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Significant SIGMA

Group celebrates 50th anniversary by working hard, playing hard

SAN FRANCISCO -- The economic struggles or 2008 and the unknown future under a new presidential administration loomed large at SIGMA annual meeting in San Francisco this past week, but not large enough to overshadow the association's recent successes or the celebration of the group's 50th anniversary. (Click here to view CSPTV coverage of the event.)

"SIGMA is like a big family. Everybody networks, and the best education, the best information, the best way to comply with government regulations is to figure out [image-nocss] how somebody else did it and follow him," said executive vice president Ken Doyle. "That's what SIGMA's been doing for at least the 28 years that I've been here."

During this conference, the networking was capped with a 50th Anniversary Gala that brought more than 600 gasoline-marketer-industry executives together to celebrate with a gourmet dinner and live musical entertainment from musical-theater productions of the past 50 years. Lyrics to the songs were rewritten to reflect current economic conditions.

But before the fun on Saturday night, there was work to be done, including committee meetings, educational workshops and the passing of the gavel to new leader in the group, the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America.

New president Carl Boyett, CEO of Boyett Petroleum, Modesto, Calif., said the group with continue its focus on legislative issues, education and networking during the next year. He also said the current economy may bring some new members to SIGMA. "I know the first time I ever got involved with a trade association was during the first fuel shortage in the early 1970s," he said. "I think those types of things make you go look for solutions."

As the outgoing chairman of the Legislative Committee, Boyett oversaw a final meeting of the group that focused on clear fuel, card check/union issues and credit-card fees, among other things. The committee took a position to oppose legislation that would do away with the need to poll employees on the idea of forming a union before the issue was actually put to a vote. And on credit-card fees, attorney Tim Columbus of Steptoe and Johnson encouraged all retailers to visit Washington on July to talk to their congressmen about pending interchange-fee legislation.

"I know that it is no fun to come to the bottom of a swamp in June," he said with his characteristic flippancy. "But this is your business.... This is when they're there; coming to their subcommittee meetings in the summer is your shot."

Meanwhile, the Marketer Operations Committee agreed to move forward with a test of a new information sharing tool for occupational safety and health issues.

The Safety Comparator Project will include "a website that allows us to post our experience numbers-the accidents, the number of man-hours lost and various statistics-that are important to the insurance companies, so they can see if we're being a safe company or not," said Jim Westgate, chairman of the committee. "And we can also then gather from that information of who are the safest companies. We can look at what they're doing as best practices and we can make a safer place for our customers and for our employees and at the same time reduce our expenses in insurance rates."

Similarly, SIGMA is also launching an online sharing tool for the attorneys of convenience store and gasoline marketing companies as a way for them to share information and experiences.

Finally, in a workshop titled "Funding Today's Increasingly Difficult Cash Cycle," Steve Leon of Wells Fargo Bank offered these notes on what matters to a lender:
Diversified revenues (not just gasoline). Cash flow cushion/available liquidity. Differentiated brand and management team. Credit history. Financial systems and technology. Quality of financial statements. Frequency of financial reporting (at least quarterly; possibly monthly).

And some red flags:
Fragmented capital structure. Integration risks. Too-rapid growth. Leon said of Wells Fargo's business as of late, "We haven't pulled anybody's line [of credit], but it's true if there's a large commitment out there, we're going to want to talk [about it].... But we're not in the business of telling you 'goodbye'."

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