E-Z Mart Pursuing Upgrades to Stores, Products

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, May. 26, 2014 12:00 am  

Sonja Hubbard took the reins of E-Z Mart after the 1998 death of her father, Jim Yates, the company’s founder. She has learned to trust herself and her decisions. | (Photo by Martin Patterson)

Sonja Hubbard describes herself as a “fixer.” And as a fixer, the CEO of E-Z Mart Inc. is searching for just the right mix of products and services for the company’s 302 convenience stores.

“Whatever the convenience needs of the consuming public is what obviously is going to be our goal and driver and mission to fulfill,” she said.

Growing up the daughter of company founder Jim Yates, Hubbard learned her father’s lessons. One of those: “He wouldn’t take no for an answer.” Combining her father’s tenacity with her drive to make things work means Hubbard pushes through obstacles to find solutions. That trait has helped E-Z Mart grow from a $574.2 million enterprise in 2004 to one reporting more than $1 billion in 2013.

Although 2013 revenue was a slim decline of 1.4 percent compared with 2012 numbers, Hubbard said 2014 is looking bright.

The last couple of years have been “kind of static,” but this year has started well and “I’m encouraged,” she said, rapping the wooden conference table in her office at company headquarters in Texarkana, Texas.

E-Z Mart, No. 8 on this year’s list of 75 largest private companies in Arkansas, is in the midst of a companywide renovation of its stores, upgrades that involve not only the buildings but also the stores’ offerings.

“We’re still searching for that perfect design,” Hubbard said. “It seems every one we do we go in and we tweak it and we amend it. But I think we’re getting real close” to finding the perfect formula.

Helping E-Z Mart find that perfect design is the Little Rock architectural firm of Williams & Dean, which she praises for its efforts in developing a “more impactful” design.

E-Z Mart, which has stores in Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, was founded by Yates in 1970. Hubbard is proud of the company’s history but she’s also looking out for its future.

“We just yesterday finished a loan agreement to allow us to expedite some of our upgrades, because we’ve been doing it all on cash flow,” she said. “We’ve poured all the free cash flow for at least the last 15 years back into the company and have got now to the point I would say a good third of our stores — maybe half — are close to where we want them.”

E-Z Mart has experimented with offering healthier foods like fruits and vegetables, but the company has had mixed results. What people say they want and what they actually buy are often two different things. And the competition for the convenience store dollar is stiff.

“Maybe I’m an optimist, but I think it’s beginning to catch on,” she said of healthier food choices. Campaigns emphasizing better food choices will take at least a decade to have much effect, Hubbard said.



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