Rockin' Robinson

Outgoing chairman sings praises of ‘interesting, worthwhile' year.

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

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Watching the c-store industry thrive in a sluggish economy was an invigorating experience for Tom Robinson. CSP asked the 34-store Santa Clara, Calif., retailer and outgoing NACS chairman to reflect on his year as head of the association and what lies ahead for this quickly evolving industry.

Q: How would you describe your year as NACS chairman?

A: Fast, interesting, worthwhile, educational. It’s interesting in that NACS promotes the value proposition of knowledge, connections and advocacy. That’s what I got out of this year.

Q: What were the highlights?

A: The many events I attended and spoke at, including visits to Capitol Hill and the Leadership Forum in Miami. And I thought this year’s State of the Industry summit was especially insightful with the top-decile information. Then being able to visit with people like Bill Douglass in Sherman, Texas, who showed me a great example of how to take an older location and maintain its high productivity and profitability. Then going to Dallas, where I saw floor plans for new RaceTrac and QuikTrip locations. It was interesting being able to see both the established formats and the brand new locations from industry leaders.

Q: What things surprised you?

A: I had never been to the NACStech conference (which will be called The Tech Show next year). I had the perception that it was more technology-oriented, but there was a lot of talk about social media that to me made it more marketing-heavy.

Q: How would you assess your score card as chairman?

A: I certainly hold no false modesty that any of this is about me. It’s fair to say it’s an industry or association score card. But the roll-your-own-tobacco issue was settled [with legislation mak­ing RYO shops liable for taxes as cigarette manufacturers]. That’s a major accomplishment. NACS has always had a substantial agenda. It’s an organization with a lot of bandwidth that in the last few years has focused on food, fuels and that grass-roots influence that’s so important with legislative issues.

Q: What about food?

A: NACS is all about giving its membership tools to get better at what is a growing aspect of the business. There’s education and training on issues like food safety. Then you jump over to advocacy: NACS is working hard with the FDA on menu label­ing and rules that make sense in the c-store industry. Now jump to the issue of food deserts, and you see NACS trying to do two things: first, from a public relations standpoint, emphasizing the number of healthy alternatives that c-stores do have; and second, sending the message out to members, saying, “This is an area of your store where there’s opportunity.”

Q: And fuel?

A: The same strategies apply for fuel. Folks running stores need more information about alternative fuels and renewable fuels as they examine what to do with their properties. At the same time, we’re dealing with a lot of rules relative to gasoline and renewable fuels from a legislative standpoint. Five, 10, 15 years from now, as new fuels enter the market, we want to make sure they make sense and can be sold in a legal, responsible manner.

Q: You mentioned grass-roots efforts. Can you elaborate?

A: The importance of that grass-roots effort became evident with swipe fees, and the legislation that resulted around what’s fair for credit-card companies to charge retailers. There’s power in having 143,000 stores, in every congressional district.

Q: What issues lie ahead for NACS and the industry?

A: The association continues to be active against online lottery. Also, data security and [payment card industry] standards are a huge issue for us. Dealing with the FDA on tobacco will be interesting. Health care is going to be an issue. People need to figure out the best way to deal with it, and NACS is working hard to provide information.

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