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Industry Rapid Response: NACS

March 26, 2020

NACS is a Partnership for a Healthier America partner.

With COVID-19 impacting daily life in America at all levels, the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) is spotlighting the impact of and responses to the current pandemic through a series of Q&As with our partners.

NACS represents the 152,000-plus store convenience retailing industry and provides resources and insights to help its members remain competitive in an ever-changing climate. Since 2017, NACS has partnered with PHA to make the healthy choice the easy choice for the nearly 160 million Americans who visit a convenience store each day.

Q&A: Jeff Lenard, Vice President of Strategic Industry Initiatives, NACS

What are the real-time impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on NACS, your operations, and your staff?

Staff operations was one of several areas we focused on in team meetings when we began to address four broad issues:

  1. How might we help our members prepare for and address issues related to the virus?
  2. How might we collaborate with other groups to share resources and speed the development or communications of them?
  3. How do we evaluate the viability of holding in-person events and over what timeframe?
  4. What do we need to consider in how this crisis affects our office operations?

These big issues brought into focus the whole point of why NACS exists: to serve our members and to advocate on their behalf. There are revenue implications at play, but we are also focused on protecting the health and safety of our most important resource: our colleagues.

We’ve invested an enormous amount in culture, which has really paid off in how we have adapted through this new reality of social distancing to ensure that working at home does not feel like working alone. If anything, we are overcommunicating with each other and tapping into some underused tools like Microsoft Teams.

How are you maintaining continuity of services during this time of uncertainty?

This isn’t our first introduction to crisis management, whether related to our members’ operations or our own. There is always something that can disrupt fuel supply – convenience stores sell 80% of the fuel purchased in the country – or disrupt normal cycles of life.

Hurricanes are, by far, the biggest disruptor in our industry. In 2005 with Hurricane Katrina, we were not only faced with assisting members in the Gulf area and with addressing fuel outages across the country, but we also had to decide what to do about our annual NACS Show, which was to take place six weeks later in New Orleans. In this case, we looked at three core questions:

  1. Can we move the show to another city if New Orleans cannot hold it?
  2. Can we do it on a world-class level?
  3. What can come off the plate that no one would notice to make this all possible?

After answering those questions, the process became much more focused.

Today’s pandemic has some similarities to a hurricane, but it’s global instead of regional, and there’s no way to yet assess the damage and when the damage will end. Still, the same focus on defining what’s important can greatly simplify how you attack a problem of any scale.

What role do you see convenience stores needing to play during this time of national crisis?

Convenience stores are in every community in the country. In times of crisis, they are often the last to close and the first to open once it is safe to do so to provide fuel and sustenance to emergency workers, among others. In a sense, we are the first responders to the first responders. In a larger sense, convenience stores are part of people’s everyday routines. The sooner we get them back to their routines, the quicker everyone begins to feel normal after a crisis.

But today’s disruption and redefinition of retail is all because of a challenge. That’s totally new – and it is scary. But at the same time, it allows everyone to look at new ideas through the lens that things are changing – and you need to be part of that change.

What advice does your organization have for Americans trying to keep healthy during the coronavirus pandemic?

As we face a pandemic, health is critical. There are obvious ways to minimize your risk of catching the virus, such as washing hands regularly and practicing social isolation. But there are also other practices that can help you. As the weather gets nicer, spend more time outside, as much as you safely can. Along with that, moderation in what you consume is important. And take care of your mind. How you manage stress is vital. Try to focus on the things you can control and set aside the things you can’t.

For those that want to assist your organization right now, what direction are you giving and what needs do you have?

The first and most important thing we do is listen. If you look at every retail disruption since 1872, when Montgomery Ward introduced the first general interest mail-order catalog, disruption was caused by innovation. But today’s disruption and redefinition of retail is all because of a challenge. That’s totally new – and it is scary. But at the same time, it allows everyone to look at new ideas through the lens that things are changing – and you need to be part of that change.

Do you have any personal tips or lessons to share from your own experiences managing the response to coronavirus?

Certainly, focus on the work at hand. There is plenty to do. But also focus on your own needs because this isn’t a sprint – and it could be a marathon. And communication is essential. It’s what you say, of course, to your members and to media. But it’s also what you say to your team members. With more stress and uncertainty, don’t add to it by forwarding emails with no context. Tell them why they are getting an email and what you think is of interest so they can do something with the information. Yes, it takes longer, but you will get further. And communication is also what you don’t say. Keep a focus on the end goal and try to avoid blaming or complaining, which doesn’t solve anything.