“My involvement with NACS made me both a better, and larger operator,” 2009-2010 NACS Chairman of the Board Jay Ricker shared with a packed house during a general session presentation at the NACS Show in Las Vegas last week.
“I’m a pretty typical retailer… an oilman my whole life,” Ricker said. But the connections that he and his wife Nancy developed-both through NACS and a variety of state and national groups-”gave us insight into some incredibly innovative companies,” said Ricker, president of Anderson, Indiana-based Ricker Oil Company.
Ricker cited three passions that he believes are unique to the convenience and petroleum retailing industry: an interest in sharing ideas and best practices, a connection with the customer and engaging with both the media and elected officials.
“Sharing is what our industry is all about,” said Ricker. “Look at what we have here [at the NACS Show]. Talk to any supplier here-this just does not happen in other industries.”
Ricker said that the industry thrives because of how ideas-and friendships-are shared, through study groups, where non-competing retailers literally open their books to compare metrics and share best practices. “But you do more than compare numbers. In a sense, you create an instant board of directors for your company,” said Ricker, adding that NACS has nurtured and continues to support the growth of study groups.
Retailers can share all of the greatest ideas in the world, Ricker noted, but successful operations never lose sight of their customers.
“The Ricker name is on our stores but that is not our brand,” he said. “I truly believe that our employees and how they treat our customers is our brand.” Think from the customer perspective, he suggested, and if it means giving something away to satisfy a customer, do it. “When I hear stories about how our people solved problems or delighted customers, that truly is what gives me the greatest satisfaction in this business,” he said.
Ricker’s said that his third passion-developing relationships with the media and elected officials-has helped him as his business has expanded.
Ricker noted that he has enjoyed a strong relationship with Representative Mike Pence (R-IN), the third-ranking Republican in the House who has served Ricker’s district for the better part of a decade. “He knows my business and my issues because of the relationship that NACS helped me build,” Ricker said.
But when Ricker bought new stores last year, he entered a new market and a new congressional district. “I didn’t know my representative there. And he didn’t know me. That’s not a good combination,” Ricker said.
Ricker, through his grassroots involvement with NACS, met his new U.S. Representative Andre Carson (R-IN) and he recently hosted a fundraiser for the congressman. “Now we have a relationship, and an open dialogue,” he said.
Ricker added said that with NACS’ support, he’s also been engaged with the media to tell the industry’s story. “I think we’ve all done a spectacular job on issues like gas prices and credit card fees. We’re getting our message out, and we were able to help define our issues,” he said. “Whether with Congress or the media, we have to continue to engage them. Otherwise, bad things can happen. We all need to act locally on advocacy. I urge you to work with your local newspaper, your state legislators, your congressmen, to support NACS’ national outreach,” he added.
Ricker concluded by noting that his passions are closely aligned with the NACS mission: to provide such compelling value that NACS membership is indispensable for success.
“We are all part of an incredible, industry that shares best practices,” he said. “That’s knowledge. Our passion for customer service is really about connections. And our engagement with the media and our elected leaders is all about advocacy. Knowledge, connections and advocacy: Whether you own one store or 500, or somewhere in between, those are the principles that bind us together, and will make us all better. And that is the mission I am proud to continue to advance as your NACS chair.”