By Bill Pitocco
HOUSTON, Texas—The Greater Houston Retailers Association (GHRA) formed as a cooperative in 1999 and celebrated its 20th year in business on February 29 , 2020, at a gala held in its honor at the Hilton Americas in Houston, Texas. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, Congresswoman Shelia Jackson Lee, Congressman Al Green and State House Representative Gene Wu attended the celebratory event. Rudy Karsan, managing director at Karlani Capital and co-founder, ex-CEO and chairman of Kenexa, was the honored keynote speaker.
“Guided by our faith, the original members came together in 1999 in an effort to help each other; to help our families and our friends, some of who were struggling in the convenience store business,” said Firdous Ali, president and member of GHRA.
“Now we have over 2,000 stores, 10,000 employees and five companies we operate. This gala is to celebrate our collective accomplishments,” said Ali. “The company is no longer a traditional cooperative,” added Arif Momin, GHRA senior vice president. “We are a multimillion-dollar business on the way to a billion-dollar business. What our community has learned over the past 20 years drives our vision of the future, which is much bigger today than it was when we started!” he said.
Today, GHRA is a market leader. Its DSD business model has changed slightly over the years and today drives close to 35% of the business in the markets it serves. The organization built and operates a warehouse and distribution center to serve its 2,000-plus member stores and help design programs and offers unique to the independent operator and their community.
“We learned that if we wanted access to additional manufacturer programs and funding for our members, we would need to build our own warehouse and distribution center,” said Samer Ali, GHRA Board member and chairman of the warehouse and distribution company. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without our loyal members and the customers they serve, so this gala was for them,” he said.
As a result of their phenomenal success as a grocery supplier, GHRA has reached categorical milestones early. For example, GHRA is the first company in 23 years in Texas to become a new tobacco wholesaler, which not only signifies its volume growth, but it highlights the group’s commitment to process, protocol and the art and science of great distribution. Today, GHRA is a larger part of the supply chain than ever, bringing greater responsibility to its member stores and supply partners.
The company also created its own foodservice franchise: Big Madres Tacos Y Tortas. The company has 20 locations up and running, and business is booming. “Our growth agenda comes from the research we do with our members and the needs they have for foodservice,” said Moez Maredia, board member and chair of GHRA Foodservice. “Our members understand that owning our own foodservice brand gives us the opportunity to create a common communication to consumers and drive business to our stores through public advertising in a way we haven’t been able to do in the past,” said Maredia.
GHRA created “The Greater Houston Retailer Charitable Foundation” GHRCF. GHRCF commits itself to provide financial support to the families of Houston area Peace Officers and Firefighters who lose their lives in the line of duty.
It’s one thing to live life for yourself, but the magic ingredient in the GHRA community is that they stay united. Members work to bring about the principles of their faith; to help each other, their neighbors and the communities where they live and work.
Bill Pitocco is the CEO of the Greater Houston Retailers Association.