Outgoing NACS chairman Jack Kofdarali never takes his life in the United States for granted. As immigrants from war-torn Lebanon, Kofdarali, his parents and brother started with nothing and went on to grow a strong retail business in California.
In 2000, Kofdarali and his wife, Taline, started what would become a 28-store chain based in Corona, Calif., one of the largest ARCO/ampm franchisees in his area. As he passes the torch to the next NACS chair, Kofdarali leaves independents, new Americans and all other retailers with the inspiration to have their voices heard.
Q: How does it feel to have come all this way to become NACS chair?
A: I consider the NACS chair position as one of the highest accomplishments for anyone in our industry. So, for someone who arrived to this great country as an immigrant 35 years ago with very humble beginnings, [being] recognized and voted in as the chair of the best organization in our industry was very humbling, to say the least.
Q: What were your most memorable experiences?
A: Being one of the main speakers in Houston at the Sunoco dealers’ event was very humbling. I spoke in front of hundreds of Sunoco dealers, most of whom were new Americans—immigrants such as myself. Most were starting out with one store and hoping to grow their businesses. Many of them wanted to take photos afterward, and asked how to go about improving their businesses. It was thrilling to be able to speak to them, be with them and give them advice on how to move ahead in our business.
Then I remember my NACS speech in October, during my first day as chairman. This was the first time I was able to publicly thank both my mother and father for all of the sacrifices, and to also thank my beautiful wife of 27 years, my partner in both business and life.
Q: What would you consider your biggest accomplishments?
A: One of my main objectives [as NACS chair] was to educate and encourage small operators to play a bigger role in our industry and, most importantly, to be more engaged on all levels, especially on the government-relations level. [Through my] engagement with operators such as the Sunoco speech in March, and several other events I attended, I believe I’ve accomplished what I hoped for. Also, I believe my being chairman gave hope to many who are starting out. I am by no means more special than anyone else out there. If I can do it, I believe any of my other fellow retailers can.
Q: What are your thoughts on the state of independents?
A: Many of them still feel getting engaged with NACS or any other organization in our industry won’t make a difference. We must do everything we can to change that. They must feel they have a place at the table. In fact, I believe, especially when it comes to government regulations, the most important voice is small operators. So many of our representatives become numb, especially when they hear from large companies that own, for example, 500 stores or more. But having 500 small operators call them is a whole lot better than one large company.
Q: How would you assess the industry today?
A: Our industry’s most difficult challenge is still in the area of regulations being imposed on us. NACS plays such an important role in bringing everyone together to speak in one voice. If we can all work together, we can fend off any negative regulation coming our way.
Q: What advice would you give retailers going forward?
A: Get engaged, on every level. Take care of your business. There’s no win in one day. It’s a steady pace. Learn as much as you can from others in the industry, NACS and other events. Implement what you feel is best for your own business, but you must keep evolving. The status quo is just going backward as everyone passes you by.
Q: What advice would you give the incoming NACS chair?
A: Be proud, as this is a huge honor, and give back to our industry, which has been so good to us.