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)

In addition, “I think people still have a little bit of a hangup about gas station food,” she said. “And sometimes, depending on how we execute it, we give them just cause to feel like that.”

The company seeks to set itself apart also in its amenities, including clean restrooms, and Hubbard proudly cited E-Z Mart’s recognition last year from CSPnet.com, an online industry publication, for having the cleanest restrooms among eight convenience store chains in the United States.

“We’re still finding our way,” Hubbard said. “I guess that’s part of what’s fun about this business. It never gets old because you’re always learning something new.”

Hubbard does convey a sense of fun, a sense of genuinely enjoying the business that also employs her husband, Bob, as chief operating officer, and her sister, Stacy, as chief financial officer.

The reason for the store renovations is financial. Hubbard, an animated woman who talks and thinks fast, said E-Z Mart is dealing with ever higher operating costs. And “there’s only so much you can do to minimize it,” she said. Trimming expenses isn’t enough to compensate. “You also have to earn some revenue. So we need to generate more sales and more volume.”

Government regulations cost her company money, Hubbard said. But there are other factors.

“The United States is a very competitive environment,” she said. “We can blame and thank Wal-Mart, both, for having made so many categories competitive.” Margins are thin “so we have to have more revenue to make a store work than we used to.”

Despite the challenges, E-Z Mart, after time spent consolidating its stores, is back in growth mode, Hubbard said.

After a Tragedy

Hubbard took the helm of E-Z Mart after her father died in a plane crash in 1998. She was 37 and though her ascension was part of the plan, it came early, unexpectedly and hard.

She second-guessed herself for a while, trying to channel her father. Eventually, she realized that doing things differently, reaching different decisions was not just acceptable; it was necessary.

“Now, I actually look back over [those early years] and go, it’s OK. We’re different. Different people. Different times. I think you have to evolve to the point that you can do that to really be effective.”

 

 

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