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AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. -- There is no guaranteed strategy to recession-proof any business, said Andy Weber. But intelligent marketing could help retailers make their business recession resistant.

Weber, CFO of Roundtree Markets, was joined yesterday by Rich Mione, marketing director at Worsely Cos. Inc., and Chris Havens, formerly with Ultramar Diamond Shamrock Corp. (UDS), in a panel titled "How to Recession-Proof Your Business" at the Convenience Store News Top 50 Forum. The panel was moderated by Claire Pamplin, Editor-In-Chief of CSNews.

The key to surviving a recession, according to Weber, is niche marketing and paying attention to the demographics in the store's marketing area. For example, he said, market directly to consumers with the goods and services they want. Avoid developing cookie-cutter planograms and forcing them onto consumers and into each distinct convenience store.

Mione agreed. "We may have lost some focus on the basics of convenience retailing when gas margins were good," he said. "Now, when they aren't so good, we see more than ever that we need to return that focus by looking more closely at local demographics."

Havens, a former retail operations manager with UDS, now with CEW Enterprises, said UDS developed niche programs by empowering store managers. For example, 37 percent of store managers and associates at the chain are Hispanic. Under his guidance, UDS empowered Hispanic store managers to develop programs that reached out to Hispanic consumers.

"Store employees are a key resource to developing programs that mesh with local demographics," Havens said. "Utilize their experience."

Top 50 Forum continues today with a seminar on fuel marketing and a keynote address from Jim Keyes, president and CEO of Dallas-based 7-Eleven Inc.

Photo: Andy Weber, CFO of Roundtree Markets.