What C-Store Executive Is Speaking at the Republican Convention?

Industry pioneer not the only speaker with convenience-store connection

Greg Lindenberg, Editor, CSP

Republican National Convention 2016

CLEVELAND -- The Republican National Convention began in Cleveland this week, bringing together former rivals, past presidential hopefuls, politicians, former military leaders, astronauts, entertainers and business executives—including at least one from the convenience-store and retail gasoline industry.

The GOP convention, July 18-21, will host approximately 2,470 delegates and 2,302 alternate delegates from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five territories. The Democratic National Convention will take place July 25-28 in Philadelphia.

The conventions will take one of the most unusual and most contentious presidential election cycles in recent times into the home stretch to November for a presumptive matchup between GOP candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Speakers at the GOP convention include Melania Trump, Indiana governor and presumptive vice presidential candidate Mike Pence, former mayor of New York Rudi Giuliani, New Jersey governor Chis Christie, neurosurgeon Ben Carson, former Texas governor Rick Perry, U.S. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (Wis.), U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (Texas), U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Wisconsin governor Scott Walker and more.

The event also features a vast undercard of additional speakers, from entertainers and reality-show celebrities such as Scott “Joanie Loves Chachi” Baio and Willie “Duck Dynasty” Robertson, to executives from the world of business.

Once such executive is Phil Ruffin, whom the GOP convention press release describes as “an American businessman with diverse interests in real estate, lodging, manufacturing, energy and retail enterprises. Ruffin started his business in 1959 with a single convenience store and quickly grew to own 65 stores in four states. He currently holds 12 hotels in Kansas, Maryland, California, Oklahoma, Texas and Alabama.”

Ruffin, a college dropout, scraped together the money for his first business venture, a c-store, according to a 2009 Las Vegas Sun report. In 1972, Kansas became one of the first states in the nation to legalize self-serve gas stations, and Ruffin became a self-service pioneer. He accumulated a chain of more than 60 convenience stores in the Midwest. Ruffin used cash from the c-stores to build his first hotel, a Marriott in Wichita, Kansas, in 1987. He also had businesses including oil distribution and one of the country’s largest manufacturers of hand trucks. In 1994, Ruffin signed a 20-year contract to lease his c-store locations to Total, a French oil company, for $2.2 million a year. That money fueled the purchase of additional hotels, said the report.

And there’s another c-store industry connection to the GOP convention. Pence’s family business, Columbus, Ind.-based Kiel Bros. Oil, operated a chain of more than 200 gas stations, convenience stores and cigarettes stores under the name “Tobacco Road.” The company filed for bankruptcy and sold off its stores in 2004.