Southwest: E-Z Mart Grows in 2010

Having celebrated its 40th anniversary in October, E-Z Mart is in a good place to do some reflection.

"My dad started the business and opened the first store in Nashville, Ark., in October 1970," said Sonja Hubbard, the company's CEO.

The company is now headquartered on the Texas side of Texarkana, but Arkansas Business' annual list of the state's largest private companies has always recognized Texarkana companies on either side of the state line.

(Click here for a list of the largest private companies in southwest Arkansas.)

Hubbard's father, Jim Yates, was inducted into the University of Arkansas' Business Hall of Fame in 2009 for his accomplishments and contributions, and Hubbard seems determined to keep his legacy alive.

"One of the things with celebrating your 40th anniversary ... you have to reflect and realize that you are 40 years old," she said. "We realized that we do have some dated facilities."

Hubbard said that the company had invested millions of dollars during the past decade in the renovation and rebuilding of some of its older stores, particularly in the fueling equipment used.

"We're trying to find new ways to stay fresh and competitive. We do see that people are as busy or busier than they've ever been. Certainly convenience is a huge deal, and we want to stay ever-present and try to fill that void the best we can, and maybe try to give a little time back to those with busy lives."

As part of that goal, the company is continuing to expand. In 2010, Hubbard said, E-Z Mart added about 15 stores through acquisition and group deals. In Arkansas, that included eight stores that the company bought from B-B-F Oil Co. of Pine Bluff. The purchase included stores in Pine Bluff, Hot Springs, Benton and Sheridan, and brought the total number of stores under the E-Z Mart name to 306.

The company's revenue for the year was $788.4 million, a 19 percent increase over 2009.

Hubbard said that the company had remained stable, even in the tough economic climate.

"Over the years we've had our ups and downs," she said. "I think we were very lucky with the recession and the current economic condition. We didn't have some of the boom, but we avoided the bust. And I would take stability."

Going forward, Hubbard said, she's excited about the company's continuing importance and its potential for growth.

"I think our business and our industry proved to be a little recession-proof," she said. "It just reinforces how important it is. To me, it just kind of encourages me that we need to keep doing what we're doing but stay aware of what consumers want."

One of the ways that E-Z Mart will be doing that is through a new initiative to add more health food options to its stores, as a way of improving and updating the products it provides. The healthy food offerings are currently being tested at one store in Hot Springs.

It's a program that sprang from conversations with former U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln and is particularly focused on areas where there isn't as much access to healthy food, Hubbard said. E-Z Mart, she believes, has a job to do and is dedicated to pushing a healthier food initiative when possible.

"We're trying to look at adding both fresh and healthier options," Hubbard said, "trying to become that sort of mini-grocery store to the extent that we could."

Hubbard has also been working with Arkansas Children's Hospital as a potential partner for the program. "I've got a meeting in June with them, trying to look at ways that they can help. They can provide recipes and exercise plans."

Hubbard acknowledges that everyone has some food vices that they aren't likely to give up, but she thinks it's important to try to incorporate healthy eating as much as possible, especially if that's what consumers demand.

With 40 years gone and some big changes in the works, one thing that remains constant is E-Z Mart's commitment to its birthplace. More than 600 of the company's 2,300 employees are in Arkansas, and the company is working to expand and improve its presence in the state and its dedication to its Arkansas customers.

Speaking for her company, Hubbard pretty much sums it up: "I may live on the other side of the street, but I'm an Arkansas citizen by heart."