This month we introduce a new column that explores what’s on the minds of NACS members. Mario Spina kicks us off. Spina is owner and CEO of St. Charles, Illinois-based Parent Petroleum Co., a wholesale supplier of fuel and lubricants. He also owns and operates 15 The PRIDE Stores, which feature three foodservice concepts—PRIDE Cafe, Urban Counter and Taco Urbano—plus a wine & spirits store, along with 93 Octane, a brewery.
What is the biggest challenge facing your business today?
"Our biggest challenge is uncertainty. Uncertainty about COVID-19, government regulations, labor shortages, product outages, customer expectations, plus many more. Our industry is always evolving and changing, but over the past few years we have seen an acceleration of the pace of change in all these areas vastly beyond what I ever envisioned.
One issue that concerns me is the majors getting back into direct operations of retail stores (for instance, bp purchasing sole rights to Thorntons, plus Shell purchasing 248 sites from Landmark group) and competing more with independents for retail gallons and jobber gallons. It’s a hard dynamic. The majors have the price advantage, and they have a huge buying advantage over a lot of local operators. How will this affect the future landscape of the gasoline and convenience store business? Also, with the numerous mergers occurring in the marketplace, how will this affect small to midsize operators? Both of these issues concern me greatly.
Labor’s been hard. We’re starting to see some bright spots, but we’ve cut down the hours in our restaurants quite a bit due to the uncertainty of sales and labor. As business has been coming back, we’ve wanted to open some of our Urban Counter locations for dinner and on Sundays, but we can’t because we are unable to find the staff.
On the fuel and lubricants side of the business, there’s a drag on finding drivers for the trucks.
Getting food product is not as easy as it used to be. We’ve had to tweak the menus at Urban Counter and Taco Urbano. There’s a shortage of chicken wings...all of the big guys are snapping them up. We stopped carrying wings at all the Urban Counters except for the location that services the 93 Octane taproom. Corned beef prices are going up, so we are going to take the Reuben off the menu [at Urban Counter] and hopefully bring it back as a special. We are tweaking commissary items now as well for our grab-and-go selection.
It hasn’t been the easiest time the past few years.”