CORONA, Calif. — When the 2015-2016 NACS chairman gavel was handed to Jack Kofdarali at last year’s NACS Show closing general session, he had some advice for all the audience members: “Test your limits. Test the unknown. And work together to get better.”
This message remains tried-and-true for Kofdarali, president of Corona, Calif.-based J&T Management Inc., as he closes the chapter on his chairmanship of NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, and prepares to pass the gavel to his successor.
Identifying as a “small operator” in terms of store count, one of Kofdarali’s greatest accomplishments as NACS chairman has been the opportunity to connect with other small operators, as well as learn and grow both professionally and personally.
“As a small operator myself, I’m proud of the fact to have connected with more of my peers, and helped introduce many to the advantages of being involved with NACS and how it’s helped me grow and improve my own business,” Kofdarali told Convenience Store News.
Although he is excited for all that the 2016 NACS Show has to offer retailers — big and small — there is one educational track he’s particularly looking forward to: the Small Operator Training Sessions. New this year, these sessions are specially designed for attendees from companies with fewer than five stores, and open only to them. Topics covered will include positive upselling, growing your customer base, inventory management, and financial ghostbusters.
“I believe these sessions are vital to a small operator’s survival. Our business is getting tougher each day. Any tool to help navigate the road to success is great, and these NACS Show sessions will help provide that,” Kofdarali explained.
20 YEARS IN THE MAKING
Kofdarali’s own road to success has had its fair share of challenges along the way. Growing up on the streets of Beirut, Lebanon, during a 15-year civil war, he developed instincts and courage, which ultimately helped him become successful in business.
His family came to the United States in 1980 and entered the convenience store industry with the purchase of a Calimesa, Calif., gas station in 1990, which Kofdarali later transitioned into J&R Oil Co. The company ultimately expanded into J&T Management as the business continued to grow and its interests diversified to include the development of commercial retail centers across Southern California; the ownership and management of apartments in Texas; and business operations oversight for c-store and fuel retailers.
When Kofdarali began attending the NACS Show nearly 20 years ago, he was a small operator with two stores. Fast forward to 2015 and 28 stores later, he had become the largest Arco/ampm owner and operator in California.
In the past year, he sold 24 of those stores due to high demand in the Golden State. He credits this professional accomplishment to the NACS team and the resources made available to him at the NACS Show. “That sale has literally changed our family’s life,” he expressed.
On a personal level, Kofdarali and his wife Taline have too many friends to count as a result of attending the NACS Show every year. These friends have become a part of their personal lives — not just during the show, but year-round.
“One person in particular I’ve become very close with is Brad Call, previous NACS chairman. Brad and I have not only become great family friends, but we have also become great business partners, working on projects throughout California, building new stores in various areas together,” Kofdarali shared. “We are both very passionate about this industry and are very excited to be doing this together.”
ONE GREAT TAKEAWAY
Reflecting on his first NACS Show 20 years ago and the personal and professional journey it has taken him on since, Kofdarali has some key pieces of advice for c-store operators in attendance at the 2016 NACS Show, regardless of how many times they’ve been here before.
“Start early. Stay late. Soak in all the training sessions. Walk the show floor. Make new contacts. Ask lots of questions. You want to go back to your own business with a lot more knowledge and connections than you came in with,” he encouraged. “One great idea can change your life. One great contact can help you solve problems you never thought you could solve. Everything matters.”
If Kofdarali has learned anything this past year while on the road as NACS chairman, it is that the future of convenience stores will be spearheaded by foodservice.
“It’s become more clear to me how important it is to have a food offering with our c-store. Our industry is moving toward that, but not fast enough. … I think food will play a huge role in our stores moving forward,” he emphasized. “Those of us who want to remain relevant and succeed will need to have a great food offering, one with healthy choices for the consumer.”
Having sold the majority of his former stores, Kofdarali is now in the process of building new c-stores, as well as franchised store locations with well-established brands on the West Coast such as Arco/ampm and Circle K. Headed in the new direction of foodservice-driven convenience stores, the outgoing chairman is also working with his partner on a new concept driven by food offerings, which Kofdarali hopes to bring to the market within the next year or two.