ATLANTA – Convenience retailing, or life for that matter, can be summed up by the two words of “hope” and “love,” said NACS 2016-17 Chairman Rahim Budhwani during the 2016 NACS Show Closing General Session on Friday.
“Hope is the constant of all things. It's the only thing that stays with you when everything else feels lost. And without love, life has no meaning, no flavor, no passion,” said Budhwani, who is CEO of 6040 LLC, which operates convenience stores, including the Encore brand, in Alabama.
Budhwani used the name of his company to explain the concepts of both love and hope. Originally, he developed the company with a partner who would work in their first store and own 60% of the company while Rahim, the silent partner with another career, would own 40%—thus the name 6040.
But just before the deal closed, his partner had a change of heart. Budhwani was now a 100% owner of a convenience store business—along with his full-time job as a computer programmer, his grad school studies and his newly expanded family with a newborn daughter.
After eight months of working two jobs plus attending graduate school, Budhwani focused exclusively on the convenience retailing industry. His hope that he would survive in the business was complemented by a love for the industry. But he still needed help to grow—and so he turned to local regional groups and NACS.
“NACS delivers amazing connections that improve your business,” Budhwani said. He described his first NACS committee meeting, when he was instantly put at ease, even though he wasn’t sure he belonged there.
"If you need help, just ask for it. Someone will help you. This is part of the culture of NACS and something that I love,” he said. “That first meeting made me want to stay engaged, and become even more active, and it has led me to be here today.”
“NACS also delivers ideas,” Budhwani said. He described insights gained at a NACS Leadership Summit five years ago, which led him to become the first convenience retailer in the state of Alabama to sell growlers.
“We all need to continuously educate ourselves to be successful. Sometimes, we think we know it all. We think we are too busy working to learn more. And that is a big mistake,” Budhwani stressed. “If you don’t get new ideas, you will never really grow your business. And you will never evolve from working in the store to working for the store.”
Of course, not every idea will work, but the key is to try new ideas and learn from your experience, whether you succeed or fail. Budhwani said that the company’s initial push into foodservice was an instant disaster.
“That store was in a heavily Hispanic market. They didn’t want pizza to take to the job site. They wanted the traditional food that they were used eating back home,” Budhwani said. So they evolved the program and built a small 300-square-foot kitchen in the store, with a focus on Hispanic fare like tamales, tacos, tortas and chilaquiles.
From there, Budhwani added a twist, using his background with Indian cuisine, to create chicken curry tacos and maharaja tacos. The new foodservice program—both traditional Hispanic food and Indian fusion—have been so popular that the store was featured on a segment on National Public Radio last year.
But even with the best ideas and execution, convenience retailing is still a people business, he noted. “We exist because of our importance in communities. C-store does not stand for convenience store, it stands for community store,” said Budhwani, who talked about how he provided free food and drinks to first responders helping the community after Hurricane Katrina struck Birmingham in 2005. “We didn’t make one sale at that store for a month—but it grew our business. Our support showed that we cared. And the community noticed.”
That same spirit exists at the NACS Show and at other industry events, he said. “I feel that same sense of community in our industry. People help each other. And groups come together to make the industry better.”
Referencing back to the difficult early days as a new owner of a convenience store business, Budhwani said that things have certainly changed for the better because now he wakes up every day loving what he does, and hopes to become the best at what he does. “I’m here today to say that an average guy like me can make it—as long as you have the passion and the love for what you do,” Budhwani concluded.