If you ask me what I love about working at NACS and the convenience store industry, the people is my final answer. No need to phone a friend or ask the audience.
The first few years after joining NACS in 2005, Bill Douglass showed me how stores are run with heart and hard work. Richard Oneslager showed me how a “What if?” statement could lead to the ultimate road trip and plenty of stops at convenience stores in eight states. Sonja Hubbard showed me grace and grit. Greg Parker challenged me to learn everything I can about the industry. Jeff Miller showed me how this industry is exciting and fun.
And that was just in the first six years.
This year has been special. We hit the road again for Ideas 2 Go shoots and recently spent time with Bill Weigel, chairman of Knoxville, Tennessee-based Weigel’s. I kept thinking how much he reminded me of Bill Douglass, with his kindness and dedication to this industry and its people.
On August 14, NACS turns 60. That’s six decades of industry growth, innovation, hardship, resilience and prosperity. Several years after NACS was founded, Weigel attended his first NACS Show and came back with a new idea that transformed his milk delivery business: “We were open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. … but found out convenience stores in Texas were open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. So, we changed our hours and soon we were in the convenience store business…that was a big turning point in our company,” he said.
The innovations continued. Weigel’s introduced the Icee to the Knoxville market and was the exclusive destination for Icee east of the Mississippi River until 2010. The company’s first self-serve gas pumps were introduced in 1970, and by 1979 Weigel’s had grown to more than 30 convenience stores in East Tennessee.
Today there are 70-plus Weigel’s stores with fresh foodservice concepts like fried chicken, pizza, sandwiches, breakfast bowls, smoothies and salads, and baked goods delivered fresh from the company’s bakery—an idea pioneered by the late Ken McMullen, CEO of Weigel’s.
I could write a blog a day for the next three years about companies like Weigel’s, whether it is similar retailers with roots in the dairy business, or those that started out delivering home heating oil, car repair, becoming a franchisee or expanding from an ice house to a 70,000-stores-plus global chain.
Makes me wonder how other industries advance their business models, especially if they don’t possess a certain characteristic that sets ours apart…
“Sharing is a big deal in our industry,” Weigel said, remembering when the late Chester Cadieux, founder of QuikTrip, opened his doors to share how he successfully installed a third gas pump at a QT store. “We copied, we shared and rode stores with [Chester] that week,” said Weigel.
“I’ve always learned from other convenience store members,” he said, adding, “We share—always.”
In the spirit of sharing, here are other words of wisdom from Weigel: “People notice everything you do, and they judge you on everything you do—you’re only as good as they think you are.”
We asked Weigel, who by the way did not make a profit for the first seven years he was in business, to share advice to those new to the industry or wanting to grow, and here’s what he said: “You have to be very persistent and stay in it. It’s a tough business, but if you love it, you’ll make it.”
Relationships and partnerships are another testament to why the convenience store industry is about people.
“I have friends in the convenience store business, it’s like a big family and our teammates are family. It’s a personal feeling you don’t have in other industries,” he shared, while speaking specifically about Ken McMullen: “I think the people you work with are a part of you, so I just know everybody in the industry has their people and they make a difference.”
The people we meet, become friends with and the ones we lose too soon are the soul of the convenience store industry. Spending time with Bill Weigel is something I’ll carry with me, and I’m willing to bet I got you thinking about the people you’ve met in this industry and how they helped shape who you are today.
Sixty years is a milestone celebration of bringing together retailers and their supplier partners. But it’s more than remembering a date and those who were at the very first meeting that established the founding of NACS. I’ll let Jeff Lenard share that one since he tells it best. From what I’ve felt, at the core of NACS, what we do and who we do it for, is the people.
We’re looking forward to celebrating with everyone at the NACS Show, October 5-8 in Chicago, where you can also see more from our interview with the people at Weigel’s when we debut Ideas 2 Go.