Through various business activities, much of it tied to the convenience channel, MacDougall found himself in New York, where in 1980, Dick Clark, president of Clarks Petroleum in Canastota, N.Y., made what MacDougall considered to be an unbelievable offer: a 50% stake in his company and the opportunity to run it.
MacDougall couldn’t refuse, especially because, at the time, he “didn’t have two nickels to rub together.”
Birth of Nice
The way MacDougall’s wife, Elaine, recalls it, he woke her up and told her he had the perfect name for the chain: Nice N Easy. She told him to go back to bed.
As a harbinger of what would eventually become an important cultural pillar of his business, MacDougall sensed that a friendly environment would be as important as the ease of getting in and out of the store.
But the early going was tough. The business, he says, needed a massive turnaround, or else his dream job was going to evaporate as quickly as it appeared. So began his lesson in supplier partnerships, ones that would become fundamental to his business and all the programs he’s been able to put under the umbrella of his current prototype store.
He often gives talks to college students and at industry events about the virtues of building strong vendor relationships. He first speaks to team building and what qualities people bring to the table. In terms of vendors, he says, many retailers believe it to be an adversarial relationship, one that should remain suspect.
“But [vendors] are a critical source of ideas and suggestions. It’s where I can get information not just on my stores but on the overall competition,” MacDougall says. “Those people come in with thoughts, ideas and money.”
It’s a working relationship, he says: “They’re going to want to see that you took an idea and doubled sales, but maybe didn’t make margin. So how do we correct that?”
As for the customer, “relationship building with the customer starts with the employee,” he says. “If I can make a connection with that employee and then with that customer that Nice N Easy is a good, honest, straightforward company trying to do the best for you … if we can convince people of that and back it up with action … that’s a good thing.”
And the commitment to that message starts at the top. Peter Tamburro, senior executive vice president in charge of franchisees, says compassion for the front-line employee is a priority for MacDougall.