Jenny Bullard politely chuckles when she meets young IT types who don’t know they’re using NACS technology standards.
She remembers the 1990s, when NACS first gathered retailers and suppliers to address the insane amount of incompatibility between c-store devices. Today, Bullard serves as a touchstone for the channel’s long involvement with technology and its collective desire to master the digital age.
Though Bullard has moved into semiretirement from a stint at Circle K and 44 years at the Waycross, Ga.-based Flash Foods chain of 160 stores, she remains active among convenience-retailing techies as the manager of member engagement for Conexxus, Alexandria, Va.
“I realized I still have a passion for the industry and its technology,” she says. “It’s hard to walk away.”
Bullard started with Flash Foods in accounting, when the company handled all of its warehouse and c-store business with office ledgers and handwritten checks. The company would eventually move to an IBM System/3 platform, which would lead Bullard to “IBM school.” In 1997, she was pivotal in bringing Flash Foods to the forefront of scanning and pricebook, developing and procuring equipment, back- office solutions, networks and computers to fully automate the stores.
By 2004, executives with Flash Foods were determined to bring item-level accounting to their chain. Bullard says the motivation came from their wholesale business and the need to cut down on stagnant inventory, manage shelf life and reduce shrink.
While many chains today still use retail-cost accounting (tracking items by category rather than by SKUs), Flash Foods was able to work internally and with vendors to cut costs, maximize revenue and secure the right products in the right amounts up and down the supply chain.
In 2008, high credit-card fees forced the company to implement an incentive program that would channel customers into automated clearing house (ACH) or offline settlement. That move led to its loyalty initiative and its GoBlue plastic-card payment infrastructure, which would then act as the platform for yet another pioneering move in 2013: mobile payment.
Throughout these decades of innovation, Bullard’s involvement in the entity that would become Conexxus made her a constant resource for retailers wanting to improve their businesses through technology.
She has proven to be such a powerful role model that her son David Bullard would follow in her footsteps, rising up the ranks at Flash Foods with his work on retail point-of-sale. “My interest [in technology] was piqued when mom would come home and talk about a new project or new idea,” David says.
After the Jones Cos. sold Flash Foods to CST Brands in 2016, and CST Brands was sold to Alimentation Couche-Tard a year later, David ended up as IT special projects manager for Circle K’s South Atlantic business unit.
Throughout that experience, Jenny’s mentorship inspired David, who now carries her legacy into a new era of technological change.
Surprisingly, despite her tech bona fides, Jenny has no enthusiasm for shiny, disruptive objects.
“I’m a bit of a realist,” she says. “I’m more excited about using data to our best advantage and meeting customer needs. I’m excited about the internet of things and connecting devices to make data richer.
44 years—How long Jenny Bullard worked for Flash Foods