The Tao of Tedeschi

Retail "believer" also "realist"; keep eye on what you can't control, act decisively on what you can

Chris Blasinsky, Editorial Projects Director, NACS

Peter Tedeschi

CHICAGO -- Peter Tedeschi, president and CEO of Tedeschi Food Shops Inc., wrapped up the NACS State of the Industry Summit in Chicago with his views on key issues facing the convenience store industry--or in more tongue-in-cheek terms--"everything that sucks about this industry" and what keeps him up at night.

"I am a believer but I'm also a realist," he said, noting that there are some realities that will adjust how retailers approach their businesses and their customers. He advised attendees to keep an eye on things that they can't control, but act decisively on the things they can influence and change.

Beginning with the noncontrollable issues, Tedeschi said how the core convenience store customer, the blue-collar "Bubba," is the most affected by the current economic situation. In his own stores, he shared how a huge spike in lottery sales revealed an inverse correlation with store sales. "Guess what? It's Bubba," said Tedeschi. "He's chasing the dream and he's hoping to hit it big," noting the shift in Bubba's purchasing behavior.

Among the things that retailers cannot control but can certainly influence are more legislative and regulatory in nature, said Tedeschi. Health care, unionization--"Twinkies? Shut the front door! I can't believe you [unions] did this to Twinkies!"--and increased taxation are just a few issues retailers at minimum should be concerned about. He stressed the importance of grassroots, educating members of Congress about our industry and participating in NACS events like Day on Capitol Hill.

"There's never been a time when your voices need to be heard more than they do today … you can move the needle," he said.

Tedeschi also discussed public perceptions about the c-store industry, and how products sold in convenience stores have become a target for problems associated with obesity. He shared a video of 1986 NACS Chairman Ray Hawkins, who addressed the same vilification the industry faced then that it does now for selling age-restricted products.

"You cannot change the ills of society by picking on convenience stores," Hawkins said; Tedeschi said that is a sentiment that hasn't shifted much in the past 27 years.

C-stores, meanwhile, have increased their presence as good neighbors who support the local community through charities, youth athletics and jobs. "We have a good story to tell--there's no reason for people to fear us," he said.

In discussing the things that retailers can control, Tedeschi shared how his company is working to attract a broader base of customers and tailor stores to what the customers demand. "It's not easy to do, but it's something we need to look at" moving forward, he said.

This path begins at the store level, he said, where employee morale and customer service are paramount. "If you're not proud to be associated with this company, then we're not doing our job," he said. As for the customer, there will never be enough hours in the day. "They'll have even less time tomorrow," he said, adding that no other retail channel is more equipped to handle this reality.

"I will sleep well tonight knowing this," he said. "We are in the best position to take advantage of meeting our customer needs in the next five, 10 and 20 years."

Established in 1923 in Rockland, Mass., Tedeschi Food Shops is a family-owned and -operated New England convenience store chain with more than $600 million in annual revenue. The company operates 190 c-store locations throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Tedeschi Food Shops provides its customers with a family of proprietary brands: TD's Deli and Tedeschi Fresh Foods, Tedeschi Select and Tedeschi Fuel.

By Chris Blasinsky, Editorial Projects Director, NACS
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