RICHMOND, Va. — With the addition of another convenience-store chain to its rapidly expanding portfolio, via the purchase of 63 locations from Riiser Energy, Wausau, Wis., GPM Investments LLC has again proven itself to be an acquisition juggernaut. And the latest deal comes as the company is changing up its leadership and bringing new energy to its marketing and merchandising team.
GPM is the largest privately owned company in the convenience-store channel. Based in Richmond, Va., it operates or supplies fuel to more than 1,400 stores in 22 states. Its brands, acquired in a steady stream of sizable deals since 2013, include Fas Mart, Shore Stop, Scotchman, BreadBox, Young's, Li'l Cricket, Next Door Store, Village Pantry, Apple Market, Jiffi Stop, Admiral, Roadrunner Markets, Jiffy Food Marts, E-Z Mart, 1 Stop and TownStar.
Among the leadership changes, Michael Bloom, a veteran of the drugstore and dollar-store industries, joined the GPM executive team in June in the newly created role of executive vice president and chief merchandising and marketing officer. And GPM has promoted Ruth Ann Lilly to vice president of marketing and merchandising. Meanwhile, Rich Mione, senior director of marketing, is retiring at the end of 2019 after six years with GPM, capping off a 46-year career in the c-store industry.
Bloom is responsible for the company’s entire merchandising and marketing team, as well as its proprietary food, franchise and dispensed beverage programs. He also oversees the continued growth, development and implementation of GPM’s customer loyalty program, Fas Rewards.
Bloom’s merchandising and marketing experience in the retail industry spans nearly four decades. Prior to joining GPM, he was CEO of drugstore chain Fred’s Inc. Before that, he was president and COO of Family Dollar, which operates more than 8,400 stores. He also held executive positions for more than 20 years at CVS Pharmacy. Before joining CVS, Bloom spent 10 years in merchandising and operations management with Peoples Drug Stores and Shoppers Drug Mart Corp.
During his time at CVS, Bloom led the development of CVS’ new store model, which overhauled the layout and product assortment to improve the overall customer experience. He then assisted in overseeing the integration of the CVS loyalty platform into the business plans. Bloom spearheaded the launch of CVS’ private-label brand, Gold Emblem, a line of snacks, candy, beverages and other products.
"We hired Mike because of his tremendous leadership, merchandising and marketing experience, as well as a proven track record of success in small-format retail stores,” said Arie Kotler, president and CEO of GPM. “As GPM continues to grow through acquisitions, we are increasing our focus on the expansion of the products, programs and services we offer our customers. Mike brings years of experience in marketing strategy, merchandising, private brands, loyalty, acquisitions and much more. His addition to our company is essential to help further develop GPM’s portfolio of c-stores as we continue to be one of the largest privately owned companies in the industry.”
Lilly joined GPM in 2017 as category manager of tobacco, beer and wine, and in 2018, she added the Fas Rewards loyalty program to her list of responsibilities. In her new role, she will lead category management for all in-store categories except fresh food, fountain and coffee. She also will lead advertising and loyalty.
“Ruth Ann is stepping into a big role and taking the helm of merchandising and marketing from a nonfood perspective,” said Bloom. “She’s done a tremendous job developing the tobacco strategy, both from a pricing and a merchandising standpoint.”
Tobacco is about 50% of GPM’s business, Bloom said. “It’s a larger piece of our business than we’d like it to be. That just means we need to grow the other businesses. And Ruth Ann has done a tremendous job managing tobacco. In a category that is challenging on a regular basis because of regulatory and other issues, she has been able to work her way through the obstacles. She and her team have really allowed us to buck the trend for the most part in tobacco, and we continue to gain share,” he said.
This year, CSP recognized Lilly among seven winners of the annual Category Manager of the Year award for her work across multiple categories.
“She has the respect of the supplier community,” Bloom said of Lilly. “I saw her leadership skills and her ability to work cross-functionally throughout the organization, and as I was thinking about building my new team, I couldn’t think of a better individual who was available externally or internally, so we promoted her from senior category manager to vice president of merchandising and marketing. I’m ecstatic to have her leading the charge and building the strategies for our stores.”
Lilly has more than 25 years of combined experience in a variety of roles in the c-store and grocery industries. She joined GPM in 2017. Before that, she was the category manager of tobacco, beer and wine at Sunoco before 7-Eleven purchased its c-stores in 2018. Previously, she was with Mid-Atlantic Convenience Stores (MACS), which Sunoco acquired in 2013. She joined MACS from the grocery industry, where she was with SuperValu for a year. She started her career at Crown Petroleum in 1990, leaving with the sale of that company to several buyers.
“I’ve touched tobacco in one way or another my entire career,” Lilly said. “I felt like for many years, I was pigeonholed in the tobacco category, and when Mike gave me the opportunity to have a bigger role, I was grateful. Somebody finally said, ‘OK, we’re going to trust her to still take care of tobacco, but we’re going to let her use her skill set on other parts of the business.’ I had begun to feel like that was never going to happen. Mike hasn’t known me for long, and there have been lots of people in this industry who have, and for him to take a chance on me when I didn’t have that chance in other positions or companies, that certainly made me feel a lot of loyalty to Mike as a leader.”
Bloom said it’s a new attitude, a new way of thinking, and about taking calculated risks. “Arie took a risk on me—I’m a drugstore and dollar-store guy. But he didn’t hire me because I was a drugstore guy. I’m not going to put a cough-and-cold section in the store,” he said. “But in a very competitive industry, you select your team carefully. I selected Ruth Ann for the same reason Arie may have selected me, which is I’m going to bet on somebody that is going to help me take the hill, and change things up here, and grow my sales and expand my margin and take care of my customers and drive more traffic into my stores. We’re putting a team together here that I want to go to battle with.”
That retail battle involves “some really terrific retailers” of all sizes, including strong regional competitors such as Royal Farms and Parker’s in the Southeast, he said. His objective is to make GPM’s stores “relevant and give our customers and our associates something to be proud of. We have a lot of opportunity here. We’ve got a lot of potential. And I want the supplier community to know that we are open for business.”
Bloom said the change in attitude is “not about what was. It’s about moving forward. It’s really not about the history—it’s about how we take it from this point on, which Rich and the team have done a tremendous job getting us to where we are. What does the next chapter look like? What does the next 10 years look like?”