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Cenex Embracing Neighborhood Stores

Marketing effort will underscore local qualities of branded network
Photograph courtesy of CENEXPO

LA CROSSE, Wis. — “So many walls with so much potential,” Manley Feinberg writes of his thoughts as he stared up at the last frontier in “big wall” climbing in the Central Asian nation of Kyrgyztan in his 2017 book "Reaching Your Next Summit! 9 Vertical Lessons for Leading With Impact."

Speaking recently at the annual Cenex Expo before Cenex-branded gasoline retailers and convenience-store operators, Manley, who built a career as the top executive of Build-A-Bear, enthusiastically shared the parallels between mountain climbing and retailing.

“You climb because it’s worth it. That’s why you show up every day,” he said. “You keep showing up. You keep stepping up.”

Feinberg grew up in rural Kentucky, raised with a strong Catholic education, and he was a fine guitarist fond of Jimmy Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. His presentation weaves rifts from the Fender that is his primary prop and a backdrop of PowerPoint visuals of imposing mountains that he, and later on, his wife, son and daughter all scaled.

For Feinberg, the incline is a metaphor for life and retailing, tomorrow’s challenges that must be conquered.

In a sense that was the theme at the 2019 CENEXPO in La Crosse, Wis., June 11-12. More than 150 Cenex-branded operators across the Midwest and Plains embraced 1 1/2 days of education and networking before exploring the booths of nearly 80 vendors, representing fresh foodservice, salty snacks, bakery and more.

The major theme at Cenex this year is "Hometown Pride." Competing against the likes of company-run convenience giants such as Casey’s General Stores and Kwip Trip, Cenex, the energy subsidiary of CHS Inc., is underscoring the local niche of its network of 1,500 independently operated sites across 19 states.

“We want to celebrate with you the vignettes of your hometowns and show that we’re not like everybody else,” Mark Vanderlinde, CHS advertising and marketing manager, told the retailers.

Each quarter of 2019, Cenex gives $5,000 rewards to five operators in support of a community nonprofit. Qualifiers must submit a short writeup as to what makes their community unique.

One example Vanderlinde shared was Mount Horeb, Wis., a working-class community whose main street is known as uptown not downtown. After an economic downturn, the community, underscoring its Norwegian roots, dressed up the streets with oversized trolls. The transformation to becoming the troll capital of the world punched up tourism.

“Behind the trolls are people who make up the community,” said Vanderlinde. “That’s what we want to support.”

He said Cenex will continue to partner next year with branded dealers to support community causes to help further differentiate the brand.

  • For more about the strengths of independent retailers, check out CSP’s July cover story, the third annual Indie Influencers report. And here’s a look at the 2018 edition.

Other educational sessions at the Cenex event touched on effectively leveraging social media, protecting data, maximizing a fresh pizza program and using technology to grow business.

Feinberg, who over 11 years helped grow the Build-A-Bear Workshop from 40 stores to more than 400 worldwide, closed out the educational sessions. Echoing the retail and climbing lessons, he spoke about the importance of declaring your “current climb,” determining who you want to be your climbing partners and hold your teammates and yourself accountable.

“You see opportunities that you cannot see when you’re on the wall,” he said. Pointing to a picture of him on a summit, Feinberg said, “What do you all see from here? We’ve made it. Now, what’s next?”

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