CHICAGO -- On the wall of past NACS chairmen, a sea of mostly middle-aged and older white men dominate, harkening back to an earlier era in the history of convenience stores.
But as the industry has evolved in both offering and design, so too has its face. So seeing outgoing NACS Chairman Rahim Budhwani toss a few words in Portuguese to the Brazilian retailers in the audience, and also speak his native Hindi, gave the sense of a retail channel keeping pace with the rapidly changing face of the United States.
In some ways, crossing the racial barrier will be as much a legacy for Budhwani as is his presence on behalf of smaller chains and independents.
Speaking at the 2017 NACS Show for the last time as NACS chairman, Budhwani, CEO of the 12-store Alabama chain 6040 LLC, celebrated the c-store’s central role in neighborhoods across the country. “C-store does not stand for ‘convenience stores.’ It stands for ‘community stores,’ ” he said.
From urban to rural, 300-square-foot boxes to those nearly 20 times the size, c-stores come in all shapes and packages. Yet some trends transcend location or store size.
Healthier food is not a fad. It’s a fact. “Too many people don’t buy healthier options in our stores. Do you know why?” Budhwani said. “Because they don’t know [that] we sell them.”
For Budhwani, food is not only the largest growing opportunity for c-stores, it’s also personal, alluding to his educational background in food technology from Sohia Polytechnic in Mumbai.
And it’s not only healthy food. It’s also the menu choices we serve. Having traveled 150,000 in the past 12 months, Budhwani crisscrossed the globe, finding exportable ideas such as bubble tea, a popular beverage in Japan, which has made its way into his Alabama stores.
After outlining the challenges and disruptors confronting the industry, such as Amazon and home delivery, Budhwani encouraged operators to lock in on their most fundamental advantage. “Focus on community is critical,” he said. “Community focus is our competitive advantage. I truly believe that being engaged in the community—however you define it—is good for your business.”
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