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John MacDougall, chairman and founder, Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes

When and why did you first join the convenience industry?
In 1966, I joined The Bruthers Co. of Cleveland, Ohio, a marketing and advertising consulting firm. Whenever they signed a new account, I was assigned to get them up and running. Bruthers took on Stop N Go, from of Trotwood, Ohio, as a client. Stop N Go was a pioneer in the convenience franchise business, selling their program to dairies across the Great Lakes region to help them compete with larger supermarkets. Through Bruthers Co. and Stop N Go, convenience stores became a major focus for me.

What made you stay in the industry?
I understood the value of the convenience concept immediately. At that point there were only about 3,000 c-stores, and between 1966 and 1971, that number was exploding. I saw that society was also changing drastically -- speeding up -- and that convenience and time were becoming precious commodities. I also discovered that I had a real talent with people. So it seemed as though I had been delivered to the right place at the right time.

What is the most remarkable thing you've experienced, seen or learned while in the industry?
I've learned that this industry remains to this day essentially a people business. I realized long ago that you had to build strong personal relationships with the "holy trinity" -- your employee, your customer and your supplier. From the outside, we might appear to be all about moving product, but from the inside, I know that we are all about people -- serving their wants and needs.

In what ways has the industry changed during your time that you didn't anticipate?
I didn't anticipate the dominance fuel would have. When I joined the industry in 1966, very few stores offered gas. A very minor number. By the early '70s, gas was quickly becoming much more prevalent. By the '80s, it seemed as though Big Oil had taken over the industry.

What has been the biggest change you have seen in the industry since you started?
Again, the influence of Big Oil. At one point they represented 75 percent of the top 20 chains. They also changed the industry focus. More efficiencies, higher margins, lower inventories, fewer employees and hours. Some things were gained from that change of focus, but much was lost, also. The other big change was how much foodservice has grown within a particular sector of the industry and how much its growth has been fueled by the customer.

In the past 40 years, what has had the biggest influence on the c-store industry?
Changes within society in general. Things are faster paced, lives are more complex and the need for convenience is greater than ever. Keep in mind that in 1966, there were more stay-at-home moms. Shopping was done at the grocery store and meals were cooked at home. With more women in the workforce, being able to help all those folks trying to get to work, get home and get things done is something our industry can do better than any other. The great c-store companies are filling that role now. I believe we (Nice N Easy) are one of them.

What has changed in the industry that you would like to bring back?
While I appreciate the importance of metrics and efficiencies, I'd like to see a more focused approach to the wants and needs of the customer. We need to rebuild that relationship, make it more personal, more one-on-one. I think we've become too impersonal and need to get back to basics. "One on One" would be a good industry PR campaign.

What c-store product do you like the most?
Beer!! Beer has helped me survive 40 years in this business and made me the man I am today. You might say I was "built by Bud."

What c-store product do you dislike the most?
Video Rentals! There was nothing good about them. They took up space, time and made no money.

If you were to open your own chain of c-stores, what would you name them? Why?
I would name them Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes! And I did!

What is the most interesting c-store name you've seen over the years?
I have to say Nice N Easy. When I scan down the list of company names at the NACS Show, I see lots of variations of Quick, Easy, etc. I see only our company under "Nice." I like that. I think it's appropriate because, along with being an "easy" place to shop, being "nice" is what has secured our success.

What is the most important event to happen in your career? How has that impacted your current role?
In 1980, I was ready to leave New York State when Dick Clark, president of Clark Petroleum of Canastota, N.Y., offered me half of a new company he was starting, plus an opportunity to be president and CEO. I am still occupying that role almost 30 years later. Only now I own the whole company!

Which business person in the industry do you most admire?
That's tough because I admire so many people that I almost fear insulting someone for not mentioning them. I have to put Drayton McLane on my list because he enabled even small companies to grow and be successful through his wholesale distribution companies and by supplying them access to sound data through PDI. Also, (7-Eleven co-founders) the Thompson brothers -- the "Godfathers of Convenience." I would be remiss if I did not mention how much I admire the many people within Nice N Easy who have made us successful and one of the most respected companies in the industry.
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