Tom Robinson Named New NACS Chairman

“I came [to NACS] for the advocacy and stayed for the knowledge and connections,” said new NACS Chairman Tom Robinson during the Oct. 4 Closing General Session at the NACS Show.
An estimated more than 22,000 attendees from 50 countries attended the 2011 NACS Show, which featured more than 60 workshops and 1,300 exhibitors in a 380,000-net-square-foot expo.
Robinson, president of San Jose, California-based Robinson Oil Co., shared with a packed house the three factors that have most affected his business and career: being from a family business, being from California and being engaged in associations.
“I believe that family businesses are the backbone of our national economy and certainly our industry,” said Robinson. “Family businesses create challenges to both the family and business, but they also provide much opportunity.”
Robinson, a third-generation retailer whose children are actively engaged in the business, said that much of the foundation of his understanding of business and the industry came just by being around it, whether as a kid spending the day on the job with his father and grandparents or as a teen operating a station that sold a paltry 200 gallons per day.
“I love family businesses; they can be the best and the worst. They’re all dysfunctional,” he joked, “some just more so.”
There is no industry with deeper roots to family businesses, noted Robinson. Today, there are more than 90,000 single-store operators in the convenience and fuels retailing industry.
“Many of these businesses will become second-, third- and fourth-generation businesses, much like ours,” said Robinson. “It’s pretty impressive.”
While being a family business can bring great joy and opportunity, being from California presents great challenges.
Robinson is only the second NACS chairman to hail from California. The first was Henry Boney, who served as NACS’ first chairman. “Back in 1961 when Henry was chairman, California was known as the place for marketing innovation,” said Robinson. “People came to California to see what was new,” whether self-serve fueling or stamp programs that were precursors to today’s loyalty programs.
But California slowly changed. In the 1970s, California evolved from an innovative marketing state to a legislative and regulatory haven.
“California became sort of a religious experience for marketers from other parts of the country. When they heard about some of our new requirements, they would fall to their knees and pray, ‘Please Lord, don’t send that to us!’”
California’s evolution to a place for regulatory innovation led to Robinson’s involvement in advocacy. His early experiences were vapor recovery and underground storage tanks, which are two of the state’s most expensive innovations.
“But we haven’t exactly been slouches on boutique fuels or vehicle emission regulations. The common theme with these issues is that California is known for being on the leading edge, or should I say the bleeding edge, and it has been very, very expensive. It’s very important to learn from the regulatory climate in California.”
Robinson said that retailers can learn from his experience in California and be prepared to communicate the industry’s voice as regulations are being considered, whether on the local, state or national level.
Robinson’s first association involvement was lobbying and testifying on tank regulations at the local, then state level. That led to his involvement with the California Independent Oil Marketers Association, and later to the national association SIGMA, where he ultimately served as president.
And while Robinson has always been passionate about advocacy, especially related to fuels, he has found that as his business has evolved to a more robust in-store offer, the ability to learn best practices and share ideas as a NACS member have become more important.
“Participating in associations has been great for me and for my business. It’s fun being part of a group, and organization, that is so focused and so disciplined in its pursuit of providing value.  I challenge all of you to take advantage of all that NACS has to offer.
Put us to the test. After all, we have 50 years of experience in doing just that,” he concluded.
The NACS Show, which ended yesterday at McCormick Place in Chicago. It is ranked as one of the 50 largest annual tradeshows in the U.S.


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