As a category manager at Jacksonville, Fla.-based Gate Petroleum, Cole Fountain manages the three C’s: cooler (beer and non-alcohol), candy and cakes (snack cakes), for the chain’s approximately 200 Gate convenience stores in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. He also oversees additional category segments, including ice cream, milk, wine and firewood. He’s responsible for negotiating space, costs, contracts, as well as handling opportunities in each category.
“In the c-store world, there is a finite amount of space, and I love the ability to try to drive as much sales and profit out of that space as possible each and every day,” Fountain said.
For all this and more, CStore Decisions is recognizing Fountain as a leader in category management.
Fountain’s convenience store career began at the age of 14 when he worked at Cass Grocery and Hardware — a mom-and-pop shop in Cassville, Ga.
In 2010, after he graduated from Georgia Southern University, he began working with Flash Foods out of Waycross, Ga.
“I started in operations, and then in 2016 went to work for the company’s distribution center, Distribution South,” Fountain said.
But c-store industry consolidation pushed him to consider new opportunities.
San Antonio-based CST Brands Inc. acquired Flash Foods in 2016, and then Canada-based Alimentation Couche-Tard purchased CST Brands in 2017. In July 2018, Fountain took a position at Gate Petroleum.
Fountain liked that Gate was a unique and diversified company, founded in 1960 by Herbert Peyton, who still comes to work at the company each day.
“The culture, family and brand that Gate has built in Florida and in the South is one that I always admired when starting in my career,” Fountain said. “The opportunity came along to work at Gate, and I jumped on it.”
In his current position, Fountain enjoys the pace and constant change. “I also love that at Gate we put a big emphasis on operations, so I am encouraged to go out and train our store associates and discuss changes that are coming, whether it is a planogram change or a new product launch,” he said.
When it comes to today’s challenges in the c-store industry, Fountain pointed to vape, the rise of electric cars, increasing regulation and channel blurring. But that’s not all.
“One of the biggest challenges I think we face as an industry that probably doesn’t get mentioned much is the lack of brand loyalty among the millennial generation,” Fountain said. “We change our minds constantly, and we like ‘this’ today and ‘that’ tomorrow. There is so much influencing millennial preferences from so many different directions.”
Continuing to attract this consumer group is key.
In 2020, Fountain is excited about the continued growth of the seltzers in the beer category.
“It seems that White Claw and Truly really came on in the last year or so and have really shaken up the beer business,” he said. “In 2020, with Bud Light Seltzer, Corona Seltzer, more Truly and more White Claw, it is going to be exciting to see the growth and see where this takes beer into the future.”
As for his personal goals, Fountain aspires to follow Gate’s slogan and “serve up more,” whether it’s to support the operations team or plan a new marketing campaign. “We have to continue to serve up more each and every day to continue to take care of our store operations team and our customers.”