LAS VEGAS -- As his chairmanship of NACS winds down, Tom Robinson, president of Robinson Oil Corp., a Santa Clara, Calif.-based distributor and operator of 35 Rotten Robbie stores, was feeling reflective about his time at the helm and the many opportunities that industry gatherings such as the 2012 NACS Show provide.
Robinson Oil is "pretty optimistic about our 2013 prospects," said Robinson, who noted that the industry at large survived the roughest economic downturn in recent memory "and did pretty damn good."
Tom RobinsonHe pointed to a comment from Carl Bolch Jr., CEO of Atlanta-based RaceTrac Petroleum, who told an earlier NACS Show gathering, "We may not be recession-proof, but we are recession-resistant."
This is partly because the industry provides "the consumer with a terrific offering, and we make it convenient for them to shop with us," said Robinson. It also speaks of the several values that the convenience store industry embraces.
"Connections to me are value," said Robinson, who noted the more than 22,000 attendees from 61 countries at the 2012 NACS Show, and nearly 1,200 exhibitors as a huge networking opportunity for attendees.
Another value: knowledge, thanks to association offerings such as the annual NACS State of the Industry Summit and the NACS Center for Achieving Foodservice Excellence (CAFE), an educational program designed to help retailers create and grow an effective foodservice business.
"The best retailers are doing well in foodservice and getting better," said Robinson, adding that there is a difference in magnitude between the execution skills required to sell a quality hot cup of fresh coffee compared to a candy bar.
Robinson also has sent his team to the NACS Leadership Executive Program at Cornell University, a one-week MBA-level program for senior company execs. "It was a great opportunity to develop knowledge and connections," he said. "And that's important to us."
Advocacy is also a value. Here, Robinson highlighted that the c-store industry has members with stores in every Congressional district. One of the latest examples of progress made thanks to industry involvement was the passage of the Durbin Amendment on debit-card swipe fees, which Robinson noted has allowed retailers to pass on $500 million in savings to their customers.
With several causes on NACS' plate, from Food & Drug Administration (FDA) tobacco regulation and menu labeling to online lottery sales and PCI compliance, Robinson urged retailers to become active advocates for the industry, and meet with their local government representatives independently and as part of NACS' Day on Capitol Hill event.