ALEXANDRIA, Va. — As his term as 2022-2023 NACS Chairman draws to a close, Don Rhoads doesn't see it as an ending but as one more step in an ongoing effort to advocate for and improve the convenience store industry.
In his role, Rhoads looked beyond his appointment to focus on what the industry needs during the next three to five years while also building initiatives and programs that will meet future needs.
"I think I am most proud of how the next generation is building upon our accomplishments and taking them further," Rhoads told Convenience Store News. "I see it in my son Donnie actively engaged in NACS, whether talking to members of Congress at the NACS Day on the Hill or attending the suite of NACS Executive Leadership opportunities. And, of course, attending the NACS Show."
Rhoads, who is president and CEO of Vancouver, Wash.-based The Convenience Group LLC, which operates and franchises eight neighborhood convenience stores in Washington and Oregon, pointed to age verification solution TruAge and THRIVR, an integrated social media, reputation and listings management solution, as NACS initiatives he is particularly proud of.
"And, of course, there are plenty of legislative and regulatory initiatives, especially in pushing forward credit card swipe fee reform," he said.
An industry veteran, Rhoads first began his convenience store industry career in 1989 as president of Vancouver, Wash.-based Quick Shop Minit Mart. In 2000, he joined The Convenience Group and has since led it in strategic growth, planning and establishment of long-term goals and policies.
As chairman and leader of the NACS Executive Committee, Rhoads continued to support two c-store industry issues he says he is passionate about: community and people.
"I strongly believe in being actively engaged in our communities. It's good for the community, and it's good for business," he said. "Whether it's your customers or your employees, purpose matters. They want to know what you believe in — and how you support those beliefs."
Rhoads spoke about these same issues during his remarks at a 2022 NACS Show general session, when he described how c-stores "lift our communities." This includes the growth of NACS' 24/7 Day, the signature event of the NACS Foundation Response Relief program, which for the last five years has recognized the first responders that serve their communities every hour of every day.
"It also gives our industry a chance to celebrate how we play a role in serving those first responders by being there when they need us — 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said. "We went from a handful of companies joining the program in our first year to more than 70 brands representing more than 30,000 stores this year — plus additional commitment from our supplier community."
Additionally, NACS strengthens its community ties by partnering with outside organization like Feeding America, the American Red Cross and Keep America Beautiful to address food- and nutrition-related issues, support disaster relief and beautify neighborhoods.
"A community isn't a bunch of people who live in proximity to each other," Rhoads said. "A community is a group of people who care about each other and take care of each other."
A longtime c-store leader, Rhoads has witnessed many changes to the industry, including those that were prompted by events coming from outside the channel.
"Certainly, the effect of the pandemic still has ramifications. So has the polarization of politics and everyday life, which was partially accelerated by the pandemic," he said. "I'm an optimist, so I believe that the effect of the pandemic and polarization will lessen over time, and we can get back to just treating each other better as a society."
Rhoads believes progress is already being made, something he saw during the three road trips he took as NACS chairman. He visited more than 70 c-stores in total during these trips with the goal of meeting and talking to frontline employees.
"We ask a lot of them — whether it's policies and procedures or implementing increasingly complex systems — and they deliver," he said. "I was so gratified to talk to them in stores — and in most cases they had no idea that I was going to visit — and hear what they think about our industry and our future."
Frontline employees aren't just the daily face of the c-store industry, according to Rhoads. "They also are our heart," he added.
Rhoads shared that, to a certain extent, serving as NACS chairman is similar to having children, in that time passes quickly but is also rewarding. He advised his successor to try to slow things down and find the time to dig in a little to learn more about the industry beyond their existing knowledge.
As for Rhoads, he isn't done contributing.
"I'm going to continue to focus on my passions and how I can use my platform — whether as a community business or a NACS leader — to make us better," he said. "And that never has a term limit associated with it."