C-Stores as Land of Opportunity

A Pakistani immigrant’s rise to successful retailer, distributor

By 
Kenneth Shriber, CEO, Petroleum Equity Group

Gulf-branded convenience store

One of Ali Kirmani’s 25 convenience stores

HOPEWELL JUNCTION, N.Y. -- In late December 1995, Ali Kirmani arrived at JFK airport in New York City from Lahore, Pakistan, seeking to embody the ultimate in overused clichés—a better life for himself in the land of opportunity.

With absolutely no experience in the retail-fuel business, Kirmani began managing a retail gas station in Queens. He worked hard for many years, learned the business and purchased his first gasoline station in 2001. He became a branded dealer for Gulf Oil, invested in the site and grew the business. Over time, he bought a few more locations and became a Gulf Oil distributor in 2011. SNK Petroleum Wholesalers was born.

Kirmani today is the embodiment of many crosswinds in an industry undergoing rapid transformation. He is the classic immigrant story played out with increased frequency in the convenience trade. He also is an adherent to the adage “grow or go.”

Bumps In the Road

With his new status as a distributor, Kirmani sought to grow the Gulf brand in New York.  Over the next few years, SNK purchased several more locations, sites that were mostly underperforming and in need of considerable improvements. With the capital in place and an eye for quality construction, Ali refurbished each site, both inside and out, with high-end building materials. The strategy paid off, and sites that were previously run down and nearly left for dead flourished with an improved image, better service, competitive pricing and, of course, Gulf branding. 

But as we know, even the finest of Disney storylines is interrupted with threats and uncertainty. And so too with Kirmani.

It was the pre-Halloween meteorological calamity, Superstorm Sandy, that rocked Greater New York on Oct. 29, 2012. Sandy caused billions of dollars in damage and wrought massive power outages and flooding, including gasoline terminals and retail stores. With much longer truck routes to pick up fuel at operating terminals, long lines at gas stations mirrored those experienced during the 1979 oil crisis. Far fewer deliveries could be made to stores; many sites were without power or fuel for weeks. And for those able to stay open, prices topped $4 a gallon.

SNK was not spared, and Kirmani vowed that his company would never again suffer such disruptions if he could help it.

In 2013, he decided to purchase trucks so that he could have some control over his deliveries, in addition to using outside carriers. This not only supported SNK’s retail-store network in times of crisis, but also allowed for purchasing efficiencies. Since that time, SNK has become one of Gulf’s largest independent fuel distributors in New York, quite an accomplishment for the 4-year-old company.

Growing Today

With a current portfolio of over 25 locations and sites typically running four MPDs and stores of about 2,500-square-foot, SNK Petroleum has made its mark on the motor-fuels industry in New York. Kirmani has set the stage and is poised for continued growth in the Empire State and beyond. He continues to answer the call for new growth under the Gulf brand.

“With our extensive network of sites in New York, we take pride in delivering value and best-in-class service and image to our customers in the markets in which we do business,” said Kirmani, CEO of SNK. “With our proven formula for business improvements, we will continue to strive for excellence and growth no matter how great the challenges we must face in our day-to-day business.”