BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Fred Higgins, co-founder of Minit Mart Foods, died April 24. He was 75 years old.
After graduating from Centre College in Danville, Ky., and while attending the University of Kentucky's College of Law, Higgins and his father launched Minit Mart Foods Inc. The new convenience store chain had already expanded to six stores in the Lexington, Ky., region before he graduated from law school in 1969.
His father previously owned the first Stuckey's franchise in the United States, according to NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing.
Following his army service during the Vietnam War, Higgins returned to Bowling Green in 1972 to focus on growing Minit Mart, which at its largest operated 200-plus stores in multiple states. It was also one of the first c-store chains to add fuel pumps.
In 1972, Higgins leased operations to Clark Retail Enterprises, which later declared bankruptcy and returned 37 c-stores to Higgins, which prompted a second career in the convenience store industry, according to NACS. His new company emphasized a combination of convenience and grocery, with strong branded offers in both food and fuel.
Higgins went on to serve as NACS chairman in 1996. During his tenure, he oversaw the growth of technology and standards within the industry. That year the organization also held nacs.tech, later renamed NACStech, its first technology-focused conference, and launched a partnership with the We Card organization.
Higgins was pivotal in strengthening organization's advocacy programs to communicate the voice of convenience retail to members of Congress and the media, NACS said.
"In the beginning, we had to educate ourselves; then we were educating the different groups that affect our industry and have influence. It’s educating legislatures about this industry," Higgins said in 2010, reflecting on his involvement with NACS. "We're still out there educating, it's just a different crowd. The thing that makes me most proud about this industry is having seen it come from its infancy to today. It is regarded as a force."
During his career, Higgins was honored with numerous business awards, including the Kentucky Grocers Association and Kentucky Association of Convenience Stores Convenience Store of the Year and Grocer of the Year; Junior Achievement's Business Hall of Fame; Ernst & Young's Retail Entrepreneur of the Year; and the City of Bowling Green's Spirit of America Award, Citizen of the Year and Outstanding Business Person of the Year.
He was active in his community through the Kids on the Block and Buckhorn Children's Center organizations and served as an elder at The Presbyterian Church in Bowling Green. During several mission trips with his church to South and Central America, Higgins helped install water purification systems to areas that lacked access to clean water.
Higgins is survived by his wife, Kathy Booth Higgins; his daughters Carrie Leigh Thomas, Heather Higgins Jeffrey and Leslie Higgins Embry; two stepchildren, Elizabeth Booth Foley and Mark Booth; and 12 grandchildren.