Opinion: Diversity of Thinking

By
Jim Bursch, Senior Vice President, Group Publisher & Editorial Director

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I recently attended NACS’ annual Leadership Forum, the theme of which was “Visions of the Future,” a pretty common topic at many conferences today. Beginning the forum were two chief executive officers whose companies are leaders in the channel and at the forefront of many of the changes we see taking place in the convenience-store industry. What was refreshing was both of these CEOs happen to be women.

As a father (and stepdad) of two young-adult girls and married to a woman who has risen through the ranks of corporate America, I love having a successful woman as a partner and role model for our daughters. I’ve always been a firm believer and advocate to my daughters that you can achieve anything you want to in life and the business world, if you set your mind to it and don’t let stereotypes that say you can’t have it all get in your way. Make your own way and money, and marry for love, not a lifestyle.

The convenience-store industry, like many, is still primarily run by men. When you look at some of the challenges we have been struggling with for years, such as attracting the female shopper, I wonder why we don’t have more women in in top positions or running organizations.

Let’s face it: Today’s convenience store environment is getting much more complex and challenging. Our consumer is changing and their needs are changing. We can either keep pushing them aside or embrace the change and make the necessary adjustments to meet these changes and challenges.

The challenge of how to attract women has been batted around for as long as I can remember. Cleanliness of our stores and restrooms have always been at the top of the list, along with a safe, well-lighted environment and more healthy food options, but those are only the tip of the iceberg, as we all know. I remember the opening speakers at this conference last year citing the need to change our culture and hire college grads, and their plans to design a store that looked nothing like a c-store to help attract that elusive female and higher-end shopper.

Both of the opening speakers at the NACS Leadership Forum, Kim Bowers of CTS Brands Inc. ( CSP—Jan. ’14, p. 38) and Allison Moran of RaceTrac Petroleum Inc. ( CSP—Oct. ’12, p. 108), discussed how their chains are transforming or have transformed themselves to serve both current and future customers. Bowers talked about her chain’s many strengths. Her 1,900-store chain has more than half its stores in states that are among the fastest-growing populations in the country. To capitalize on that growth, the company has a three-pronged strategy focused on the company’s culture, its brand and driving growth. Moran talked about transforming her family-run business from a high-velocity gasoline, tobacco and beer retailer into a better-balanced, modern convenience-store chain that appeals to the new consumer.

We all understand the need to not alienate our core customers. The key to the future will be serving both our traditional customer and attracting the non-traditional customer, such as millennials, the growing ethnic population and women. As I listened to both of these speakers and the diversity of their thinking, it became apparent that what they as women bring to their organizations is helping shape their culture and brands to meet not just today’s consumer but also the future consumer. I wondered: Why has it taken so long for us to recognize this? My wife and I are a great team, but we come at things or problems much differently. There is nothing wrong with that, and in fact it’s a much better process for solving complex problems if you respect each other and have an open mind about solving things.

We all work in a great industry that continues to thrive and grow. However, we are not without our share of challenges, such as declining fuel volumes, pressure on some of our key categories, credit-card fees and, most of all, the changing consumer. We can sit back and rely on Bubba and hope we capture the female shopper and next-generation shopper, or we can take the bull by the horns and understand that there is a significant shift happening. Having more diversity in our leadership ranks will help us solve these challenges and let us continue to thrive as an industry.

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