Frank Gleeson, president of Aramark Northern Europe, became the 2018-19 NACS Chairman and the first European-based chairman in the association’s 57-year history.
“It’s a long way from my home in Dublin, Ireland, to Las Vegas” for the 2018 NACS Show, said Gleeson, who accepted the gavel to become the new NACS Chairman during the conference’s closing general session from Joe Sheetz, president and CEO of Altoona, Pennsylvania-based Sheetz Inc., a convenience retail company with more than 575 stores in six U.S. states.
Gleeson began his retail career as a teenager in his family’s general goods store in Ireland, selling everything from clothing to food, and progressing into coffee shops and restaurants. In his mid-20’s, Gleeson worked in Irelands leading video and entertainment business, adding that as fast as the video-rental industry grew, is could not overcome the disruptive challenge from Netflix. As dominant as Netflix has become in the online streaming and entertainment space, its approximate 130 million Netflix users worldwide—an impressive statistic—the convenience store industry serves in the United States alone serves 165 million customers per day.
“And that’s not even counting the rest of the world,” said Gleeson. “As innovative as Netflix is, our industry is right there. We’ve caused enough disruption of our own but in doing so, we’ve never lost sight of our customers: Exceeding their expectations before they even know what they need and continuing to be innovators in our stores.”
Having started his convenience store career with Statoil Ireland and then Topaz Energy Group, Gleeson joined Aramark in 2014 and is now the president of the company’s Northern Europe operations, leading operations of Aramark’s convenience stores in hospitals, universities, leisure spots, and off highways like most traditional convenience stores today.
“In Northern Europe alone, we serve over one million meals a day,” said Gleeson of Aramark’s foodservice offer, which he describes as “foodvenience” in the company’s innovative food hall concepts.
“Food halls allow us to deliver strong brands that pull from different dayparts, or demographics, in the same location. And that greatly expands the choices we can bring to consumers,” he said, adding that the food halls deliver excitement to the consumer by rotating some of the food concepts.
“It’s our take on limited-time offers, but instead of focusing on one or two menu items, we focus on the entire menu” so customers can personalize their culinary experience and thus that delivery of service, he said.
Noting the growth of healthier options in convenience stores worldwide, he shared that Aramark is embracing the trend and recently partnered with Jamie Oliver, a world-famous chef, to bring his restaurant concepts into Aramark locations in Northern Europe. “I see this partnership as a fantastic opportunity to set the agenda for health and nutrition, and to have a real and lasting impact on people’s lives,” Gleeson said.
Gleeson shared that today he much more capable of succeeding at retail, crediting his journey to learning from others and enhancing his leadership skills through the NACS Executive Leadership Program at Cornell University.
“I was 35 years old, and eager to develop leadership skills. I was working at Statoil and my boss encouraged me to go to the week-long program. And quite honestly, that one week helped me on my journey to change and develop from a manager into a leader,” he said.
Gleeson also credits his engagement with NACS with helping him connect with the global convenience retail community.
“As NACS CEO Henry Armour will often say, our industry experiences the same trends and issues but in different life cycles around the globe. In some countries, these trends, issues and regulations are further along in the life cycle than others. No one can possibly stay on top of them all without some help. And that is the essence of what NACS brings to me,” said Gleeson. “NACS makes the world of convenience retail feel more connected.”
And while trends and issues vary around the world, one thing is certain, said Gleeson: “We’re all competing for that convenience customer. And while you hear things like brick-and-mortar retail is dying, that’s simply not true—retail is as alive as it’s ever been. The only thing that is dying is boring retail, and our industry is far from boring.”
Whether it’s Aramark Northern Europe changing food concepts at its food halls, other convenience retailers throughout the world continue to innovate and transform their operations.
“Sometimes they are incremental improvements, but they are all focused on redefining the mindset of convenience. Now that’s exciting! We are as vibrant as ever in owning convenience.”