ATLANTA -- With love and hope, everything is possible.
That was the core message from new NACS Chairman Rahim Budhwani in the closing general session of the 2016 NACS Show. Budhwani relied on love and hope in his journey toward achieving the American dream, beginning with sharing a 300-square-foot apartment with his family of six in India and then owning a successful convenience-store business.
“Hope ... is the constant of all things that stays with you when everything else seems lost,” said Budhwani. “And love: Without it, life would have no meaning, no flavor, no joy.”
Budhwani is president and CEO of 6040 LLC, Hoover, Ala., which has five stores. He started in the c-store business only after earning degrees in information technology, hotel management and food technology, and building experience as a computer programmer. A friend suggested opening a c-store business together; the friend would run the store while Budhwani would be a silent investor, and they'd split profits 60/40 (hence the company name).
But soon Budhwani would end up buying out his friend and taking on full ownership of 6040 LLC. His new schedule for the next eight months: Get up at 4 a.m., open the store at 5, work until 11, then go off to his computer programming job until 4. Afterward, there was grad school until 9 p.m., then back to close the store by 11, and home at midnight. Meanwhile, he and his wife started a family.
It was an incredibly overwhelming time for Budhwani. After graduating, he was able to turn all of his attention to the c-store business. But then it was time to develop it.
“I needed to go from working in my store to working on my store,” Budhwani said. “Working for your store means finding ways to get new ideas, new money, so how do I make it better?”
For Budhwani, that meant getting involved with industry groups such as NACS, where he got leadership training and joined the NACS Show convention committee. It also taught him an important lesson. “If you need help, just ask for it. Someone will help you,” he said. “It made me want to be more engaged, more active, and led to me here today.”
With the additional support and understanding, Budhwani began to fall in love with the c-store industry. And he started to stretch his wings as a retailer, experimenting with new offers such as beer growlers and developing core categories such as foodservice. This latter effort was not an immediate success. He first tried pizza at one site, in a Hispanic neighborhood, but it was a failure. His customers also wanted to be able to take their lunch to the job site.
So Budhwani built a small, 325-square-foot kitchen in the store and started making tamales, tacos, tortas and other Mexican foods. He even introduced Indian-Mexican fusion offers, such as “maharaja” and chicken curry tacos.
As Budhwani found strength in industry involvement, his business also found it in the local community. In 2005, during Hurricane Katrina, 6040 LLC provided free food and bottled water to first responders at its Birmingham, Ala., store. While the site did not make a single sale in that time, business quickly grew after the storm because it had won the loyalty and appreciation of its customers.
“C-store does not stand for ‘convenience stores’ anymore,” said Budhwani. “It stands for ‘community stores.’ ”
Today, with the support of his family and industry colleagues, Budhwani feels true passion for his profession. But he continues to push himself to learn something new every day, a commitment to education that comes from his Indian upbringing.
“I’m here today to say an average guy like me can make it,” said Budhwani, “as long as you have the passion and love for what you do.”