Parting From The Pantry

Departing president, CEO talks about his two-year term

Mitch Morrison, Vice President of Retailer Relations

Terry Marks

CARY, N.C. -- Analytical and athletic, the former minor league pitcher with an executive's resume seemed the perfect fit to transform a lumbering, out-of-shape company into his mold. When Terry Marks, the laconic former executive at Coca-Cola Enterprises and diehard Boston Red Sox fan, took the helm at The Pantry in fall 2009, it was not much different than taking over the New York Yankees in the mid 1990s.

Like those Yankees, The Pantry was bloated with excess and unproductive assets, a penchant for overpaying for tired sites long past their prime, while ignoring a glaring lack of infrastructure needed to revitalize the team from within.

The company Marks leaves is not the dominant Yankees of the late 1990s into today. The company's stock value is still perilously tenuous, leaving it vulnerable to a hostile takeover, and it remains burdened with a disproportionate percentage of underperforming sites.

Yet, Marks has left his mark as president and CEO. He brought in a talented team from CCE, invested heavily to build a branded store concept--Kangaroo Express--from the motley mix of stores and names he inherited, boosted morale, began delivering higher foodservice sales and entered into a promising exclusive fuel contract with Marathon. All in 22 months.

When Marks announced his departure last month to take the top spot at themed restaurant chain Hooters (click here for previous CSP Daily News coverage), some expressed surprise over his relatively short tenure. Others, including a chief executive at another sizeable c-store chain, sympathized with Marks' situation.

"He couldn't win," the executive told CSP Daily News on condition of anonymity. "The best thing for him would have been for The Pantry to be a privately-held company, not a publicly traded company. He needed to make investments to make the company viable, but those results won't be seen for at least another year or two and meanwhile the stock continues to trade at the $10 to $13 range."

In a CSP Daily News exclusive, Marks agreed to an email interview, touching on his legacy, his accomplishments and his regrets:

Q: What is your proudest achievement at The Pantry?

A: There are many things that I am proud of related to my time at The Pantry. I'm proud of the work that we have done to begin our foodservice journey. I am proud of the work that we have done to begin investing the Kangaroo Express Brand--efforts that range from our Charlotte re-branding to our "Salute the Troops" summer promotion, which galvanized our organization and raised over $2 million for the USO, Wounded Warrior Project and the National Guard. What I am most proud of, however, is the caliber of the executive team I leave behind.

Q: Do you think you came close to achieving your goals?

A: The overriding goal I had for the Kangaroo Express was to invest in foodservice capability over time and ultimately become a destination for on-the-go meals and snacks. Building a robust foodservice business requires a committed effort over the long haul, so it would be disingenuous of me to claim that I had achieved all of the goals I had set coming into the role. I'm confident we have set the right course and am pleased that we are making progress.

Q: What is your biggest regret as you leave?

A: Unquestionably, the biggest regret is leaving the team after just two years. Gaining traction early is always the most challenging part of any change initiative, with the ultimate payoff occurring when one is able to celebrate success with teammates and friends. I regret that I won't be here [to] share in that with the management team and our board.

A: How did Hooters approach you?

A: I was approached through an executive search firm. I can assure you that I was very happy at The Pantry.

Q: Can you give some additional details on what went into your decision to leave?

A: My decision to leave was very difficult to execute, but pretty simple to understand. I was presented with a wonderful professional opportunity that allowed me to be much closer to my family … my family will always be my first priority. That simple.

Q: What are your plans for the transition from The Pantry to Hooters?

A: I'll be transitioning over the next few weeks and expect to begin my new role in early October. At that point, our chairman, Ed Holman, will assume the CEO role on an interim basis. Ed is a seasoned executive who understands retail very well.

Q: Any thoughts on, about or for your successor?

A: I have very much appreciated my partnership with this board. If I am asked to provide a perspective on a potential candidate, I would certainly do so. In any event, I have great confidence in this board's ability to choose the right person to lead The Pantry.

Q: What are your plans for Hooters? (Will we see a Hooters convenience store? Just kidding.)

A: It would be a bit premature for me to share any thoughts on Hooters. I'll just say that I am very much looking forward to working with the team to grow the business.

Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for the convenience store industry?

A: I feel very fortunate to have had the privilege of serving this industry as a vendor-partner for over 20 years before spending two years "on the inside." As a result, I think I have a unique perspective.

This is a great industry that has consistently demonstrated an ability to re-invent itself to meet the ever-changing needs of consumers. It's clear that the process of "re-invention" continues today as we see so many well-run, progressive convenience retailers developing food concepts that in many cases exceed the quality of offerings that can be found in some food-only channels.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, I have been so impressed with the quality of the people I have met during my two years at The Pantry--both our own associates as well as so many capable executives and owner-operators that I have had the pleasure of getting to know through industry associations.

Based in Cary, N.C., The Pantry is a leading independently operated convenience store chain in the southeastern United States and one of the largest independently operated convenience store chains in the country. Its stores offer a broad selection of hot and cold beverages, snacks, fresh foods and gasoline as part of a wide assortment of merchandise and services that support consumer on-the-go lifestyles. It operates more than 1,650 stores in 13 states under select banners, including Kangaroo Express, its primary operating banner. The Pantry's Kangaroo Express stores are located in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina and Virginia.

Mitch Morrison Winsight CSP By Mitch Morrison, Vice President of Retailer Relations
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