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Coppel Reflects on 40 Years in the Convenience Business

NAPERVILLE, Ill. -- Ron Coppel attributes most of his success in the convenience-store industry to three things: “networking, networking and networking,” he told CSP Daily News in reflecting on his 40 years in c-store distribution.

“Just being willing to go out there and meet folks and talk to them," Coppel said. "Only in the c-store business can you go to a conference or meeting where competitors sit down and share best practices for the betterment of the channel.”

Coppel, who is retiring after 27 years with Naperville, Ill.-based distributor Eby-Brown, dove into the c-store landscape in the late 1970s when the candy and tobacco distributor he worked for brought in a line of groceries. He said the biggest difference between then and now is the level of c-store sophistication, especially regarding foodservice: “When milk was first introduced in c-stores, people thought ‘Are you kidding me?’ But today, it’s a destination driver. Why wouldn’t you buy milk there?”

He’s impressed—not surprised—by the industry's growing level of sophistication in foodservice. “The quality, variety and execution are astounding,” he said.

Another difference Coppel sees in today’s c-stores compared to years ago is the increased ability to do more with less, which he attributes to technology. “The level of tech that we work with today is mind-boggling compared to back in the day,” he said. “The level of service we provide in terms of on-time delivery and in-stock ratios is greater than many years ago.”

Moving forward, Coppel said the c-store industry’s biggest challenge will be adapting to electric vehicles as the become a larger part of the U.S. vehicle fleet. Nonetheless, he said c-stores will continue to be of value to consumers. “Maybe stores will become charging stations instead of gasoline stations,” Coppel said. “The industry is already thinking about it and discussing it. I have no doubt it will get there.”

When asked what advice he’d give to someone new to the c-store industry, Coppel said it comes down to basic business acumen. “That person needs to get themselves up to speed as they would when starting in any new industry, through trade journals and organizations and talking to distributions in the marketplace,” he said.

And don’t forget networking. “It’s a people business at the end of the day,” said Coppel. “I would advise anyone who’s up and coming in the business to network. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people in the industry who’ve become friends of mine.”

Coppel is training to be a docent at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie, Ill., after working for Eby-Brown for nearly three decades. He lives in Schaumburg, Ill.

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