the quest for excellence

CSD’s Chain of the Year Award may have seemed like a ’contrarian’ strategy in 1990. Now in its 17th year, the award program plays an increasingly vital industry role.

The convenience store industry in 1990, to use a boxing analogy favored by us Philadelphians, looked a little like Rocky Balboa answering the bell for the final round of his title bout against Apollo Creed.

Cuts above both black eyes, bruised and bleeding— reminders of the batteringthe industry was taking, both on the balance sheet and in the mainstream media.Some of the biggest and best-known chains in the industry— Southland,Circle K, NCS and others—were about to declare bankruptcy. Many storeswere dirty, poorly lit and magnets for crime. While the press rained punch afterpunch into our mid-section, banks and other lenders were running as fast asthey could in the other direction, wanting nothing to do with an over-leveragedindustry that overpaid for acquisitions and then under-executed in terms ofassimilating them into efficient, cohesive units.

In retrospect, it was a heck of a time to launch an award for convenience retailing excellence (let alone a new convenience store publication). But that’s exactly what we did, and here’s why: As a business magazine, Convenience Store Decisions has always believed that one of its roles is to be an advocate for the industry. And as we began to look at the c-store business more closely in that first year of publication, we quickly realized that the contributions of many innovative, well-run companies were being overshadowed by the “sins” of a few chains that were in trouble.

At a time when the consumer media were focusing on what was wrong with the convenience store business, we wanted to help shine a spotlight on what was right with it.

So we chose to recognize convenience retailers that were doing an excellent job of serving customers, in stores that were bright, clean and well-run. Our goal then was to help convey to both the mainstream media and the financial communities that the convenience store industry was populated by well-managed, entrepreneurial companies that are among the most successful, most profitable enterprises anywhere.

Today, the industry has made dramatic advances in its image and performance, and the Chain of the Year Award continues to serve as a symbol of convenience retailing excellence. Winners set high standards that are consistently recognized as industry benchmarks.

I have personally had a hand in researching and writing about 14 of our 16Chain of the Year winners, and one of the things that continually impressesme is how each of these companies charts a slightly different course to excellence.That is both a tribute to the ingenuity, creativity and entrepreneurialism ofour industry, and a testament to the vitality it continues to enjoy. It’s partof the beauty and the fun of this business for those of us privileged to writeabout it every day.

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