OAKBROOK, Ill. — How do you place a positive spin on a pandemic? Sam Odeh, CEO of Power Mart Corp., Oak Brook, Ill., tried to pull it off when he recently said: “The pandemic for me was a reset, like going back to school after 35 years [in the convenience/petroleum industry]. I’d not really worked ‘retail’ for that long, but there were a few weeks where I cleaned restrooms and took out garbage. I engaged significantly with our frontline people far more.”
Odeh said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Power Mart instituted several operational changes in the way that it conducts business, one decision being hiring a new cleaning supply vendor. “These were changes that were needed to be made but never would have been addressed if not for COVID,” he said.
Power Mart’s Illinois arm (it has other operating divisions, including a prominent footprint in the Southeast) currently includes five company-operated sites in the Chicago suburbs; 35 dealer fuel supply and co-branded sites; and 79 Power 21 marketing/merchandising members. Gazing toward the future, however, Odeh envisions 25 additional retail sites in the next five years, including four new company-operated units.
Power Mart Corp. offers three retail models:
- Powmaro, a comprehensive c-store/branded foodservice (Dunkin’ and Checkers programs) and fuel model
- Power Mart, which solely sells gasoline (CITGO and Gulf Oil)
- Power Market, a full convenience store plus fuel island
Together, it all gives Odeh plenty to strive for. And Power Mart’s newest location in Downers Grove, Ill., stands as proof of ambition.
Odeh talks about the company’s goals below.
Q: How is business currently faring?
A: We are back 90% or better to our sales prior to COVID-19. The pandemic was devastating, and we had to learn all new behaviors from all five of our stakeholders—customers, personnel, vendors, government agencies [Power Mart is a USDA grant recipient] and new business elements. They were all unique in many ways, but we got through it because of resilience of the human kind to come together and be identified as an essential business.
Q: What are your expectations for the remainder of 2021 from a business and customer engagement standpoint?
A: To create a safe and stable place of business—that’s the most important thing. We assured our customers that we were going to do all we could to serve the “essentials of life” with our personnel. We lived with a goal of controlling the controllable. We encouraged safe practices and awareness in conducting business.
Q: What food and beverage categories are flourishing, and what’s driving that?
A: Our Powmaro’s food brand was developed before, during and throughout the pandemic. Frankly, the pandemic helped our food brand be highlighted to a higher degree. Many customers gave us a shot due to the fact we were the only thing open or available. Our success was owed to the 5 Ps: product safety, product quality, product availability, product promotions and product initiatives, fast and fair. Frankly, the pricing, promotions and any unique initiatives were not key factors; it was demand and supply, not supply and demand.
Q: How do your stores differentiate themselves in your local market from a competitive standpoint?
A: It’s underpinned by our image, space, media innovations, parking, drive-thru, lighting, safety and cleanliness. We are different because we provide different things constantly and efficiently.
Q: How would you describe the breadth and depth of local retail competition in your market, c-store to grocery and big box?
A: All store platforms were tested during the pandemic. … The big box or ‘new box’ [Amazon and touchless concept stores, for example] are all unique but, frankly, are no threat. I’m of the personal opinion that nothing can replace the human touch and experience. Taking out emotions and smiles of the in-store experience is not viable or profitable. The issue in our industry is not people or personnel but supply chain, out-of-stocks, vendors, automation, information technology, government policies and taxation, and, lastly, compliance and weather.
Q: What is your company mission statement—formal or informal—if applicable?
A: We are people who relish the opportunity to service people for their essential needs of life.
Q: Did you experience distribution issues during the pandemic?
A: We are still feeling the effect. Our out-of-stocks were more than 35% of our total product list, and we are still experiencing 10% to 15% in out-of-stocks.
Q: How did you keep morale up through the pandemic?
A: We offered essential pay, vaccine pay and sanitizers. The key was to have safety protocols in place. [For customers], our Powmaro’s deli in Downers Grove offered senior citizens free delivery during COVID. We delivered to a lady who gave our driver a $100 tip. He went back and gave her flowers and since then visits her weekly. We also gave our fleet customers free bottled water, cookies and mini candy for coming inside to enter a weekly raffle for a $425 gift card.
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