Taking on Capitol Hill

Brad Call represents the third generation of his family to operate Maverik Inc., a convenience store chain based in North Salt Lake City, Utah, that currently operates 260 locations. As executive vice president of Adventure Culture, Call has been engaged full-time with Maverik since 1998 when his father called to let him know he was retiring.

“I was working as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., for [engineering construction company] Fluor Corp. and have always loved politics,” Call told Convenience Store News. “My father told me he was retiring and I decided to come back to the family business.”

Call has a bachelor of science degree in accounting and a law degree from George Washington Law. Since returning to the c-store industry, he has been involved with NACS, working on the legislative and political action committees within the organization, and he currently serves as the association’s treasurer.

In January, he will take on the role of chairman as Dave Carpenter, president and CEO of J.D. Carpenter Cos. Inc., steps down. In his new post, Call plans to draw upon his political background to help the association achieve its goals on Capitol Hill.

“I feel comfortable engaging in political activity and that is something unique to me that I can bring to the position,” he explained. “We are doing a great job now and I think I will pursue the same agenda, which is to become better and more sophisticated, and a more powerful voice for our issues on Capitol Hill.”

CSNews recently caught up with Call to talk about his plans for the next year and where he thinks the industry is headed in the near future.

CSNews: What do you believe are the biggest challenges facing the c-store industry today and what issues should retailers be prepared to take on?
Call: Swipe fees have been a battle we’ve been engaged in for a number of years and that battle will continue. The Durbin Amendment required the credit card companies to impose reasonable debit swipe fees, and the judge ruled in our favor on just about every count. Now, the banks filed an appeal. The bottom line is the fee schedule is not fair or reasonable, so we are in the throes of that litigation right now.

There is also a push to stereotype our industry as food deserts offering unhealthy choices to the public. It’s unfair because, for the most part, there are so many players in our industry that do such a great job at offering healthy options. At Maverik, we tell people we are pro-choice — you can get a candy bar and soda if you want, but we also have salad and yogurt. However, it’s a stigma that people are trying to stick us with, and it’s an issue we are working on. Menu labeling in our industry is also different than the quick-service restaurants (QSRs), so we are dealing with that, too.

Another big issue is health care. Even though the [Obamacare] rules have been delayed in terms of implementation, we are very much engaged on this front and concerned about the direction it is taking.

CSNews: What are some of the issues you plan to tackle as NACS chairman?
Call: It’s important to me that we support the agenda the executive committee and board of directors laid out for the NACS staff, as well as those who lobby on our behalf. We are currently trying to raise money so we can help elect members to Congress who are favorable on our position.

CSNews: What personal insights or knowledge do you think you can lend to the role and to the industry?
Call: Lucky for me, I was a lobbyist on Capitol Hill for a number of years before I came back into the family c-store business, so when it comes to working there and the passing of legislation, I feel comfortable in that realm. Because of my experience there, I feel comfortable engaging in political activity and that is something unique to me that I can bring to the position. I was also on the legislative committee at NACS for a number of years, as well as the Political Action Committee (PAC).

CSNews: In taking on the role of chairman, what are you most looking forward to?
Call: I just love the organization, and it has a great leader in Hank Armour and a terrific staff. I enjoy working with them and am proud to be associated with them. Also, political advocacy is something I have an affinity for, and I think we are getting a lot better at becoming very relevant on Capitol Hill. The more I can push those efforts along, the better. It is something I am quite interested in. We are doing a great job now and I think I will pursue the same agenda, which is to become better and more sophisticated, and a more powerful voice for our issues on Capitol Hill.

Also, it’s a lot of fun looking at our brothers around the world in Chile and Brazil, who have very innovative and terrific ideas. I’ll definitely be involved in traveling to Europe as well. There is no question there is a global community of c-stores who are on the cutting edge. I have traveled in the past to see these things and will continue to do that in the future.

CSNews: How are you preparing for the chairman role?
Call: I’ve been involved in the organization for a long time and this is the natural evolution of things. I’ve been on the legislative committee for a number of years and on PAC. Currently, I serve on the supplier board as well, and have been one of three retailers in that role for two or three years. It’s about pursuing this agenda together.

CSNews: Is there anything in particular you would like to achieve during your year as chairman?
Call: A ruling by the legislators that swipe fees are 7 cents per transaction! At least something considerably lower than what it is today. This is a game of inches really, and you battle for years and years, and finally you can put the football over the goal line. But nothing happens quickly.

CSNews: Looking toward the future, what do you think the c-store industry will look like five years from now? Call: I think there is no question our industry is becoming very adept and a lot better at foodservice, and there is no question we will all be much better at that business in the coming years. I think many of us compete head to head with the QSRs now and I see that trend continuing. I also see us changing the perception of our industry in terms of the offerings we have in the stores. Maverik has bakeries at every single store and we make the bread and sandwiches fresh. That is not something we get a lot of credit for right now, so I think in five years, that will be the first thing we see.

I also think alternative fuels will play a bigger role. Right now, we have 17 sites that offer diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) and natural gas, and you will see a lot of us getting into that business more as well.

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