New Year's celebrations to usher in the year 2000 were tempered by fears over Y2K — how would computer programs that never took into account anything beyond the year 1999 operate? It turned out that they worked fine, for the most part. Still, that doesn't mean the decade wasn't without its challenges.
The chaos and uncertainty in the hours after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, caused great uncertainty in the fuels market. NACS worked with the media to explain market conditions and lessen wild accusations of gouging. Ethnic hostility was also a concern in the hours after the attacks. NACS quickly developed online information kits to give retailers information to help educate their customers about the situation.
Retailer concerns over credit and debit card interchange fees was a dominant theme throughout the decade. By 2001, NACS found that interchange fees ranked second among retailers' top concerns about the motor fuels category.
Three years later NACS cofounded the Merchants Payments Coalition to address increasingly outrageous interchange fees. By decade's end, the coalition's member associations collectively represented about 2.7 million stores with approximately 50 million employees. And, to further identify these fees, the group had a new name for interchange fees: swipe fees.
NACS led the fight for swipe fees on several fronts. In 2005, it was one of several groups to file a class-action lawsuit against Visa, MasterCard and their member banks alleging that they engage in collusive practices by setting credit card interchange fees at supracompetitive levels.
The convenience retailing industry also took the issue of outrageous swipe fees straight to their customers. Beginning in 2009 with 7-Eleven, three waves of consumer petition campaigns took place, resulting in 5.4 million customer signatures asking Congress to fix the broken system. This petition drive was, by far, the largest in American history on a single public policy issue.
The issue of gasoline prices put NACS retail members in the spotlight throughout the decade and NACS responded by creating the annual "gas price kit" in 2001. The kits were designed to educate the general public about the basics of fuels retailing: who sells gas, how much (or little) they make and the link between oil and gas prices. The kits went a long way towards explaining market conditions when gas prices topped $2 in 2004, $3 in 2005, and $4 in 2008.
As gas prices throughout the decade increased, allegations of gouging actually decreased, as a result of the information disseminated in the gas price kits and in NACS' advocacy on Capitol Hill.
A Focus on the Industry
Throughout 2000, NACS reorganized its structure, member committees, programs and initiatives to come into alignment with five focus statements created by Chairman Dean Durling of Quick Chek Food Stores:
1. Defend and grow our core categories
2. Pursue strategies to generate new sales on our real estate
3. Define and promote the characteristics of an employer of choice
4. Seek out and promote the industry’s contributions
5. Help the industry become the efficient channel of trade
These focus statements guided the association and its retail members both operationally and politically through advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill — protecting retailers against threats to tobacco, motor fuels and lottery — to driving efficiencies through the supply chain and repositioning the image of convenience stores with positive industry media messages.
Early on in the decade the industry was acutely aware of the evolution of retail channel blurring among the convenience store, grocery, drug and mass merchandisers formats. To stand out as the consumer retail format of choice, NACS introduced the Cool New Products Showcase at the NACS Show in 2000 to help retailers identify new products and services that meet the needs of consumer demands, as well as help retailers establish a competitive edge as the destination for new and exciting in-store merchandise.
NACS also took a lead role in cultivating a positive industry image with The Dangerfield Project, named after the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield who "couldn't get no respect." In the first year of this project, NACS landed front-page stories on the industry's economic role in major U.S. newspapers including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today and the L.A. Times. More than 1,000 articles were published, drawing interviews with NACS members, Board members and staff. By decade's end, NACS had conducted thousands of media interviews, and held media training course that helped retailers effectively amplify the industry’s top messages.
After Hurricane Katrina made landfall in August 2005, the entire U.S. petroleum infrastructure was significantly disrupted.
During this time retailers struggled to keep supplies flowing and fought off price-gouging allegations. NACS and its members successfully quashed price-gouging legislation that was trying to move through Congress. On September 7, 2005, then-NACS Chairman Bill Douglass, CEO of Douglass Distributing Co., testified before the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee on price gouging, saying, Such allegations are personally offensive to me, and in general, they reflect a lack of understanding of the market events that have led to the gasoline and diesel fuel price spikes of the last 10 days.”
Hurricane Katrina did more than disrupt the country’s petroleum infrastructure in 2005. The NACS Show was scheduled to take place in October 2005 in New Orleans. NACS was able to relocate the NACS Show to Las Vegas on 10 weeks’ notice, as opposed to the usual year of planning — and drew more than 22,000 attendees and the second-largest expo to date.
Change was also afoot in 2005, but the transition was seamless. In July 2005, after 24 years of serving as NACS President and CEO, Kerley LeBoeuf retired. Hank Armour, a retailer who had been serving on the NACS Board of Directors since 1994 and was the association’s chairman both 2002 and 2003, succeeded LeBoeuf as the new association leader.
Also in 2005, the U.S. Civil War officially ended. More accurately, a tax to fund it, which was largely paid by the convenience store industry, was permanently repealed. The repeal of the special occupational tax (SOT) on alcohol, which cost stores selling alcohol products $250 per year, saved the industry more than $59 million per year. And it was just one of many NACS victories on Capitol Hill.
However, there were also a few projects NACS initiated that didn't pan out as planned. One being C-StoreMatrix.Com Inc., launched in May 2000, as platform for online industry business-to-business exchanges. Ironically, this project was simply launched too soon before its time — case in point, today's world of social media.
NACS still had plenty of success with technology. In 2000, NACS hired its first information technology officer, John Hervey. Electronic invoicing and reconciliation using eXtensible Mark-up Language (XML) soon followed. By decades end, NACS had ventured into social media as well.
And as the convenience and fuel retailing industry continued to grow, so did the need for NACS to communicate information and assessments of top issues and government relations activities on Capitol Hill. On September 4, 2001, NACS launched the NACS Daily e-newsletter, featuring quick and timely news updates, and later in March 2002, NACS members received the inaugural issue of NACS Magazine. Also in 2001, NACS published the first online fuels report to address common consumer questions about the U.S. petroleum market by providing a unique insight into the world of gasoline retailing.
Video also increasingly became a part of how NACS communicates. NACS TV was introduced in 2007 at the NACS Show and in 2008 video took an enormous leap forward as then-NACS Chairman Richard Oneslager visited stores and customers on a 3,000-mile road trip, captured on NACS TV.