C-store leaders gather at the annual meeting of the National Advisory Group to share ideas and network with fellow colleagues.
By Erin Rigik and David Bennett, Senior Editors
The 2014 National Advisory Group (NAG) welcomed retailers to the Westin Riverwalk in San Antonio, Sept. 7-10 to discuss hot-button topics and exchange industry insights.
Also featured was keynote speaker, Army Lt. Col. Steve Russell, who gave a first-hand account of his time commanding the tactical unit that hunted for and eventually captured infamous Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in December 2003.
NAG is an association of small to mid-size and family-owned convenience store chains and the executives that run them. The goal of the annual conference is to allow retail leaders to exchange ideas with the motivation to improve their business performance.
The setting of the conference is designed to encourage an extremely educational, yet highly social environment. This year, San Antonio was a picturesque backdrop for conference.
Following the passing of Nice N Easy founder John MacDougall at the end of this past June, the NAG board chose to rename its annual college scholarship program in memory of MacDougall. The scholastic program was started in the late 1990s and has distributed nearly $100,000 to deserving students.
The fund is financed through annual dues paid by NAG members. Five awards of $1,000 are granted each year to winning applicants who work in the c-store industry and are employees or children of employees who have a minimum of one year employment with a NAG member company.
“John MacDougall was an ardent supporter of NAG and one of the first people I was introduced to when I started in this business. He was willing to share information and ideas with anyone,” said NAG Retailer Board Chairman Mary Banmiller, president of Warrenton Oil. “It only seems appropriate to name the NAG scholarship after a person that encouraged the sharing of information, mentoring and teaching.”
Jared Sturtevant, director of marketing for Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes, said MacDougall was a big believer in higher education and would be grateful to know that the scholarship has been named in his honor. “The entire Nice N Easy team will continue to work to grow the culture that John built.”
The two-day event featured different burning issue sessions, covering various topics that convenience stores face currently. The event also provided attendees time to network with industry peers and share best practices.
Burning issue sessions covered:
• How to remove costs and boost profits in your distribution system;
• How to execute a winning deli and roller grill program;
• Trends, analysis and insider expectations from the packaged beverage category;
• The state of tobacco and electronic cigarettes;
• Taking your coffee program from good to great; and
• Operations boot camp: ideas and key takeaways to boost store profitability.
Winning With Foodservice
Ed Burcher, principal and president of Burcher Consulting, led a panel with industry experts Joe Hamza, vice president of sales and marketing for Tedeschi Food Shops Inc. and Lynn Hochberg, director of product development for Wawa Inc., who together examined how to execute a profitable deli and roller grill program.
Burcher noted it’s vital to follow a process, define where you are going, make sure everyone from top management through to frontline staff are in alignment on those goals, and use your employees to help make the brand.
Hochberg noted, when it comes to starting out in foodservice, where you go depends on where you are now: “What’s your brand? What do the customers believe you can deliver?” Hochberg asked the audience.
“You’re changing customer perception,” added Hamza. “To change customer perception takes a lot of work. Start with internal branding. You have to have top to bottom commitment to excellence in foodservice. Foodservice has to be a serious consideration. To effectively do a good job, our employees need to know their role in the process to turn goals into reality. Where do expectations of market overtake capabilities of the company? Figuring that out takes some analysis.”
Wells Fargo Securities analyst Bonnie Herzog, managing director, beverage, tobacco and convenience store research, gave attendees an inside look at trends impacting the beverage and tobacco categories, including Reynolds American Inc.’s recent acquisition of Lorillard.
In her presentation, Herzog also forecasted that the momentum of electronic tobacco products will continue, despite a recent dip in sales.
Building A Better Coffee Program
Joseph Chiovera, president of XS Foodservice & Marketing, moderated the coffee panel discussion. Chiovera kicked off the discussion about the importance of robust coffee program to a c-store operation, and the pitfalls when you let it lapse.
“A few years ago, we got kicked in the teeth by McDonald’s and we haven’t come back from that,” Chiovera said. Instead, the industry is adapting to customers’ tastes, which continue to evolve. Today, “it’s all about customization and personalization,” Chiovera said.
In the last few years, coffee service has grown more customized and personal at Rutter’s Farm Stores, where Jerry Weiner is vice president of foodservice.“Regular and decaf aren’t enough anymore,” Weiner said. “Variety is what appeals to the masses.”
During the final session of the conference, dressed in army gear John Lofstock, executive director of NAG and editor-in-chief of Convenience Store Decisions, partnered with Randy Fulkerson, president of ABC Consulting Group, for a session called Operations Boot Camp: Arming You with Ideas and Key Takeaways to Boost Store Profitability.
Participants were encourage to share their best innovative ideas and concepts and explain what makes their brand unique in a crowded convenience store market.
Retailers participated in information exchanges, known as the heart and soul of what makes NAG unique, where they were formed into small groups of non-competing chains to discuss relevant business issues.
NAG’s Young Executive Organization (YEO), aimed at next-generation executives under age 40, also convened at NAG with a YEO track that included a foodservice roundtable moderated by Study Hall Research.
Following the conference, NAG members had the option of attending a golf outing at La Cantera Golf Course. Proceeds from the golf outing will help fund the NAG scholarship.
Stay tuned for our December issue for more in-depth information about the NAG conference. For more information go to www.nagconvenience.com.