Perhaps serendipity has placed Nikki DePhillips in an MBA program at The University of Iowa, a school whose wrestlers are known as some of the greatest in the nation.
DePhillips, recently promoted to vice president of real estate at the Iowa-based convenience chain Kum & Go, could probably drop by the Hawkeye wrestling room on her way to “Advanced Mergers and Acquisitions” and pick up a few pointers to use on stubborn city council members.
In some ways, DePhillips’ new role at the 440-store Kum & Go does sound a bit like a wrestling match.
“If you have to go back and forth with the cities on multiple rounds of comments for the plans, it takes quite a while,” said DePhillips.
Truth be told, DePhillips and her team seem more apt to use finesse, compromise and years of experience to secure approval from local governments that have a say in where, when and how Kum & Go can set up shop.
“If we can prove why it’s a specific hardship to our site, that usually goes further than just saying we need signage so we can make more money,” DePhillips said. “A lot of it comes down to safety for us.”
DePhillips started at Kum & Go six years ago as an administrative assistant in real estate, when the chain had more than 300 stores. She was fresh out of college with a marketing degree, entering a company growing by about one store per year.
The real estate department at the time ran lean-and-mean, handling everything from land acquisition to construction planning. “We just went through and did everything,” she said.
DePhillips became real estate manager and then director of real estate before serving a stint last year in the company’s human resources department, its “Grow People Department.” She was there until June, when she was transferred back to real estate to become vice president after her mentor, Neil Broderick, retired.
In the half-decade that DePhillips has been at Kum & Go, the chain has added approximately 100 stores and is setting record growth year after year. In 2007, the retailer added 16 new stores and by the end of this year it will have added 23 stores. Next year, 20 to 25 new stores are on the agenda.
DePhillips is heading up the front-end planning for every one of those sites, though Kum & Go recently created a construction department to oversee various building and planning aspects.
“I have a degree in marketing, but I’ve learned everything in real estate from Kum & Go,” DePhillips said. “I’ve been able to learn and grow as the company has grown.”
Her former boss, the retired Neil Broderick, now works for DePhillips as a part-time consultant in Kum & Go’s real estate department.