over the years, good and bad. Looking at the convenience store industry with a glaring eye, this industry, relative to many others, can stand to see some new changes that are more reflective of the global landscape in which we live.

As an African-American female, I definitely have experienced a lot of firsts. I was the first in my family to graduate from high school and attend college. I was the first in my high school to win the U.S. Army’s Scholar-Athlete medallion. I was the first in my family to move out of my home state of South Carolina and actually venture outside of the South into “Northern” territory. I was also the first to fly when I relocated to Green Bay, Wis., to work in the corporate recruiting sector, and I was the first to go to law school. You see where I am going with this.

As a Generation Xer, I have never felt quite content with being a first. It’s always seemed that I should have been a lot further in the sequence in many instances. While many African-Americans are pleased Barack Obama was elected president, many also feel it should have happened much sooner, though some are surprised they’re living to see it happen at all.

Obama’s entry into the race and his road to the presidency was certainly a surprise given his relative infancy in the Senate. This man appears destined for greatness and it will take a great leader to unite a country that is desperate for economic relief.

New Direction
Expect Obama to guide the nation under a foundation of hope and change. With his inauguration just around the corner, consumers are already experiencing some relief in the gas prices and fuel margins are strong in many markets. If you ask some, they’re optimistic we could begin seeing signs of reversal in the economy in the first quarter of 2009 and remain hopeful that within the next 12 months the turnaround will be even more evident.

The convenience store industry is without a doubt a conservative domain in its practices and procedures. The industry is currently battling outrageous credit card fees, high tobacco taxes and it’s looking for some relief from Congress. Industry professionals will be watching closely to determine whether Barack Obama is an enemy or an ally; though some have already made up their minds based solely on his political ideology. This presidency will clearly be scrutinized by the c-store industry, as it should be by all business professionals who have an awful lot to lose in these trying economic times.

However, the fact remains that the industry’s consumer base contributed significantly to Obama winning the election. Instead of battling a political ideology, the industry might be better served learning more about these customers and what they want in this “new America.” Clearly, millions in sales dollars—or, perhaps, even our very survival—depends on understanding who these consumers are and what they want.

So while many in the industry may be singing the c-store blues, remember the only tune that matters is your ability to drive customers and build new business.

Tonya Brown is a business manager for The Pantry Inc./ Kangaroo Express Stores in Sanford, N.C. She can be reached at (843) 364-8417 or via email at


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