Operational excellence; phenomenal leadership; a laser focus on its people, values and culture; and an ongoing commitment to investing in convenience retailing are what Nouria embodies and fully embraces. These are extremely important characteristics of the best convenience store chains in the industry, which is why CStore Decisions is proud to honor Nouria as the 2022 Convenience Store Chain of the Year.
Founded in 1989 by Tony El-Nemr, Nouria is one of the fastest-growing family-owned convenience store chains in the country. Today, the Worcester, Mass.-based company operates 170 stores (150 company owned and operated) in five New England states, 56 car washes, two lube centers, the award-winning Whately Diner and a successful wholesale business servicing over 300 locations in New England and New York.
The Chain of the Year award recognizes retail excellence, and Nouria is deserving of its place in this rich tradition as the 33rd winner of this most prestigious industry honor. As many industry marketers are struggling to reinvent themselves as we come out of a global pandemic and identify a strategy that will lead them into the future, Nouria has been able to develop a winning market strategy to become a powerful force in the competitive convenience store industry.
“We are honored and humbled to have been chosen by the industry elites for this prestigious award,” said Tony El-Nemr, founder, president and CEO of Nouria. “It was an even greater honor to be placed in such distinguished ranks as those of the past Chain of the Year honorees. We’re grateful for CSD’s and the nomination committee’s recognition of our contributions and progress. This award serves to validate our efforts while challenging us to continue our journey with conviction in pursuit of excellence.”
Nouria’s Winning Ways
What makes Nouria special is that it continues to cement its presence as a retail leader by evolving to exceed its guests’ expectations with a new upscale foodservice program and technology initiatives, all while expanding through acquisitions to also become one of the top 10 car wash operators in the country. Combined with vibrant team member and community outreach programs, Nouria boasts exceptional leadership and guest service to rank the chain with the absolute best the convenience store industry has to offer.
“This award is a testament to the incredible work, dedication and commitment our frontline heroes have for delivering on our mission to serve and delight our loyal guests every day,” remarked Joe Hamza, chief operating officer for Nouria. “To be considered for this award is gratifying enough, but to win it is nothing short of exhilarating.”
El-Nemr’s vision for Nouria began in earnest as most American success stories do. He acquired one store in 1989 and grew the company to the regional powerhouse that it is today.
Over the past two years alone, Nouria has had four acquisitions across three states including five New England Farms stores in Massachusetts, Verc Enterprises (17 stores and two car washes in Massachusetts and New Hampshire), Mega X (five stores in New Hampshire) and Mulligan’s (one store in Maine). During that time, it has increased its loyalty membership an extraordinary 60%.
While Tony El-Nemr remains active in day-to-day operations, the second generation is also hard at work learning the family business. Tony’s two sons Fouad El-Nemr and Badih El-Nemr serve as executive vice presidents.
When observing the Nouria brand, the first thing that comes to mind is its people and commitment to the future of convenience retailing. The company has built outstanding retail programs and an elegant new-to-industry retail brand, but within the walls of all it accomplishes is the people component, which drives its success.
Industry veterans like Hamza and Chief Information Officer Doug New joined Nouria from Tedeschi Food Shops, which was CSD’s 2012 Convenience Store Chain of the Year. The company added talent from across the retail spectrum all while focusing on best practices and employee recruitment and retention. Their addition enriched the company with a wide range of incalculable retail experiences that helped the company avoid the pitfalls and errors that young growing companies often run into.
The result was unprecedented growth over the past five years and an equally impressive five-year growth strategy.
“Our company has grown to the size it is today mostly through successful acquisitions over its 33 years of existence. So, we continue to look for and participate in acquisition opportunities where it makes sense for us in a fiscally responsible way,” said Executive Vice President Fouad El-Nemr. “We have the desire and resources to continue to aggressively acquire assets that fit our standards and our long-term growth strategy. Our 10-year objective is to quadruple the size of the company to over 600 convenience stores and more than 200 car wash locations throughout New England and beyond.”
This year and over the next several years, Nouria will be investing millions of dollars in new technology infrastructure and business intelligence platforms to help augment its value proposition and improve operational efficiency and decision-making processes.
“We are investing in store automation — adding self-checkouts, expanding mobile payment options including pay-by-car, enhancing our mobile ordering platforms and delivery options for the purpose of making all shoppers’ interactions with us faster, better and more convenient,” Hamza said. “It’s a fun and exciting time.”
Nouria reached two key milestones over the past 18 months with the opening of a prototype convenience store that featured 14 fueling stations, two electric vehicle charging stations and a 5,500-square-foot convenience store in Milford, Mass. In addition to the bright, modern and more spacious layout, the store offers a wider variety of fresh, healthy foods; an assortment of new-age beverages; Nouria’s proprietary coffee brand, Café Nouria; and was co-branded with an Amato’s Italian restaurant.
The property had previously housed an outdated three-car garage and service station. The company has made a commitment to invest heavily in redeveloping buildings with high potential to meet the needs of the communities it serves.
“This store was an aging site that did not fulfill the needs of our guests at the high standards we hold,” Tony El-Nemr said. “The market dictated it necessary for us to update and expand in order to serve the heavy flow of commuter traffic, local businesses and the surrounding community in the most exceptional way that Nouria is known for.”
The company followed up its success in Milford, Mass., by opening its first fully branded fuel and convenience store in Wareham, Mass. This was the company’s first step towards positioning itself to be a top-tier fuel supplier under the Nouria brand, while showcasing a modern design and a more spacious, brighter layout.
The site offers an expansive line of new products and services including electric vehicle charging stations, a wide variety of fresh, healthy foods and an assortment of new-age beverages. The location also features Nouria’s proprietary coffee brand, Café Nouria, and Amato’s, which offers meals made in-store as well as through online and mobile ordering. The location also has Wi-Fi and a seating area where customers can relax and enjoy their meals or beverages.
As with all Nouria’s operated locations, the Wareham, Mass., c-store prioritizes exceptional guest service, a value-focused culture and commitment to community.
“There is new development around this location, so we saw an immediate need to serve the growing neighborhoods,” Tony El-Nemr said. “This was the perfect opportunity for us to test the Nouria top-tier fuel brand, at a state-of-the-art facility and I am thrilled we are part of this thriving community.”
Developing a proprietary retail brand is a seminal moment in the growth of the company, which will guide its future retail plans. Simply stated, Nouria’s long-term vision is to establish a cohesive brand identity free of the brand confusion co-brands create.
“We wanted to ensure brand consistency throughout our locations starting from the street sign and canopy to the store’s interior,” Hamza said. “Furthermore, over the past five years, we have been rebranding the convenience stores under the Nouria brand and cultivating a family of proprietary brands with My Nouria packaged snacks and beverages, Café Nouria for dispensed beverages, and Nouria’s Kitchen on commissary and fresh-made foodservice items with the aim of creating a superior value family of products that complement their counterpart national branded products.”
As it developed the Nouria brand, Hamza said the company was keenly focused on rallying the team to understand the branding strategy and getting their input to ensure they delivered something special and unique.
“As we were developing the brand, we realized then, and continue to believe, that no matter what brand we put on our building, the reality is that the essence of Nouria will always be its people,” Hamza said. “Accordingly, we first needed to ensure that our team was engaged in our mission and understood their role in turning Nouria’s brand aspirations into reality. As such, our brand, at its core, was born from the inside out.”
During this same period, Nouria has gone all-in on developing private-label products.
“Private label is an area of enormous growth for us,” Hamza said. “To date, we have introduced over 900 privately branded products and menu items and plan to roll out many more in the near future.”
Additionally, the company was convinced that doing things the right way and not taking shortcuts would lead to a winning retail brand.
“We realized from the very beginning that when you combine great team members with flawless execution, exceptional quality of service, unique proprietary products and flavorful foods, that we would most certainly create a superior brand,” Hamza said.
Executing such a bold strategy requires good people providing great leadership. Tony El-Nemr praised his team for not just working together to bring the Nouria brand to life, but taking ownership in the mission to ensure its success.
“Creating a great brand requires having incredible people around you. Our management team starting with my two sons Fouad and Badih; Joe Hamza; Doug New; Tom Healy, vice president of store development; Chief Financial Officer Erdem Cimen; Human Resources Vice President Deb Moore; Glenn Leger, general counsel; and Rich Smith, vice president of car wash, who along with their respective teams, are directly responsible for the success that we enjoy today,” Tony El-Nemr said. “The team works closely together to determine how our evolution will continue. They believe in our company values and amplify them to build and enhance our corporate culture, which is the core of our brand’s personality.”
The chain is committed to expanding its team and training members to grow into leadership positions.
“The past few years saw us welcome new talent to our ranks to help support our frontline teams and our growth initiatives,” Tony El-Nemr said. “In fact, we have more than doubled the count of our support center staff over the past three years and have continued to invest in our people’s success through education, empowerment and by outlining a clear path for personal growth and career development.”
Areas Nouria is developing to distinguish itself include foodservice and snacking. The company has been growing its Nouria’s Kitchen foodservice program to include sandwiches and salads, chicken and pizza, plus bakery items and better-for-you-beverages.
On the snack side, Nouria continues to refine its private-label product portfolio to include beverages, candy, baked goods, chips and packaged snacks, and many other categories. The expanded product portfolio reinforces Nouria’s brand promise to provide its customers with a terrific shopping experience with quality products across all its stores.
“Our quest for differentiation is even more evident in our new fresh food initiatives, with the launch of café Nouria and Nouria’s Kitchen. We continue to expand and heavily invest in our existing made-to-order Nouria’s Kitchen and build new ones in larger format stores,” Hamza said. “Today, foodservice has taken a big share of inside store sales. In fact, made-to-order fresh food ranks (as the) highest category in most of the stores that offer it. Our goal is to grow the share of fresh food to 30% of inside store sales. We plan to offer made-to-order fresh food in every new location and expand it to all existing locations, where doing so makes sense.”
Looking to boost its food and snack offering, Nouria has expanded its private-label brand, My Nouria, into freshly packaged baked goods, creating a complementary pairing for commuters and guests stopping by for a treat with their freshly brewed coffee. Nouria heavily invested in development, sourcing quality ingredients and reputable partners while conducting multiple taste tests to ensure products excelled in criteria, which resulted in items that include fresh ingredients and iconic American staples such as Reese’s and Nestlé Tollhouse.
Ranging from cake, muffins and Danishes to cookies and brownies, the collection has something to satisfy every sweet tooth. Moving over to its own brand also enabled Nouria to introduce six additional flavors versus its previous assortment, as well as great value for the quality. The snacks are conveniently merchandised next to the fresh-brewed coffee station.
Since launching the Nouria brand in 2018, the c-store chain has focused on expanding key categories that highlight fresh ingredients and quality at great value to ensure the offerings are consistently exceptional, satisfying and innovative in addition to My Nouria products that offer everything from lip balm, water, salty snacks and healthy trail mixes.
Nouria’s Director of Category Management Kristine Modugno, an industry veteran with over 25 years of private brand development, leads the charge in innovation for best-in-class shopping experience with a focus on Nouria brands.
“We are extremely proud of the Nouria brand,” Modugno said. “Our brand starts and ends with our people, communities and guests, so we do not take it lightly when selecting items on which we put our name. Private-label products are gaining market share and we are excited to expand our offerings with highly regarded Nouria products.”
All these products and the fuel program are supported by the My Nouria Rewards program. Nouria Rewards helps the company generate a unique experience that engages customers and motivates them to visit its stores and pumps more frequently.
Nouria leverages its loyalty program to run joint promotions with its vendors and other major supplier partners. The company believes that a loyalty program is a critical element to building relationships with their customers and differentiating its new brand in the competitive New England market.
“Loyalty is formed when our guests’ needs are not just met, but exceeded,” Hamza said. “Accordingly, we strive to provide our guests with delightful experiences and meaningful value during every visit. As a result our Nouria Rewards program has grown in membership 60% over the past two years. Our frontline heroes are our loyalty program’s biggest advocate. They promote our program by consistently engaging our guests with information about the many benefits and value our rewards program provides. In addition to the stacked savings on fuel, food and packaged products, our loyal guests receive surprise gifts every Friday when they visit their favorite store. The gift is typically a new product or food item that was recently introduced.”
With such a strong foundation, Tony El-Nemr and Hamza agree that the company is well-positioned for growth over the next five years. Still, ever the perfectionist, El-Nemr said that there is more work to be done as the company pushes forward.
“As we look ahead to the future, I am excited to watch a new generation of leaders, my two sons, Fouad and Badih, step up and to someday guide our organization to new heights. I was only in my mid-20s when all of this began, and I have so much faith in the tireless effort, drive, talent, leadership and power that young people in our organization have,” he said. “The second generation will continue the journey I started with significant growth targets. I’m certain that throughout the journey and at the heart of the Nouria experience, just as it has been from the beginning, will be Nouria’s mission to inspire and nurture the spirit of our people — one guest, one team member and one interaction at a time.”