Opinion: Round and Round in the Circle Game

By 
Melissa Vonder Haar, Freelance Writer

"The seasons they go round and round, and the painted ponies go up and down. We’re captive on the carousel of time. We can’t return; we can only look behind from where we came, and go round and round and round in the circle game.”

From about the time I could speak, I’d beg my dad to sing this Joni Mitchell tune “one more time.” It’s been echoing through my head in recent weeks, as it often has during life’s big milestones.

My mind also has been drifting back to my early days with CSP, working on one of my very first cover stories about the next generation of c-store leadership. A sentiment expressed by Andrea Myers—then working for her family’s business, Kocolene Marketing of Seymour, Ind.—has stuck with me.

She was explaining why she turned down an opportunity to work at Southern Methodist University’s communications and public affairs office overseeing high-profile political speakers: “I had to ask, ‘What’s more valuable: sitting around and mingling with Madeleine Albright and Laura Bush, or getting to work with my dad and my uncle in the business my great-grandmother built?’ To me, it was kind of a no-brainer.”

As the seasons have gone round and round since that interview, I’ve had the opportunity to observe many of the fantastic family businesses within convenience and tobacco. And so, when an opportunity came up to work with my dad and my sister, it wasn’t exactly a no-brainer, but it ended up being the right decision.

Part of the Tribe

I suspect many of you know this by now, but I have accepted a position to work for my dad’s company, iSee Store Innovations. Though I’m thrilled to be joining my biological family in business and getting to stay within the world of convenience at the same time, it means leaving what’s become a family of sorts within CSP and the tobacco industry.

Since making this decision, I’ve spent a lot of time looking “behind from where we came,” thinking about the things I’ll miss most about covering this wacky, volatile category. There are too many to name, but I do have a few top contenders.

  • Crusading for vape: Of course, I love all my tobacco segments, but vape has always held a soft spot in my heart, perhaps because we both entered the tobacco category around the same time (2011), or perhaps because there’s so much disinformation out there. It’s been a great source of pride for me to make a humble contribution toward setting the record straight. I really do believe these products (and innovations we can’t yet even dream of) can be a game changer for the industry.
  • Being a thorn in Zeller and co.’s sides: There was a moment at this year’s NATO Show when Mitch Zeller, director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Tobacco Products, and I made eye contact. I was about to introduce myself when he quickly averted his eyes and walked in the other direction. I like to think it’s because he knew those deeming regulations were about to drop—and he knew that I was going to call him out on the hypocrisy. The written word may not change the minds of the Mitch Zellers of the world, but at least it gives a voice to the many people frustrated by regulations that go against Zeller’s own claims about the need for “a nicotine spectrum of risk.”
  • The passion of you tobacco nerds: It takes a special breed to manage the tobacco category. It’s not just managing new products, contracts and resets—it’s also staying on top of the countless, ever-changing regulatory requirements. Yet the fine folks I’ve gotten to know over the past several years have tackled the task with pride and gusto. I count myself lucky to have been a member of your tribe. As the carousel of life continues to turn, I certainly hope to  retain an honorary membership in that club.

I’ll close with a wholehearted thank you to every one of you and tease a very bright future for tobacco at CSP: Angel Abcede has signed up to take over the category, being fully briefed on the power of “off the record.”

Angel, welcome to the ride of your life!


Melissa Vonder Haar is senior account manager for iSee Store Innovations. Reach her at [email protected].