The Road to NACS Chairman, Part 2: Representing Convenience At Large
ALEXANDRIA, Va. — New NACS Chairman Frank Gleeson, president of Aramark Northern Europe, is most looking forward to spending his tenure assisting in the association's international agenda, bringing the NACS community to a wider audience.
"Participating in different industry events by serving as a leader in presenting key issues will keep me motivated, and is certainly something I'm looking forward to as I'm ultimately representing my peers from the industry," Gleeson, whose one-year term kicked off in October at the 2018 NACS Show in Las Vegas, told Convenience Store News.
Being named the first-ever European chairman of NACS is a "huge honor," according to Gleeson, who replaced outgoing NACS chairman Joe Sheetz, president and CEO of Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz Inc., which operates 600 convenience stores in six states.
With an extensive 30-year career that has included stints in entertainment retail, liquor store chain management and convenience and fuel retailing, Gleeson will bring his attributes of being "a people person" and "an industry person" to the position.
"I like to do the right thing and represent the right areas that I'm passionate about, like driving a healthier agenda on the NACS platform, making sure that government legislation is legislation that helps our industry and our owners, employees and consumers," he explained.
Gleeson sees legislation as among the greatest challenges facing the c-store industry at large because categories that may make consumers unhealthy are becoming targets.
"It's not about the question of having the right legislation to combat some of the societal challenges around health and wellbeing; it's about having wider conversations about health and moderation than it is about taxes on things like tobacco and sugar," he said.
Some of the other challenges Gleeson observes are:
- Prominence of the environmental agenda. "This isn't just happening on the fuel side, but with bans on plastic and the focus on recyclable packaging strengthening."
- Availability of labor and labor costs. "We're seeing pressure in the metro Western markets with costs going up, and getting quality, well-trained people who are motivated is the challenge."
There are some opportunities that will continue to grow for the betterment of the c-store industry, offsetting the challenges, Gleeson said. Digitalization is one such opportunity.
"People are consuming and interacting in different ways, so you need to stay at the forefront of digital, which will help with the efficiency challenge," he explained. "Digitalization is both a threat and an opportunity: it's a threat if you don't do it and it's an opportunity if you do do it."
Looking back 20-30 years ago, smokes and cokes were considered the two categories customers typically purchased the most at gas stations and c-stores. But today, foodservice is at the helm of what drives most c-store businesses, both small and large.
"Foodservice is a huge trend that will continue, so my advice to anybody thinking about improving their business is think beyond your old gas station/c-store categories and think about foodservice as a really important category going forward," Gleeson advised.
Another critical consideration for retailers is the need for continuous innovation.
"It's easy to say and hard to do, but what I've seen in the convenience channel is that those who are progressive and want to challenge the current norm are the ones who are ready in terms of pushing their businesses forward and tend to be the ones who do best," he said. "You see it driving around the U.S. or in Europe that the ones who are the most progressive tend to be the ones who last the longest."
On the Horizon
For the journey ahead, Gleeson suggests c-store operators continue to learn and listen to what's going on in the industry, and also to their own customers.
"It's not the strongest who survive — it's the ones who are the most adaptable to change," he said.
As for what he hopes to achieve during his time as NACS chairman, he told CSNews that he'll consider it an accomplishment if the industry is saying, "Frank did a good job and represented [us] in a professional way."
More important, according to Gleeson, are the accomplishments of NACS as a team.
"I'm just one person representing a large organization of retailers, staffers and suppliers who are really hardworking. I give compliments to the executive leadership of NACS — not just the committee, but the NACS staffers who work tirelessly to support the members and are passionate and committed," he commented. "So, I wouldn't take any credit because I think the achievement is for them."